Class Notes - July 8, 1998
Class notes features
Class notes features
Shakespeare still resonates
John Andrews '65 relishes the bardic moment
John F. Andrews '65 -- a Shakespeare scholar, impresario and educator -- moves in the most rarefied of dramatic circles. As editor for the venerable Everyman Shakespeare series, he has enlisted an impressive cast of actors to write forewords; they include F. Murray Abraham, John Gielgud, Hal Holbrook, James Earl Jones, Kevin Kline, Kelly McGillis, Tony Randall, and Tim Pigott Smith. As creator of the annual Sir John Gielgud Award for Excellence in the Dramatic Arts, whose first three winners were Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi, and (this spring) Zoe Caldwell, he mingles at the award galas with performers and guests such as Kenneth Branagh, Marvin Hamlisch, George Plimpton, Lynn Redgrave, Diana Rigg, and Patrick Stewart.
For Andrews, who was born in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the turning point was a course on Renaissance literature during his sophomore year, taught by then-professor Sherman Hawkins. "That was the experience that really made me decide to major in English," recalls Andrews.
After a year studying teaching at Harvard, Andrews headed to Vanderbilt to earn a Ph.D. There he decided to specialize in Shakespeare -- thanks to a chance assignment working for Shakespeare Studies, an academic journal. After four years teaching at Florida State University, Andrews moved to Washington, D.C., to take a job with the renowned Folger Shakespeare Library. There he was assigned to edit another journal, Shakespeare Quarterly, oversee the library's book-publishing efforts, and head the Folger Institute, an educational consortium for Renaissance studies.
While at the Folger, Andrews made his first concerted efforts toward popularizing Shakespeare's works. Between 1979 and 1982, the Folger helped organize an exhibition and an accompanying book called "Shakespeare: The Globe and the World." In addition to the usual centuries-old artifacts and costumes, Andrews included what he calls "a lot of junk" -- items that showed how pop culture has long been fascinated with Shakespeare. The tour -- originally planned for six cities -- was so popular that it was expanded to eight.
Andrews's outreach efforts reached an apogee in the early 1980s as PBS broadcast new productions of Shakespeare's plays and distributed free teaching materials to schools across the country. A follow-up project was devised, in which plays were broken up into easy-to-digest, one-hour, televised segments hosted by Walter Matthau. But poor scheduling doomed the project after its first season, and Andrews moved to the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1984. When offered the chance to edit books again, Andrews jumped at the chance, first with Doubleday and then with Everyman.
"I think my attraction is partly that compared to any other writer, you find a breadth of vision and understanding that is incomparable," Andrews says. "The language continues to be amazing. Shakespeare's always ahead of us, no matter the latest '-ism.' F. Murray Abraham said that when he played the role of Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, people would come up to him after the performance to marvel that 400-year-old jokes were still so funny."
Aside from editing the Everyman series, Andrews, who lives in Washington, D.C., and is the father of Eric '93 and Lisa '95, is writing a book on the role of Shakespeare in the Lincoln assassination. Andrews conceived the idea after stumbling upon a copy of a program for a play whose cast included three Booth brothers, one of whom was future assassin John Wilkes Booth. "I find it very interesting to imagine what must have been going through Booth's mind when he was waiting to go on," Andrews says. "In the play, the conspirators bathe in Caesar's blood, and five months later he acted it out as a political act, an act of war, committed 12 and a half feet above a real stage."
"There are always things in any Shakespeare play that echo contemporary events," he says. "Washington seems to be the perfect place, partly because we're accustomed to this city being a stage where great issues are debated, which is something characteristic of most Shakespearean plays. As Hamlet says, drama is an attempt to hold a mirror to nature. Here, we hold Shakespeare as a mirror to human nature as we see it displayed in Washington. It can often be a very good reflector."
-- Louis Jacobson '92
In 1985, physician Ruth Berkelman '73 took time out from her work at the Centers for Disease Control for a stint at Atlanta's Grady Hospital. It was great to be back in a clinical setting, she recalls, but it only confirmed her devotion to public health. "I looked around the intensive care unit and realized that so many of the patients were there because of something that could have been prevented: lung cancer from smoking, complications from alcoholism, AIDS," she says.
Though Berkelman has spent the better part of 17 years at the CDC, currently serving as senior adviser to the center's director, she never planned a career in public health. She was finishing up a pediatrics residency in Boston, intending to get a fellowship and then combine academic research with a clinical practice, when another doctor told her about the CDC's two-year Epidemic Intelligence Service program. "It sounded so exciting," she says. "Talking to this guy convinced me it would be a really useful thing, no matter where your career was going." Berkelman applied and was accepted to the program, then spent the first two years of the 1980s investigating various breakouts of hospital infections, or, as she puts it, being "a medical detective." She traveled to hospitals around the country, tracing outbreaks of strep and other diseases to sources including a dialysis machine, a contaminated antiseptic solution, and an infected nurse.
