President’s Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
Faculty on the Road
September 23, 2009
For Princeton’s faculty, summer is a time to pursue their passions in a different setting; to collaborate with colleagues, undertake projects, and share their knowledge in places and ways that the demands of the academic year preclude. To give you a flavor of what they have been up to, I have invited three members of our faculty to reflect on their summer activities.—S.M.T.
Daniel Marlow, Professor of Physics:
I have been working at the CERN Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, on one of two large experiments that will observe high-energy proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). When it commences operation later this year, the LHC will be the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. It will recreate the conditions that existed in the early universe.
Perhaps the most remarkable fact about my stay at CERN is that 80 percent of what I do here could equally well be done in Princeton. Modern telecommunications make it easy to keep track of what is going on at remote labs and to maintain close contact with colleagues the world over. For the other 20 percent, however, there is no substitute for being here. Most of my work involves computer analysis of data, but that data originates in specialized hardware, which requires hands-on attention. A number of scientific and technical questions are sufficiently complicated that real progress requires face-to-face contact with a student or colleague in front of a blackboard. Since some of my work is organizational and involves sensitive personnel issues, I find it helpful to chat with people over coffee. Finally, chance encounters with scientists from other countries with similar interests can stimulate new ideas.
Paul Muldoon, Howard G. B. Clark ’21 University Professor in the Humanities:
For the last 10 or more years, I’ve spent six or seven weeks of my summer teaching at the Bread Loaf School of English, a division of Middlebury College in Vermont. In addition to conventional courses on reading English literature, the school offers a few in the creative and performing arts, including one on poetry writing. Why would I consider it a duty to teach such a course? Well, the students are primarily high school English teachers from all over the world, though mostly from the U.S. Whatever their background, these English teachers are often as fearful at the thought of poetry as their students are. If physics, or physical education, were taught at the pitch at which I fear poetry is taught in most high schools, there would be a public outcry.
Part of what attracts me to the idea of teaching poetry writing (and reading) to a wide range of high school English teachers is that something of their experience in the Bread Loaf classroom may be translated into their own classrooms. The hope is that they might engender in their own students some sense of the power of poetry that will take those students from their inner cities or fancy suburbs and, in a word or two, open the possibility of their coming to Princeton. If we at the tertiary level don’t take a more active, albeit indirect, role in secondary education, we soon won’t have any students fit to teach.
Carolyn Rouse, Associate Professor of Anthropology and African American Studies:
With funding from the Princeton Environmental Institute, I am building a high school in Oshiyie, Ghana, scheduled to open in September 2010. From its inception, Grand Challenges: Oshiyie has had three essential objectives: empowering the community, opening the project to Princeton students as a learning opportunity, and collecting longitudinal social scientific data. The goal is to bring together professors and students from engineering and the social sciences in order to research why culture matters when it comes to designing sustainable development projects.
The high school’s curriculum will focus on material science, engineering, and agriculture. Its students will learn by designing, raising funds for, and then building projects to solve community problems like water scarcity, hunger, poor drainage, and soil erosion. Given that I am testing whether science education can be an essential means for empowerment, I will be hiring a Princeton engineering student to teach engineering, conceptual physics, and math in Oshiyie next year.
Last summer I brought two undergraduate and two graduate students to Ghana. Their research has already produced one award-winning graduate essay and an award-winning senior thesis. More important are the conversations that this project has inspired in my classroom. Based upon my research, I designed a course titled “The Anthropology of Development” that brought together a magnificent group of students from across the disciplines. As the project continues, I look forward to bringing more students to the field and designing more courses that look closely at the cultural aspects of development.