All posts by Campus Talk

In remembrance and tribute

Akihisa Inoue of Tohoku University and Virginia Hinshaw of UH Mānoa show the signed joint statement at the Forum for International Research Collaboration during the one-year memorial of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster in Sendai.
Akihisa Inoue of Tohoku University and Virginia Hinshaw of UH Mānoa show the signed joint statement at the Forum for International Research Collaboration during the one-year memorial of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster in Sendai.

A weekend of remembrance for Japan tsunami victims also marked the start of an international partnership aimed at averting future tragedies.

The one-year anniversary of the Japan earthquake and tsunami disaster was commemorated in Sendai, Japan, during a March 10, 2012 event attended by University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Chancellor Virginia S. Hinshaw, representing the UH system and the people of Hawai‘i.  UH Mānoa was joined at the Tohoku University event by two other U.S. invitees, Harvard and UCLA.

On Sunday morning, March 11, Chancellor Hinshaw attended the Forum for International Research Collaboration event at the Hotel Metropolitan Sendai.  At the forum’s conclusion, attendees signed a Joint Statement that encourages collaboration on behalf of academia around the world in identifying issues and developing science and technology to mitigate disasters and build a resilient world.

Accompanying Chancellor Hinshaw from UH Mānoa were husband Bill Hinshaw and Dean of the College of Social Sciences Denise Konan.  Also invited were representatives of Japan universities including Tohoku, Nagoya, Kyoto, Fukushima, Tokyo, Niigata and Kobe.  Other international entities that participated were the German Aerospace Center (Germany), Tsinghua University (China), University of Florence (Italy), University College London (United Kingdom), and Istanbul Technical University (Turkey).

Also that Sunday afternoon, a one-year memorial service was held at Sendai Trust City in honor of those who perished in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster.  Chancellor Hinshaw characterizes the day’s experiences as tremendously moving, including an impromptu ceremony at Sendai Airport as the Hinshaws were departing Japan.  “There was a concert about recovery followed by several minutes of total silence to honor those who had lost their lives,” she recalls. “Everyone stood in place, in line, stopped everything and took those few moments of silence to remember—it was very touching.  And, believe me, there was not a sound.”

Participants in the Forum for International Research Collaboration take a group photo at the Hotel Metropolitan Sendai.
Participants in the Forum for International Research Collaboration take a group photo at the Hotel Metropolitan Sendai.

Top photo: Commemorative candles are set up on a sidewalk in Sendai.

From Russia, with honor

UH Mānoa librarian Patricia Ann Polansky poses with her Medal of Pushkin from the Russian government.
UH Mānoa librarian Patricia Ann Polansky poses with her Medal of Pushkin from the Russian government.
Patricia Ann Polansky, a University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa librarian, was bestowed with a rare honor for an American last Friday, November 11: She was presented with the Medal of Pushkin from the government of Russia during a presentation ceremony at Hamilton Library.

The Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov presented the medal to Polansky. Also in attendance was His Excellency, Ambassador of Russia, Sergey I. Kislyak.

Polansky has served as Russian bibliographer for the Northeast Asia Collection housed at Hamilton Library since 1970. From 1988-92, she also served as director of the Center for Russia in Asia in the School of Pacific and Asian Studies.

The Medal of Pushkin is awarded by the government of Russia for achievements in the fields of culture, education, human sciences, literature and art. It recognizes great contribution to the study and preservation of the cultural heritage of that country or for the promotion of cultural exchange. Of the 650 previous Medal of Pushkin recipients from 70 countries, only one U.S. citizen is a past awardee (in 2007).

Top photo: The Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov presents the Medal of Pushkin and roses to UH Mānoa Russian bibliographer Patricia Ann Polansky, who works at Hamilton Library. Seated behind them is Alan Grosenheider, Associate University Librarian. (Photos courtesy of Debra Okuno)

Mauna Kea, IfA played a role in Nobel physics prize

Louise Good, Institute for Astronomy publications editor

John Tonry headshot

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Astronomer John Tonry, a camera designed and built at the Institute for Astronomy and an observatory on Mauna Kea all played a role in the work awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics this month.

Tonry was a member of one of the two large groups of astronomers whose leaders received the prize for discovering that the Universe is expanding at an ever-increasing rate and will therefore last forever.

The discovery, first announced in 1998, grew out of scientists’ efforts to compare how fast the Universe is expanding now compared with its expansion billions of years ago. They expected to find that the expansion was slowing down, suggesting the possibility that the Universe would eventually stop expanding and then collapse in a “big crunch.”

