February 12, 2003: Notebook
The class: Organic Chemistry
For more than 20 years, professor Maitland Jones has taught organic chemistry to thousands of students, and as each can attest, Jones loves to lecture. His blackboards become murals of equations in brightly colored chalk as he peppers his lectures with one-liners.
But six years ago, Jones started phasing out these lectures. Instead of taking seats in a Woodrow Wilson School bowl, students go to a dining hall, where in small groups they work at tables on problem sets. In the fall of the two-semester class, Jones lectures 40 percent of the time; by the end of the spring semester, the class meets only in the dining hall.
Joness new Orgo is a radical change from the lecture/lab/exam format. In 1997, Jones taught a freshman seminar in organic chemistry, and by dividing the class into small groups for problem-set work, he was able to spend time with each group. I liked it, they liked it, Jones says. Most important, it helped them learn the stuff. So he wanted to find out, could this format be incorporated into the much larger organic chemistry course?
Six years later, the answer is yes. Long an intense staple of premeds, the new Orgo requires as much work if not more as the old. Jones insists students come to every class with the reading done to reap the benefits of the problem-solving groups. And Jones still pulls up his chair to different groups to offer guidance. He also has hired former Orgo students as teaching assistants. Theres an illusion that theres a big stigma around Orgo, says Sarah Milgrom 03, a molecular biology major now in her second year of teaching. I want to dispel that.
REQUIRED READING: Organic Chemistry by M. Jones.
A whole new world
Princetons new genomics center takes postgenomicsapproach
By Billy Goodman 80
Photo: David Botstein, director of the genomics institute, poses in the new Icahn Laboratory. (frank wojciechowski)
Fifty years ago this April, James Watson and Francis Crick signaled the start of the modern era of genetics by publishing the structure of the genetic molecule DNA in the journal Nature. Barely more than 10 years ago, scientists embarked on the Human Genome Project, to determine the DNA the base sequence of the human genetic endowment. In the last two years, a draft of the human genome has been published and various other model organisms, including the mouse and the mustard Arabidopsis thaliana have been sequenced.
Whats left to do?
Plenty, it turns out, and Princeton is positioned to be in the thick of things in the postgenomic era through its Lewis-Sigler Institute of Integrative Genomics. The institute was launched in 1999 with Shirley Tilghman as its founding director. When she became president of the university, James Broach, professor of molecular biology, became acting director. And last fall, one of the pioneers of modern genetics, Stanford Universitys David Botstein, was hired to be director.
On January 17, as construction workers raced to complete the dazzling new Carl Icahn Laboratory, designed by Rafael Viñoly, Tilghman presented Botstein to the university community at a symposium, Genomics: Connecting Basic Biology With Disease. Eight speakers focused on some of the ways that genomic research may alter medical practice as scientists and physicians gain a greater understanding of the biology of disease.
Calling Botstein a towering figure in modern molecular biology, Tilghman paused and added, But thats not why I hired him. She hired him, she said, because he is passionately interested in education. Beginning at M.I.T., developing innovative ways of teaching biology to undergraduates has been at the center of his interests.
We got a twofer in David Botstein, Tilghman said.
Earlier, speaking from Stanford, where he remains on the medical school faculty until June, Botstein pointed out how Princetons genomics institute would differ from the many others popping up in academia. Other places, he said, focus on training people who already possess bachelors or doctoral degrees. The Lewis-Sigler Institutes emphasis will be teaching young people the appropriate skills and curriculum that will be required to do research in a postgenome-sequence world. . . . This process has to begin at the beginning of college education.
Botstein is eager to get back to teaching undergraduates, for which he was highly regarded at M.I.T. Its the biggest challenge in the field, he acknowledged: How to make an appropriate education and one that is not the sum of everything you could want to learn, but a prioritized, interdisciplinary program that will appeal to young people as they come to college.
He and others have referred to the institutes program as postgenomic, meaning that institute researchers and students will figure out better ways to tease practical information out of the many sequenced genomes (now more than 30) and other data.
As he put it at the symposium, With the parts list in hand, its time to prepare students for a new day.