After her two years were up, Berkelman realized she had fallen in love with public health. "I decided I could make more of an impact on people," she says. She stayed on at the CDC, first working in disease surveillance to coordinate the agency's efforts with local and state health departments, then spending four years working on AIDS before becoming deputy director of the National Center for Infectious Disease. In 1969 the U.S. surgeon general had declared an imminent end to the battle with infectious diseases, and even AIDS was initially seen as an aberration, not a sign that the battle really hadn't been won. But by 1992, when Berkelman took her position at the NCID, people were starting to put AIDS in perspective, recognizing it as only one of a parade of diseases that weren't easily treated by antibiotics. Berkelman led the development of an infectious-disease response plan, which couldn't have been more timely. There were three big outbreaks in 1993: hamburgers tainted by E. coli O157:H7, drinking water contaminated by Cryptosporidium and in the Southwest, the deadly hanta virus. The plan was "very, very useful," says Berkelman. With hanta, "from the time we got in to the time we knew what was going on, it was less than two weeks," she says.
Though in Berkelman's current job she's more administrator than medical detective, she maintains her interest in fighting infectious diseases. She teaches classes in public health and is working to increase research coordination between the CDC and universities. In 1995 Berkelman, as a MacLean Fellow, taught at Princeton for a week.
Princeton was "extremely important" in launching her medical career, she says. Berkelman started college at Wake Forest, then decided she wanted to "see more of the world" beyond the South, where she'd grown up. Attracted to Princeton's math program, she applied and was accepted as a transfer student for her sophomore year.
Berkelman soon decided that math wasn't for her. "I didn't want to pursue a life in theory -- I wanted to contribute in a tangible way," she says. And at Princeton, she saw women (there were 400 on campus by the time she joined the class) planning for serious careers. "I realized that medicine was open to me," she says. "I thought, 'Yes, I could do this.'" Berkelman majored in the history and philosophy of science, doing her junior independent work with Thomas Kuhn. The chance to mingle the humanities with the sciences at Princeton appealed to her; the study of infectious disease would years later offer the same opportunity.
Berkelman speaks highly of her years at the CDC, saying she wishes more graduates would consider a career in the public sector. "I'd like to see the best and brightest enter government, doing something that they find rewarding," she says. "People can make a difference."
-- Katherine Hobson '94
Katherine Hobson is a freelance writer living in New York.
As a boy in suburban Philadelphia and then a physics major at Princeton, Mitchel Resnick '78 was interested in unraveling the mysteries of the world. He recalls, "I wanted to understand the concepts, rather than just solving the equations." Now, as an associate professor in the Epistemology and Learning Group at MIT's Media Laboratory, Resnick is trying to learn more about learning itself -- and developing new ways to help people learn.
Resnick, who spent several years as a science/technology writer at Business Week and then did graduate studies in computer science at MIT, is especially interested in how new technologies can help children learn about -- and participate in -- science in new and effective ways. Resnick and his coresearchers base much of their work on Lego blocks, those multicolored plastic basics of childhood. Resnick and his research fit together like, well, two Lego blocks: with rapid-fire explanations, casual running-shoe style, and boyish zest for his work, Resnick projects a knack for relating to kids and explaining science in their terms.
Resnick and his team have developed a programmable version of a Lego block, charmingly termed a Cricket. Children can program Crickets to control motors and lights, get information from sensors, and communicate with other Crickets through infrared light. Children build Crickets directly into their Lego constructions, creating everything from light-sensing dinosaurs to interactive sculptures. Resnick's aim is to help children see their world, and science, afresh.
"We're trying to bring together the best of the digital and physical worlds," explained Resnick, who is teaching a course at MIT this semester called "Tools for Thought."
"Our point is not to give kids prebuilt toys, but to give them the parts to build their own toys," added Resnick in his research lab, a riot of PCs, stuffed animals, and bins holding 50,000 carefully sorted Lego blocks. "We want to help children become designers and inventors. By building things, kids can take their theories and test them out in a very personal way."
In Resnick's newest research, children are using Crickets to build their own scientific instruments, many of them discussed in the paper "Beyond Black Boxes: Bringing Transparency and Aesthetics Back to Scientific Instruments," found on Resnick's informative Website at http://www.media.mit.edu/~mres/. One 11-year-old girl built a new bird feeder that uses a Cricket, touch sensor, and camera to automatically take a picture of every bird that comes to feed. In projects like this, children learn concepts, such as feedback and control, that in the past seemed overly complex, and they also get a very hands-on sense of how scientific procedures and instruments work. Scientific tools evolve from enclosed, inscrutable "black boxes" into elegant and personal creations, as in the pre-computer era of laboratories.
