Notebook - June 10, 1998

Notebook - June 10, 1998

New football stadium nears completion
University is still searching for $25-million donor and a name for new arena

The planners of the new Princeton Stadium have managed to capture Palmer's memory while infusing it with a lightness and intimacy that Palmer lacked. "Awesome" and "breathtaking" are the two words most used by people to describe the new stadium, said Director of Athletics Gary D. Walters '67, who expects it to become an icon of campus architecture.

Construction on the stadium is expected to be completed by September 1, in time for the dedication on September 19, when the football team will open at home against Cornell. By early May some of the seating in the lower bowl was completed and the turf was a thick, rich green, but in other areas cement still needed to be poured, railings had yet to be erected, and mud lay where walkways and landscaping are planned.

Once completed, the new stadium will provide a more intimate setting for spectators, as there is seating on all four sides, and the seats are closer to the field than was the case in Palmer Stadium. With fewer permanent seats -- roughly 28,000 as compared to 45,000 in the old arena -- spectators will fill more of the stadium.

The Princeton Stadium, which is 15 feet taller than Palmer, will offer creature comforts that were missing in the old stadium: locker rooms, a sunlit concourse, lights in both football and track stadiums, an elevator to the press box, four plazas, a network of drainage pipes for the natural-turf field, more bathroom facilities, and more than 500 spaces for disabled spectators.

In the upper tier of the stadium, there are rooms for offices, sky boxes, or other purposes. The Class of 1956 has already named a lounge in the northwest corner.

The area surrounding the stadium is undergoing changes, including the addition of walkways and landscaping, to make it more pedestrian friendly.

The stadium gives a nod to old Palmer -- a concrete slab reading "The Palmer Memorial Stadium," saved from the venerable arena, sits inside the main entrance gates in the north concourse.

Although builders are almost done with Princeton Stadium, fund-raising is ongoing. At press time, just over $20 million had been raised, said John R. Emery '52, of the development office. The university is still looking for a $25-million donor, whose name, if he or she wishes, will grace the stadium.

Steve Tosches, the Tigers' football coach, said he and the players are looking forward to "christening [Princeton Stadium] and establishing some new traditions." The historic slate is wiped clean, he added, and "we have a chance to leave a mark." After spending last season on the road, the team will play six games in the new stadium next season.

Walters expects a full house at the September 19 opener. To encourage healthy attendance throughout the first year, the university will sell tickets for just $5, he said.

Lacrosse and soccer games will also be held in the stadium next year, said Walters. The men's lacrosse NCAA quarterfinals is scheduled there for May. And in keeping with the intended civic purpose of the stadium, the university wants to schedule nonathletic events such as student concerts, film festivals, block parties, and fireworks displays.

Trustees call for an end to alcohol abuse

Alcohol abuse continues to be a serious problem on campus, the trustees have concluded. Combating it requires more than the piecemeal effort that the university has tried so far, said Marsha Levy-Warren '73, chairwoman of a subcommittee of the Trustee Committee on Student Life, Health, and Athletics, which has been assessing the use and abuse of alcohol on campus for more than a year.

In early May the trustees released a statement that calls on the entire university community to take action against alcohol abuse. Published in The Daily Princetonian, the statement says in part, "There is no single or simple solution to alcohol abuse. Instead, making further progress requires a comprehensive and collaborative effort in which all members of the Princeton community play a role."

The trustees hope a campus-wide effort can avert tragedies like the alcohol-related deaths that have occurred at some other colleges and universities, said Levy-Warren. In addition, the trustees want to curb alcohol-induced violence on campus. "Virtually every instance of physical and sexual abuse has been alcohol related," said Levy-Warren.

The trustees didn't put forth any specific action plan; instead, they called on every individual in the university community -- students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, parents -- to examine what he or she personally could do to curb excessive drinking on campus. Over the coming months, the trustees will meet with all sectors of the university community to develop a comprehensive plan, which will be brought to the board during the next academic year. The plan will take years to work, said Levy-Warren, and will not be a "quick healer."

The statement calls on a number of offices, departments, and individuals to provide leadership in addressing alcohol abuse, including masters of colleges, the eating clubs, the Alumni Council, student leaders, the Office of Health Services, and the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Master of Wilson College and Associate Professor of Sociology Miguel A. Centeno said the trustees' initiative gives him more support in fighting alcohol abuse and abusive social behavior. "The situation has gotten very bad," he said, adding that binge drinking and a "zoo atmosphere" have become a part of campus life.

By press time, the Undergraduate Student Government hadn't discussed what it could do to curb alcohol abuse, said president David Ascher '99. But he cautioned against letting the trustee initiative become an attack on the clubs.