Another speaker provided numerous examples of the way researchers, sometimes not even trained in biology, are analyzing the voluminous data generated by genome projects to answer important biological questions. Eric Lander 78 is the director of the Whitehead Institutes Center for Genome Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Affiliated with M.I.T., the Whitehead Institute was the leader of the Human Genome Projects sequencing effort and continues to be at the forefront of genomic research. Lander, with undergraduate and doctoral degrees in mathematics, is part of an emerging field biology as information and is leading the way in designing new ways to use biological data.
Judging by its first members, the Lewis-Sigler Institute is being built in recognition of the interdisciplinary biology-as-information paradigm. Yes, there are four faculty members from molecular biology. But the other members are from physics, chemistry, the Woodrow Wilson School, chemical engineering, and computer science. One of the first to move in is assistant professor Mona Singh of the computer science department, whose work focuses on the analysis of protein structure and protein-protein interactions. She will be bringing five graduate students to a large dry lab space in the Icahn Laboratory, where they can work on their computer-based projects and, if they desire, have access to traditional wet laboratories to run experiments based on their computational studies.
Singh and her students are looking forward to being in the Icahn Laboratory and interacting with the experimentalists. People in different fields think very differently, so one advantage of having us all together is to experience different kinds of thinking, she said. By being surrounded by other scientists, Singh said, she hopes her research group will be constantly reminded that although they use computational tools, the problems they work on are in biology.
Billy Goodman 80 is a writer who lives in Montclair, New Jersey.
Priorities Committee makes recommendations
Atuition increase of 4.5 percent was among the recommendations for the 200304 budget that was to go before the Board of Trustees on January 25.
Other areas expected to see budget increases are health services, information technology, financial aid, and library services.
Overall, the $854 million budget is 4.8 percent higher than that for 2002-03.
The committee recommended a $324,000 increase for health services. Pressing needs there include a senior staff psychologist, a physician for athletic medicine and eating disorders, and urgent care health professionals.
And a $150,000 increase for information technology will provide for a technical staff member and for software and other tools to enhance the universitys network security. A $200,000 increase for the library is to fund acquisitions.
Provost Amy Gutmann, chairwoman of the 15-member Priorities Committee, said developing a balanced budget was not done without effort, including slowing down the universitys debt payment schedule. She credited the success of Annual Giving and the university endowments positive performance for allowing a balanced budget without any major cuts.
Cottage Club seeks tax-exempt status
Photo: Cottage Club pays $51,000 in property taxes annually. (frank wojciechowski)
Princeton Borough officials and the Cottage Club are at odds over the eating clubs legal attempts to gain tax-exempt status, which would eliminate the clubs $51,000 annual property-tax payment to the borough.
The club has been listed on the New Jersey State Register of Historic Places since 1999 and it is allowed to apply for a tax exemption under state law since it is also a nonprofit entity.
The club is applying to the New Jersey state tax court and the state Department of Environmental Protection (D.E.P.), which oversees the Office of Historic Preservation, for the tax exemption.
To qualify for the exemption, a building on the state historic register would have to be open to the public on a regular basis, says Elaine Makatura, a D.E.P. spokeswoman.
Borough officials argue that the club, which has an assessed value of $1.5 million, does not meet that requirement. They fear the precedent it would set for 10 other eating clubs, which collectively pay nearly $500,000 annually in property taxes.
Tower Club has been exempt from property taxes since 1972 because it is used for academic purposes. Preceptorials are held there for both Tower members and nonmembers, according to borough officials.
I think Cottage is intelligently trying to take advantage of a law designed for one purpose and using that law unfairly for another purpose, says borough councilman Roger Martindell, chairman of the councils finance committee. The law was intended to protect historic structures for the benefit of the public in general; to that extent the law is laudatory. But in this case, the Cottage Club, which is not open to the general public, is trying to take advantage of the law at the expense of borough taxpayers, who provide police, fire, and street cleaning services to members of the Cottage Club.
Cottage Clubs attorney, Thomas Olson, said he could not comment on the applications since they are pending litigation. Arthur Bellows 60, chairman of the clubs graduate board, also declined to comment.