April 24, 2002: Notebook
It isnt often that a visiting professor has to leave midyear, but Robert Finn *78, who last fall taught Central Asia and Islamic Fundamentalism in the Department of Near Eastern Studies had to say allaha ismarladik(a Turkish goodbye) at the end of the semester when President Bush named him ambassador to Afghanistan.
Finn, who knows 15 languages, grew up in New York and earned a B.A. at St. Johns University and a masters at NYU. He wrote his Princeton doctoral dissertation on the early Turkish novel which was to have been the topic of his spring course.
Since 1980, Finn has worked for the State Department, both in Washington, D.C., and in various consular positions in Turkey, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Croatia, and Tajikistan. This was his first teaching job at Princeton.
Of his many overseas postings, Finn wrote in an e-mail from Kabul, my most interesting was in Azerbaijan, 10 years ago, at a time of new independence and nation-building, together with the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and the resultant refugee situation. His most difficult was in Croatia, because of the human-rights situation resulting from the disintegration of Yugoslavia.
About his current challenge, in Afghanistan, Finn said in a statement, We all know that there are enormous difficulties ahead. The problems of terrorism, regionalism, famine, and extremism await the people of Afghanistan at every turn. It is our task in this embassy to do our best to help them along the way.
With the situation at his new post, it is up in the air whether Finn can make time to come back to Princeton except to see his son, Edward, graduate this spring.
From left, Professor Ed Zschau 61, Philip Michaelson 03, MindSpeak team members Jamie Coughlin 02, Michael Newman 02, and Avik Mukhopadhyay 02
In an academic environment brimming with creativity, Princeton students annually produce high-tech inventions that hold the potential to hit it big. For the past four years, dedicated alumni have helped undergraduates learn the tools to turn their innovations into corporate success through a business plan contest. During January and February, the alumni judges review the submitted plans, and on Alumni Day, the contestants make presentations to the panel; the winners are announced at the end of the day. This year, three teams were recognized and split $10,000 in the competition.
University classes provide undergraduates with a solid technical foundation, but alumni play a role in training students how to develop their ventures into business proposals, according to Phil Michaelson 03, the contest director. The business contest is a great opportunity to put students in contact with professionals and entrepreneurs, said Michaelson. Alumni are best suited to provide the mentoring and education they need to get a start.
Alumni participated in every stage of the competition process, which began in October with a basic concept description. After students met in a strategy session with venture capitalists, alumni worked closely with them to offer feedback and hone their business plans in a workshop. The original crop of 31 proposals was whittled down to four finalists, and Kef Kasdin 85, Anthony Marino 95, and Warren Thaler 84 served on the final judging panel that selected the winning teams.
After working for years in investing and venture capital firms, alumni are eager to support students in the process by sharing their professional expertise.
Its an enjoyable experience, said Arthur Klausner 82, a general partner at Domain Associates, who participated in this years workshop and judged the past two contests. Its a chance to use the experience youve built over the years to help people just beginning on the path.
Alumni are also impressed with the quality of the presentations, according to Klausner. He said that without a business school Princeton is at a disadvantage in the field, but he believes the program is growing strong under the guidance of Professor Ed Zschau 61, who teaches a high-tech entrepreneurship class and works closely with the student Entrepreneurship Club. He also credits Howard Cox 64, who donates prize money for the contest and who has played a key role over the years in promoting entrepreneurship at Princeton.
The plans from the Princeton contest, considering they come from undergraduates, are amazing in their intellectual scope and creativity, said Klausner.
The final proposals this year ranged from early cancer screening technology to worm composting. The top team of seniors, Jamie Coughlin, Avik Mukhopadhyay, and Michael Newman, developed software, called MindSpeak, for interactive presentations that could ease communication in settings from a classroom to a corporate boardroom. The MindSpeak innovators credited alumni involved with the Princeton Entrepreneurs Network (PrincetonEN), a nonprofit organization that supports new business ventures created by alumni, for providing valuable guidance essential to their early success. Later this year, MindSpeaks creators will enter a business contest in Singapore.
Though success is never certain for new companies, the MindSpeak inventors hope to follow the path of last years contest winners, the founders of Princeton Power, and turn their technology into a company. Deep down inside were all entrepreneurs, and it is definitely something we want to pursue further, said Coughlin.
By Nathan Kitchens 02
Just as the personal computer made the typewriter obsolete, so may WordNet eventually replace the dictionary as we know it today.
WordNet, the brainchild of George Miller, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, emeritus, is an electronic lexical database of approximately 139,000 words that Miller and his colleagues have assembled over the past 17 years. It is unlike any conventional dictionary or thesaurus in that it gives not only definitions and extensive lists of synonyms, but links words together via a web of semantic relationships.
Search WordNet for chair and you will get its four senses as a noun (a seat for one person, the position of professor, etc.) and two senses as a verb (to act or preside as chair, to preside over). Then, taking WordNet further, you can access its hypernyms (chair is a kind of . . . ), hyponyms ( . . . is a kind of chair) and meronyms (parts of a chair), among other links.
WordNet began in 1985 when Miller needed a computerized dictionary for his psychology research on how the human brain learns and uses language. When dictionary publishers Miller approached wanted hefty fees for their software, he decided to create an online dictionary himself. After receiving some small grants to get started, Miller began manually inputting nouns, his wife took the adjectives, and Princeton staff scientist Christiane Fellbaum typed in the verbs.
As WordNet developed, it became more useful in computer science and information processing than as a tool for psycholinguistic research.
Miller is still steaming ahead on his project. He always has paper in his pocket to write down any possible WordNet entries he might come across. One day recently, his list bore the words, among others, Caledonia, the Scotland of poets and crosswords, and Zamboni, that smoother of ice rink surfaces.