Biological software
Our genes are smarter than computers

Without benefit of graduate degrees or even a "For Dummies" manual, the cells of living things routinely perform complex computations. They "read" and "rewrite" vast quantities of genetic information to produce the astounding variety of creatures and plants on earth.

But how did mere molecules get so organized? Scientists are finding it devilishly difficult to trace that vital learning curve back to its genesis billions of years ago in the primordial soup.

Now researchers have begun to develop new insights by intertwining two rapidly advancing but seemingly unrelated fields: computer science and molecular genetics. A computer scientist deals in a cleverly arranged logic of zeroes and ones that get processed by manipulations of the flow of electrons through circuits. A molecular biologist specializes in the natural chemical interactions that take place in the basic building blocks of life. Together they demonstrate an intriguing synergy.

In 1994, computer theorist Leonard Adleman of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles revealed that he had found a way to harness the power of nature's genetic data bits -- DNA -- to solve a computation problem of his choosing. (He posed the seven-city traveling salesman type of problem, a classic whose solution would be the mapping of a certain type of efficient route among seven departure and destination points.) In his lab, the four units of DNA (the chemical "letters" A, T, C, and G, assembled in various sequences) replaced zeros and ones as computational symbols. In about a week, trillions of DNA strands reacting in a test tube produced an answer. A field was born.

Now, in her laboratory at Princeton, evolutionary biologist Laura F. Landweber '89 is approaching the issue from a different direction, studying presentday organisms that have developed bizarre approaches to genetic problemsolving. Landweber, who received her doctorate from Harvard in 1993, is an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Landweber has discovered, for example, that "simple" single-celled organisms (ciliated protozoans of genus Oxytricha or Stylonychia) have managed to solve a potentially harder computing problem than the one posed by Adleman -- one with nearly 50 starting points and destinations, instead of just seven.

The ciliates mastered the skill millions of years ago as an evolutionary strategy. To assemble their own "rebellious" genes, she said, these organisms learned to unscramble some of them, starting with smaller pieces and executing more steps along a more complicated path than any other known cell.

"The invention of the computer was fairly recent, and the invention of DNA computing is even more recent," said Landweber. "But these ciliates...and other remarkable single-celled organisms have really scooped the entire field by 100 million years."

Landweber's ciliates are the sort of creatures seen in pond water under a microscope. They swim and feed with the aid of a hairlike covering of fine, whiplike tendrils (cilia). Ciliates have the bizarre characteristic of possessing two different types of nuclei, instead of just one. (The nucleus contains the genetic "recipes" that govern all the cell's structures and functions.)

In the ciliate cell, the smaller of its two nuclei contains all the hereditary information required for survival -- but the instructions are broken into many smaller bits and sometimes even "crippled" by chunks of what appears to be meaningless gibberish. It was David Prescott of the University of Colorado at Boulder who, in 1988, discovered that some genes must be unscrambled in order to form the second, fatter nucleus, where the genetic instructions are reorganized so that they function properly.

Every human gene also seems to consist mostly of gibberish -- so-called junk DNA -- which scientists speculate may play a crucial role in the regulation and evolution of new genes. These ciliates, however, throw out most of their junk -- as much as 95 percent of their DNA -- "popping out" only the presumably useful material for retention in the second nucleus, she said. The ciliate "has thereby solved the riddle of junk DNA. Having had a few million years longer [to evolve], it's possible they've come up with a more clever solution than the vertebrates."

The ciliate DNA Landweber studies is flown in from the University of Witten in Germany, where collaborator Hans Lipps "harvests" it, using a fine gauze sieve to separate the fat macronuclei from the smaller micronuclei. Along with microscopes, test tubes, and gels, she uses a conventional computer. "I've spent many hours and nights staring into a screen trying to disentangle these [gene] rearrangements," she said.

In the DNA unscrambling process, the business end of each segment of DNA code has a "word," and it must find the next word in the "sentence," perhaps thousands of units away. "When it finds its match, they line up and are knitted together by an unknown recombination process," Landweber said. Watching the process reminds her of her undergraduate days in the Princeton marching band, whose members would scatter all over the playing field and then reassemble in a prearranged order.

She is investigating questions such as how many steps it takes to reassemble a scrambled gene, how the "programs" are written, and how much backtracking and errorcorrecting the process involves.

These oddly advanced cells might teach scientists "how to build a DNA computer in the laboratory to solve other mathematical search problems," Landweber said. With collaborator Richard J. Lipton in the computer science department, her laboratory is also investigating questions such as how to build a "molecular computer" out of RNA -- a much more catalytically versatile molecule than DNA -- to solve a class of problems from chess. Landweber hopes that it will be possible eventually to insert a "designer scrambled gene" into a ciliated protozoan, she said, "and let the cell compute the solution to a new encryption problem." Some call this new field the invention of "biological software," which uses the hardwiring already in place in living cells to compute the solutions to mathematical problems.