To study the problem, astronomers searched for exploding stars called type 1a supernovae in very distant galaxies, which could be used to measure how far away other galaxies are.

In 1996, when the project began, the most sensitive system for doing this kind of research was a giant digital camera designed and built at IfA and mounted on the Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope. The telescope had superb optics and was located on Mauna Kea, where the skies are uniquely clear and dark, an improvement over conditions in Chile, where the work had begun.

Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope against pink-tinged sky

Tonry spent his nights observing on the telescope and his days analyzing the data. There was no time to waste because supernovae explode brightly and fade fast. He needed to relay the locations of such explosions quickly so other members of his team could observe them using a spectrometer mounted on one of the two 10-meter-diameter telescopes of the neighboring W. M. Keck Observatory. Their job was to measure the speed at which the galaxies were moving away from us as well as to confirm the nature of the exploding stars.

Because these faint, distant galaxies are so far away, their light must travel for billions of years to reach Earth, thus providing a glimpse of our Universe at a time when it was much younger than it is now.

What they discovered was considered surprising, even shocking: the distant galaxies were moving apart from each other more slowly than were the nearby galaxies. In other words, the Universe must be expanding faster now than it did in the past.

Team members were amazed. Their reaction was: “It couldn’t be. We had better recheck our calculations.” But it was, and it has since been confirmed by other observations.

What could cause the expansion to speed up? It couldn’t be gravity because gravity always pulls things together. It had to be a new kind of pressure, since named “dark energy.”

Interestingly, when Albert Einstein formulated his theory of general relativity in 1915, one of his equations hinted at the existence of such a pressure, but it took nearly 100 years for its significance to be realized.

What is dark energy? No one knows. But UH scientists are involved in the search for the answer—both through particle physics experiments at giant collider laboratories abroad, and ongoing observations at large telescopes like as those on Mauna Kea.

A similar version of this article was published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Oct. 16, 2011, and on the IfA website.

All things Hawaiian

Dean Maenette Ah Nee-Benham
Dean Maenette Ah Nee-Benham
When UH Mānoa Dean Maenette Ah Nee-Benham is asked about her vision for Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, she says she looks no further than Ka Papa Loʻi O Kānewai, the loʻi or taro patch, located a stone’s throw away from Hawaiian Studies.

“At any given time, there are many people, all kinds of people—from na keiki (children) all the way up to kūpuna (elderly)—working at the loʻi,” she said. “Of course, we are also a university so we host classes from different disciplines like ethnobotany and soil science.”

The hā (breadth) and hohonu (depth) of people who utilize Ka Papa Loʻi O Kānewai parallels Benham’s mission for the school. As its inaugural dean, she set the school’s direction on a mission to pursue, perpetuate, research and revitalize all areas and forms of Hawaiian knowledge. This encompasses its language, origins, history, arts, sciences, literature, religion, education, laws and society, and political, medicinal and cultural practices.

Hawai‘inuiākea has the national distinction as being the only school of indigenous studies at a Research I institution. It is also UH Mānoa’s youngest school, established in 2007 by placing the Hawaiian Studies Department and Hawaiian Language Department in one college.

Both academic units offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees that serve an estimated 200 students major in Hawaiian language with the same number majoring in Hawaiian Studies. An additional 1,600 students take classes within the program to fulfill general requirements for other majors.

The Hawaiʻianuiakea Logo
Each block in Hawai‘inuiākea’s graphic element represents the balance and structure of each department within the school.
“Our school is unique in that we engage Kanaka Maoli (indigenous people) and non-Kanaka Maoli scholars, practitioners, policymakers community leaders, traditional/cultural leaders to focus their wisdom and skill sets on pressing dilemmas with response to Kanaka Maoli principles and contemporary sensibilities,” says Benham. “This indigenous world-view is rooted in the ʻāina and life pathways of our people (both traditional as well as neo-traditional and contemporary) and frames the context and content, the form and flow of how we educate and empower to ensure our sovereignty of spirit, people and place.”

In four short years, there’s no question Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge has made great strides boosting the school’s extramural fund to $3 million in contracts and grants. Benham and staff also greatly increased the number of community engagement activities, including Educational ‘Auwai, which builds pathways for Native Hawaiian students to think of UH Mānoa as their destination of choice.

“We want our Native Hawaiian children to feel like this is their place,” said Benham. “UH Manoa is their home.”

Top Photo: The juxtaposition of Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge location next to the loʻi is key to the success of its mission.