"By studying the nature of knowledge -- and also the nature of play -- we hope to help children learn in new ways," said Resnick, a tennis buff with no children of his own. The Media Lab work has already had practical applications: 20,000 schools now use Lego kits based on an earlier version of Resnick's work, and Resnick has set up six Computer Clubhouses -- after-school centers for inner-city kids, where Resnick tests his theories of technology and education.
Resnick is also helping to design a museum exhibit, called the Virtual Fishtank, set to open this summer at The Computer Museum in Boston. Visitors will design and program "artificial fish," then see how their fish interact with other fish on huge wall-sized displays. Resnick explained, "One of the best ways to learn about something is to build models of it. In this case, people learn about animal behavior by building their own animals."
-- Van Wallach '80
Lest Michael Kass '82 ever second-guess his decision to turn down tenure-track offers from several top universities, there is a gold-plated statuette to reassure him of the wisdom of entering private industry. Kass, a senior scientist at Pixar Animation Studios in Richmond, California, is part of a production team that won an Academy Award this spring with a short film called Geri's Game. Kass, who seriously considered an academic career when he completed his Ph.D. at Stanford in 1988, contributed to the Oscar-winning film by writing software that simulates clothes and their interaction with the human body.
Most animation doesn't even attempt to make clothing realistic. It's as if a jacket or trousers are painted on the characters and move like skin. In Geri's Game -- the story of an endearing old man playing chess against himself -- Kass has made the character's clothes astonishingly real. The cotton jacket bunches at the shoulders when Geri stretches out his arm to move a chess piece; his trousers fold and wrinkle with his different sitting positions. The only thing cartoonlike about Geri is his grandfatherly face, and that's deliberate. "Geri himself is an intentionally exaggerated character," Kass says, "and it's for artistic effect. We wanted to be sure that any lack of realism was intentional, not due to a deficiency in the medium."
Kass spent countless hours in high school tinkering with computers, even building his own. But as he entered Princeton in the late 1970s, he figured he was ready for something else. He planned on majoring in physics -- until a student-initiated seminar on artificial intelligence reignited his interest in computers. He ended up designing his own independent major in artificial intelligence. After Princeton he earned a master's degree in computer science at MIT and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Stanford.
After weighing his many opportunities in academia, Kass accepted an offer from Apple Computers to work in its Advanced Technology Group, developing computer graphics. "That was the late 1980s, when Apple was rolling in money," he says. "Apple could give me more freedom and resources than any university could." Kass later worked for a small computer graphics startup called Live Picture before joining Pixar in 1996.
At that point, Pixar had recently released the movie Toy Story. While delighted with its commercial and artistic success, Pixar's animators were not completely pleased with the way the clothes looked on the screen. As the company had done in the past, it launched a short film project to test out a new technology -- in this case, a method for simulating cloth. Director Jan Pinkava made Kass a chicken-wire armature; Kass clothed it in a jacket, studied the way the fabric responded to various movements, and captured the dynamics in the software.
"In Toy Story, if you see any wrinkle in a character's clothing, it's because an animator put it in by hand," Kass says. "In Geri's Game, the cloth's movement is computed from simulated physics. The animator moves the character around, and then my software computes the forces that are put on the clothing, and the way the clothing wrinkles and moves in response to those forces."
A tuxedoed Kass was in the audience at the Academy Awards on March 23 when Pinkava strode onstage to accept the prize for Best Animated Short Film, the 11th Oscar Pixar has won since its founding in 1986. The director has said that Kass's is a thankless job. "When Michael succeeds, no one notices (Geri's) jacket," Pinkava told one interviewer.
Geri's Game has been playing to limited audiences as part of an animated short films festival. But Kass's technology will soon be on display for the masses. The new clothing simulator been incorporated into two feature-length Pixar releases that promise to be blockbusters -- A Bug's Life, due out this fall, and a Toy Story sequel scheduled for the 1999 holiday season. Both will receive the full marketing force of Disney, Pixar's distributor.
A competitive ice-dancer and juggler in his spare time, Kass has found the culture of Pixar an invigorating mix of the technical and artistic. "People interested in simulation are typically from the academic community and have to solve complex mathematical problems including partial differential equations," he says. "But if you're an animator, you're interested in performance and acting and story. Those are two different cultures. At Pixar, the cultures clash in the middle, and some beautiful story-telling emerges from the conflict."
-- Tom Krattenmaker