But there may be a more profound lesson there. By studying various ways in which genes reorder themselves in a single cell today, researchers suspect they may find clues to how genes first began to assemble themselves on the young earth, when they began to "write" the genetic code now used in virtually all living things.

-- Kathy Sawyer

This story was adapted from one that appeared in the December 15, 1997, Washington Post. Reprinted with permission.

Trustees promote four to tenure

The trustees promoted four members of the faculty to the rank of associate professor with tenure, effective July 1: Suzanne L. Marchand in history, Gideon A. Rosen *92 in philosophy, Cecilia E. Rouse in economics and the Woodrow Wilson School, and Allan M. Rubin in geosciences.

Marchand, who specializes in the history of modern France, Germany, and Austria, and European intellectual history, joined the faculty in 1992. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1991 and is the author of Down from Olympus: Archaeology and the Fate of Philhellenism in Germany, 1750-1970 (1996).

Rosen, who returned to Princeton in 1993, was a recipient of the President's Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1997. His specialties are metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of mathematics. He is coauthor of A Subject with No Object: Strategies for Nominalist Reconstrual in Mathematics (1997).

Rouse's fields are labor economics and public finance. She has written extensively about the links between education and income in the marketplace. Rouse earned her Ph.D. at Harvard in 1992.

Rubin's research combines field observations and theoretical analysis to understand the physical processes operating within the earth, particularly those concerning the movement of magma and crustal deformation. He earned his Ph.D. in 1988 at Stanford University.

Some professors hesitant to deflate grades

When a faculty committee issued a report in February detailing rampant grade inflation, the findings received national attention and had more than a few undergraduates fearing that the time when A's and B's flowed like wine was about to end.

Several months and dozens of departmental meetings later, it is looking increasingly unlikely that an acrosstheboard rollback in grades will be happening any time soon.

Although some professors seized upon the report as an opportunity to toughen standards, others have expressed reluctance to take strong action to combat the trend. "People say, 'Why should we punish our students?' or 'Why should we be the first to move?'" said Michael Rothschild, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, explaining why departments are generally not advocating immediate action.

The Wilson School, said Rothschild, has held several meetings involving both faculty and students, but the conversations have not resulted in any kind of consensus as to what, if anything, should be done.

The school, he added, sent a letter to Dean of the College Nancy Weiss Malkiel explaining that it would be extremely difficult to adjust grading standards this year, or even next.

The classics department has decided it needs to clarify its grading standards, said chairman Josiah Ober, who has no plans to arbitrarily drop grades across the board. "Rather, we want to make clear that we know as a department what is A work, what is B work, and so on down the line," he said. The department, he added, will hold workshops next fall in which professors will compare grading practices, and junior faculty members will be instructed how to assess students' work.

Meetings in the chemistry department drew one conclusion, said chairman George L. McLendon: the department has no grade inflation, and there is no need to change. "Our own statistics have not changed," said McLendon of the grades his department has been giving out over the past 15 years.

Some departments have yet to address grade inflation. "We don't take this lightly," said David P. Dobkin, chairman of the computer science department. But the department must first deal with the more severe problem of "enrollment inflation," he said. "Our enrollments have gone up about 20 percent per year for each of the past four years. It is difficult to address one problem without the other." The department intends to further investigate grade inflation now that the semester is over, he added.

-- Griff Witte '00

This story is adapted from one that appeared in The Daily Princetonian.

In Brief

Students' libido: According to a campus survey conducted by The Daily Princetonian, 56 percent of undergraduates reported having had sex at some point in their lives. Princeton students are more abstemious in their sexual relationships than their counterparts at Yale and Harvard, where 73 percent and 64 percent of students, respectively, reported having had sex, according to surveys done by their student newspapers in the past few years. The Prince's findings are also lower than those of a 1995 Centers for Disease Control report, which found that, nationwide, 82.9 percent of students at four-year institutions have had sexual intercourse. According to the Prince's survey, 51 percent of women and 39 percent of men reported being virgins. The CDC report found that only 14.9 of women and 19.4 percent of men nationwide were virgins.

New theater: McCarter Theatre will build a second auditorium, attached to the back of its current structure, which will serve, among other things, as a stage for the university's theater and dance program, said Jeffrey Woodward, McCarter's managing director. It will seat 350, will cost about $8 million, and will take roughly three years to build. The university and McCarter Theatre will raise funds for the project.

Irish Poetry: To mark the acquisition of the Leonard L. Milberg '53 Collection of Irish Poetry, which comprises more than 1,100 printed works by 50 poets from the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, an exhibit of materials from the collection will be on display in Firestone Library through September 20.