Feature: Aloha for Islam

UH Mānoa faculty teaching in the new Undergraduate Certificate in Islamic Studies Program include, from left, Elton L. Daniel (History), Ned Bertz (History), Paul Lavy (Art History), James D. Frankel (Religion) and Tamara Albertini (Philosophy).
UH Mānoa faculty teaching in the new Undergraduate Certificate in Islamic Studies Program include, from left, Elton L. Daniel (History), Ned Bertz (History), Paul Lavy (Art History), James D. Frankel (Religion) and Tamara Albertini (Philosophy).

Half a world away from the Arabian desert where the Prophet Muhammad established his teachings in the seventh century, and seemingly distant from contemporary affairs in the Middle East, is Hawai`i a place to engage in the study of Islamic religion, culture and history? Definitely, says Philosophy Associate Professor Tamara Albertini, who established a new Undergraduate Certificate in Islamic Studies in the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa in 2010.

Albertini believes the 50th State can be a springboard for the study of Islam in the Pacific and to the east. And she is not the only believer. The new undergraduate certificate program has gathered an impressive mélange of faculty members, ranging from History Professor Elton L. Daniel to Religion Assistant Professor James D. Frankel to Art History Assistant Professor Paul Lavy. They are united by the recognition that Hawai‘i’s strategic location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean naturally promotes Islamic interests in the east. And Islam is the largest religion practiced in Asia, drawing a billion followers or about 25 percent of the continent’s total population. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslims live in Asia, with Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh having the four largest Muslim populations in the world.

“Islamic civilization permeates Asia, and because Hawai‘i could be profoundly affected by developments in Muslim Asia, UH Mānoa is in a good position to teach the importance of Islam in places like Fiji and Southeast Asia,” said Daniel, who leads classes such as Introduction to Islam, Making of the Modern Middle East, and Crisis and Conflict in the Modern Middle East.

To earn the certificate, students must earn nine core credits in History, Religion, and Philosophy and six credits from a list of elective courses that can include the Arabic language, and a research project. Internships are also available to those who want to immerse themselves in Islamic art collections at storied Shangri-La estate, the Islamic-style mansion built by heiress Doris Duke near Diamond Head. Nestled in East O‘ahu, Shangri-La is owned by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art in cooperation with the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Whether cultivating an appreciation for the Islamic culture via art or academia, the need for understanding never falters. In fact, it increases as more Americans are affected by international relations issues—whether due to military involvement in the Muslim world, or the effects of political unrest in Islamic countries and their impact on gas prices. As awareness grows, so too will course offerings for the Undergraduate Certificate in Islamic Studies. “Hawai‘i is in a unique position to promote a fair and balanced understanding of Islamic religion and values,” says Albertini. “Here, individuals of different religious convictions not only live side by side, but also interact with one another on a daily basis and, as a result, participate in each other’s celebrations.”

For more information on the Undergraduate Certificate in Islamic Studies, call James Frankel at (808) 956-4202 or email him at

Top photo: The qur`an is the central religious text of Islam. ~crystalina~/Flickr

Feature: Taiwan’s seafaring history

Bamboo raft
Modern bamboo raft on the coast of Fujian, China.

An interest in the origins of Polynesia impelled University of Hawai‘i at Manoa archaeologist Barry Rolett to dig deep into the Earth’s core at one of China’s famous hot springs: Fuzhou Basin.  What was the quest of the Department of Anthropology professor so far from home?  To prove the theory that colonization of Polynesian and all Austronesian cultures can be traced to Taiwan.  Rolett and his team found convincing evidence that not only strengthens this belief, but also showed that seafaring played a huge role in shaping both Taiwan and the nearby coast of China.

Their research, reported in the April 2011 issue of Quaternary Science Reviews, indicates that rapid sea level rise in Fuzhou Basin on the southeast coast of the Fujian Province in China 9,000 years ago made it impossible for villagers to make a living from growing rice, the primary agricultural crop harvested by farmers in most other regions.  Since the lack of land needed for rice paddies in Fuzhou Basin prevented this type of food production, villagers took to open-sea voyaging—a type of seafaring associated with Austronesian origins.  They eventually made contact with Taiwan, located about 80 miles across the coast from the Fuzhou Basin.

This presumption contests the popular view by scientists that villagers in northern China spread the popularity of rice farming southward to the Fuzhou Basin. Sediment cores collected by Rolett and his team near the Tanshishan archaeological site, the center of a Neolithic culture that inhabited the Fuzhou Basin between 5,000 and 4,300 years ago, showed that sea-level change has dramatically transformed the landscape since then. The sites are located today on hills that are 50 miles from the coast, which once were little islands in the upper estuary.