I think Zamboni is pretty common, but somehow we just missed it, says Miller, who also recently inputted names of 50 terrorist organizations from a State Department list.
The 82-year-old professor would like to take WordNet a step further by connecting adjectives and adverbs, but more funding is needed. Perhaps some alumni would give us money to continue, Miller says with a smile. But because WordNet is offered free of charge, No venture capitalists need inquire, he adds.
WordNet can be downloaded at www.cogsci.princeton.edu.
By Fran Hulette
Fran Hulette is an occasional contributor to PAW.
Workers broke ground on a $14.1-million expansion of McCarter Theatre last fall, seven years after Michael Cadden, the director of Princetons theater and dance program, and theatrical and film producer Roger S. Berlind 52 first talked about the need for a first-class performance space for Princeton students. The addition will feature a 350-seat theater, two rehearsal halls, a classroom, offices, and dressing rooms.
The Roger S. Berlind Theatre will serve as the universitys principal theater and as McCarters second, smaller theater, allowing us to do more intimate work, says McCarters managing director Jeffrey Woodward. The Program in Theater and Dance, whose home will remain at 185 Nassau Street, has two studios, each seating about 100. I really wanted a space that I could point to and say thats how much Princeton thinks about theater and dance, says Cadden. Berlinds $3.5-million gift jump-started the project.
Architect Hugh Hardy 54 *56 of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer designed the building, which is expected to be completed in 2003. The Berlind Theatre complements the McCarter, but at the same time has its own distinct identity, says Woodward.
A number of playwrights whose work has been performed at McCarter, such as Athol Fugard, have taught in the theater and dance program. Were assuming that when we move into the new building other possibilities are going to present themselves, says Cadden. Were going to see what evolves organically from sharing a space.
Photo: George Rathmann *51 founded the worlds largest independent biotechnology company. (Denise Applewhite)
The sidelines at the friendly football games George Rathmann *51 played in during his graduate school days at Princeton were frequented by some hard-hitting intellectuals.
On any given afternoon, Nobel laureate Albert Einstein or future winner John Nash *50 might stroll over to the field outside Frick Laboratory, where Rathmann and his chemistry classmates would play touch football as a break from research, classes, and experiments.
No matter what Rathmann did on the makeshift gridiron, the 6'4" former Milwaukee high school basketball star would have been hard to miss. Encounters with scientific luminaries such as Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer were just as hard to ignore and left a lasting impression on the man who would essentially create the biotechnology industry.
There was a lot of magic, says Rathmann.
That magic must have rubbed off on him. In 1980 he founded Amgen, Inc. today the worlds largest independent biotechnology company which in turn gave rise to the $22.3-billion U.S. biotechnology industry.
Its one thing to start a company and its another to manage spectacular growth successfully, and hes demonstrated extraordinary talent, says Patrick McGeer *52, who once worked and played alongside Rathmann and is now professor of neurological research, emeritus, at the University of British Columbia.
Rathmann jokes, Im almost always viewed by business people as one of the best scientists they know, and Im almost always viewed by scientists as one of the best business people they know. Now the common denominator is that Im not much of a scientist or a businessman.
In truth, hes both. At Amgen, Rathmanns research and development experience, coupled with his charming smile and outgoing personality, helped turn the $18-million startup into a multibillion operation. The companys focus on proteins and recombinant DNA technology the transfer of a gene from one organism into another organism, literally DNA fragments from different sources that have been recombined led to the development of treatments such as Amgens first product, Epogen. The red-blood cell stimulant, which supplements the supply of the naturally occurring substance produced by healthy kidneys called erythropoietin, is used by dialysis patients suffering from anemia. The company later used the same recombinant DNA technology to develop Neupogen, a white-blood cell stimulator that aids in fighting infections for people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Combined, the two products had sales of nearly $3 billion in 1999. More important, says Rathmann, they helped people go on with their daily lives.
Thats one reason Rathmann has spoken out through the years about the new-drug approval process at the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, it can take up to 12 years and nearly $500 million to get a medication through the process and into the hands of patients. We ought to attempt to do better and be aware of the fact that the so-called safe path of rejection and delaying and preventing something from being tested seems safe because it means that nothing can go wrong, says Rathmann.
Rathmann, who now chairs the board at Hyseq in Sunnyvale, California, and at Seattles ZymoGenetics, which recently went public, has watched the biotechnology field grow from about eight U.S. companies in 1980 to an estimated 1,273 in 2000, according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
Rathmann began his career with 3M, where he worked for 21 years. He moved on to Litton Industries in 1972 and later to Abbott Laboratories, where he served as vice president of research and development before leaving to start Amgen.
Rathmann cofounded another biotech firm, ICOS, in 1990. The Washington-based company focuses on protein-based and small-molecule therapeutics. His current contributions at Hyseq focus on research involving the sequencing of genes with an eye toward the development of treatments for cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and inflammatory and infectious diseases.
Rathmann is excited by the advances made in the sequencing of the human genome during the last few years. Although he, like many others, initially thought the breakthroughs in genetic research would be a shortcut to success, Rathmann realizes there is a lot of research and testing ahead.
The sequencing of the human genome last year was a positive jolt for the whole field of biotechnology. A lot of stocks benefited from more enthusiasm, more visibility, more general confidence that this was going to change how we do things and it will but its going to be another few years before we see the real benefits. Weve barely scratched the surface of what its impact is going to be, he explains. Its kind of fun to watch it unfold.
A longer version of this story appears on PAWPlus at www.princeton.edu/paw/plus, issue April 24, 200.