Large amounts of shellfish remains indicate that the Tanshishan people relied heavily on maritime resources for their livelihood.  “They may have been the greatest navigators of their day,” said Rolett. Artifacts that were found, such as pottery and stone tools, were also discovered in Taiwan, suggesting that people from the Fuzhou Basin may have crossed the Taiwan Strait and ultimately established farming villages in Taiwan.

In combination with other genetic, linguistic and archaeological evidence found throughout the years, Rolett’s research also boosts the belief by experts that seafaring originating in the Taiwan Strait may be linked with the earliest Austronesians, whose populations include the people of Polynesia, Indonesia and the Philippines.  Robert Blust, a UH Mānoa professor of linguistics who also studies the origins of Austronesians, agrees that Taiwan was likely first settled by speakers of Austronesian languages.  “The archaeology of Neolithic settlement in insular Southeast Asia has supported this scenario completely, since pottery, animal domestication and agriculture make their appearance in Taiwan about a millennium earlier than they do in areas further to the south where Austronesian languages are spoken today,” said Blust.

Rolett’s research team members included Zhuo Zheng of the Department of Earth Sciences at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, and Yuanfu Yue of the Institut de Sciences de l’Evolution at the Université Montpellier in France.  “This research helps us learn more about China’s rich history and culture, and also to understand how sea level change can transform our coastline,” said Rolett. “As our team had discovered, this can have a dramatic impact on the way we live in the future.”

For more information, contact Barry Rolett at (808) 956-7546 or

Top photo: A drilling rig was used to collect sediment cores documenting 10,000 years in the evolution of the Fuzhou Basin in Fujian, China. UH Mānoa Anthropology Professor Barry Rolett, at right, prepares to hand off one of the drill bits.

The modern city of Fuzhou, capital of Fujian Province in east China, is built on recently formed land. 6000 years ago, during the Neolithic era, this area was submerged as part of a large estuary that fostered the development of early seafaring in the Taiwan Strait.
UH Mānoa archaeologist Barry Rolett, at right, with Sun Yat-Sen University Geologist Zheng Zhuo and St. Andrew’s University student Landon Clay.
UH Mānoa archaeologist Barry Rolett does coring field work in the Fuzhou Basin of China.

Feature: Crazy for kabuki

Onoe Kikunobu
Onoe Kikunobu, production choreographer for The Vengeful Sword, has performed in UH Mānoa kabuki productions since the 1950s.

The concept that “it takes a village” rings true for putting on kabuki performances in Honolulu and, in particular, at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.  Students began performing kabuki plays back in 1924, and have continued to work with and learn from members of visiting troupes from Japan, and community members who have studied with dedicated performers from that country. 

The rich tradition continues until this day. The traditional Japanese drama of kabuki, performed with highly stylized singing and dancing, has a performance history in Hawai‘i dating back to 1893, when a touring kabuki troupe entertained more than 20,000 Japanese immigrants in the islands. UH Mānoa has the distinction of being the only university in the country that puts on English-language kabuki productions on a regular basis.

The curtains next rise on Friday, April 8, 2011, when UH Mānoa’s 31st kabuki performance, The Vengeful Sword (Ise Ondo Koi no Netaba), opens at the John F. Kennedy Theatre. The tale is about the journey of a samurai in search of an important missing heirloom sword and what happens when he discovers its bloodthirsty nature. Fully staged, beautifully costumed, and with live authentic music and stylized fighting, the production covers everything from love to comedy to high drama.

 For The Vengeful Sword, kabuki percussion expert Kashiwa Senjiro has traveled from Tokyo, Japan to spend a one-month residency in Mānoa leading up to the performances. While here, he is helping to hone student percussion skills via training in the specialized narimono percussion that accompanies the kabuki play. Respected production choreographer Onoe Kikunobu, who began her own training with Japanese kabuki troupes that toured O‘ahu in the 1930s, is production choreographer—a role she has been performing for UH Mānoa since the 1950s. Assisting her is Onoe Kikunobukazu, a longtime veteran who will also lead the nagauta shamisen ensemble.

“Hawaii kabuki exists because of community involvement,” said UH Mānoa Associate Professor Julie Iezzi, who specializes in the study and performance of traditional Japanese theater. Thus, if it “takes a village” to put on a kabuki performance, UH Mānoa will be filled with some very happy kabuki-loving villagers starting April 8. For more information on The Vengeful Sword and other Kennedy Theatre productions, visit

For more information, contact Tracy Robinson at (808) 956-2598 or

Top photo: The dutiful samurai, Fukuoka Mitsugi (played by James Schrmer), confronts his foe Aidamaya Kitaroku (Murray Husted) in The Vengeful Sword.

Feature: The sting’s the thing

Dr. Angel Yanagihara
Dr. Angel Yanagihara

Angel Yanagihara knows first-hand the painful effects of Hawaiian box jellyfish stings. During a long-distance morning swim off Waikīkī Beach in July 1997, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa assistant research professor encountered a swarm of the nearly invisible jellyfish. She suffered multiple stings, resulting in immediate and excruciating pain, gasping and wheezing, and angry red welts—symptoms that took nearly three months to totally disappear.

That encounter changed the direction of Yanagihara’s research as a biochemist at the Pacific Biosciences Research Center. She was amazed to find that Australian Box jellies have the potential to kill an adult man in 5-20 minutes, yet there was no reliable antidote to the sting of these most primitive venomous animals on the planet. Yanagihara launched a mission to discover what makes the venom of the related but smaller Hawaiian box jelly such a potent stinging cocktail, with the hopes of finding a substance that would not simply treat the symptoms, but would stop the toxin after penetrating a victim’s skin.

To deconstruct the venom, Yanagihara systematically analyzed the components of box jellyfish venom and characterized their biological effects. She found that the blood-puncturing toxins not only led to red blood cell rupture, but also platelet depletion and white blood cell activation launching a profound inflammatory response called Irukandji Syndrome. “The greatest challenge in this research effort has been to ‘invent the wheel’ in developing analytical biochemical approaches,” said Yanagihara. “That capture the full suite of active components that comprise the venom contained in microscopic stinging cells.”

And then, in 2009, came success: The biochemist developed a blocker that worked in both human blood and a live animal model. “Our efforts to utilize biochemical tools to develop targeted therapeutics—to ultimately address the monthly pain and suffering that the local Hawaiian Box jellies inflict on swimmers—are finally coming to a tangible end point,” she said. Multiple patents have been submitted and a recent agreement was finalized with Waterlife Research of Maui, which plans to release a commercial product based on these findings within the next six months.

Yanagihara’s research was featured on a PBS NOVA documentary titled, “Venom,” which aired in February 2011. To view the entire episode, visit In addition, she and her husband, fellow UH Mānoa Professor Ric Yanagihara, are also featured on the BioMedical Faces of Science website at

For more information contact Angel Yanagihara at (808) 956-8328 or

Top photo: Hawaiian box jellyfish, courtesy of © Andre Seale /

Feature: Master of disaster

National Disaster Preparedness Training Center logo

On March 11, 2011, residents throughout the Pacific and on the mainland’s west coast braced themselves for a tsunami, generated from a destructive 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the northeastern coast of Japan. While the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center took the lead in alerting ocean-side venues, it was a training facility nestled in Mānoa Valley, led by University of Hawai‘i researchers, that has been working behind the scenes daily to make sure response to such natural disasters is adept and widespread.

At the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC) at the Mānoa Innovation Center, Executive Director and UH Mānoa Professor Karl Kim and his team routinely provide all-hazards training throughout the U.S. and its territories, with an emphasis on natural hazards in island and coastal communities. NDPTC is one of seven federally funded members of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, which collectively conduct research to develop and deliver disaster training for responders, decision-makers, policy analysts and urban planners—ensuring that they are prepared to respond in an event of a catastrophe.

Among the many ongoing training courses offered at the NDPTC is a FEMA-certified Tsunami Awareness course (AWR-217) that provides a basic understanding of tsunamis, hazard assessment, warning and dissemination, and community response strategies to effectively reduce tsunami risk. The goal of the 8-hour course is to enhance participants’ abilities to support their organizational preparedness and response efforts. No advanced knowledge and experience of tsunamis is required in order to sign up for the course.

Organizers note that effective response requires pre-event planning and preparation to ensure that the public knows what to do and where to evacuate before destructive waves arrive, and to know when it is all-clear and safe to return. “This is the first FEMA-certified course on tsunamis offered through NDPTC, which we developed because of the serious threat to Hawai‘i and other Pacific island communities,” said Kim. “We’re fortunate to have a strong collaborative relationship with NOAA, International Tsunami Information Center, Pacific Services Center and the Pacific Risk Management ‘ohana, as well as many other state and local agencies.” Kim added that the NDPTC has worked with partners in American Samoa to have course materials translated into Samoan.

This month, trainings will be conducted and delivered to first-responders in American Samoa, Guam and Honolulu. Participants interested in signing up for the Honolulu course on March 30 can go to To learn more about the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center, visit

For more information, contact Karl Kim at (808) 988-5144 or

Top photo: On September 29, 2009, an 8.3-magnitude earthquake in the South Pacific triggered a massive tsunami in American Samoa.