Notebook - June 7, 2000

Graduate student discovers most distant object in the universe
This latest object, a quasar, is 12 billion years old

It seems that Lucretius was right. Back in 50 B.C.E., way before fancy telescopes and computers that read astronomical data, the Roman philosopher posited the infiniteness of the universe by saying that when you reach the end of it, just throw a spear-you will see that it flies on into what Lucretius called the wide inane.

In these modern times scientists routinely seem to discover yet another "most distant object in the universe." The latest isn't a spear, though, but a quasar.

In April graduate student Xiaohui Fan, along with a team of scientists from other institutions, identified a red-shift quasar estimated to be 12 billion years old, meaning it took 12 billion years for the quasar's light to reach Earth. Current thinking puts the age of the universe at 13 billion years.

Distant quasars, stars, and galaxies are significant because of their age. Seeing objects in their so-called infancy gives scientists more data to develop theories and better understand the origins of the universe. This particular quasar, for instance, is being seen as it existed when the universe was less than a billion years old.

Earlier this year Fan, who works with Michael Strauss, associate professor of astrophysical sciences, received the Porter Ogden Jacobus fellowship that honors outstanding graduate students.

The data Fan used were collected from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (, a huge project sponsored by nine institutions, including Princeton, that is surveying one-quarter of the sky and 100 million celestial objects. The camera for this project was developed by James Gunn, professor of astronomy, and is able to collect data on objects that are thousands of times dimmer than could be detected by previous surveys.

Quasars, or quasi-stellar objects, are believed to be powerful emissions of light that result from matter pouring into an especially massive black hole at the center of a galaxy. Before Fan identified this particular quasar, the most distant object was a galaxy discovered last year that was 11.5 billion years old.


Back to full menu of Notebook

Implementing the Wythes Report

In response to the trustees' approval of the Wythes Report recommendations, the university administration is now engaged in implementing the will of the trustees and at the same time addressing student concerns revolving around a larger student body.

The foremost concern is where to put all these new students. The Philadelphia architectural firm Kieran Timberlake was hired in January to assess possible locations and by the middle of May seemed to have settled on three sites as the most promising of the seven or so they looked at. The sites under consideration are: south of Dillon Gymnasium, in the area of the tennis courts, which would need to be relocated; the area north of McCarter Theatre, where there is some faculty housing that would need to be relocated; and the area north of Forbes College, which abuts the golf course. This final location would require moving the Springdale club house and several residences as well.

As is to be expected, there are advantages and disadvantages to each site. According to Richard R. Spies, vice president for finance and administration, the trustees will most likely not approve a site until much later this year, probably in the fall. The factors that will play into the decision include, according to Spies, location, preservation and/or enhancement of open space, consistency with long-term planning issues, cost, timing, number and complexities of enabling projects, and complexity of the approvals process.

According to Robert K. Durkee '69, vice president for public affairs, the trustees "will want to make the decision with two considerations in mind. . . . One is that any space they use for this purpose therefore becomes unavailable in the future for other potential uses." In other words, does a residential college provide the optimal use for a particular site? "The second consideration asks what impact construction of a college would have on the surrounding lands and on potential for further development of that part of campus in the future." Durkee points out that the trustees have to make their decision knowing they might be called upon in the future to make other decisions and not knowing what those decisions might be.

At a presentation made to the larger university community in May, Steve Kieran, principal of the architectural firm, said that the future residential college would contain every amenity that is currently in any of the existing colleges, such as workout rooms, performance space, cooking areas, computer clusters, etc. Kieran recommends that the new college resemble Forbes, which he said seemed to be the most conducive for community building. In talking with students, he said, his firm found that the separate entryways that exist in many of the older dorms do not lend themselves to bringing together more than the handful of students who live on each entryway. At this point no architectural firm has been selected to design the new college.

As tricky as it is to site a new residential college, it looks as if it will be trickier still to plan faculty hires and graduate student acceptances. One of the primary concerns of the undergraduates is the quality of undergraduate teaching, and the fear is that with more students possibly gravitating to already popular departments, preceptorials will get larger and advisers scarcer. But simply hiring more professors in popular departments isn't necessarily the solution. It is unpredictable what can happen from year to year with particular departments. For instance, two years ago 142 sophomores planned to major in economics; last year 118 did so, and this year only 70 indicated plans to major in economics. However, in the revised Wythes Report, the trustees state that the university can admit more graduate students to certain departments with high numbers of concentrators.

Joseph H. Taylor, dean of the faculty, said his "main job is managing the evolution of the faculty. There will be growth where there is growth." Yes, the university will hire new faculty, but not, according to Taylor, at a great rate. "Faculty growth plans are in place for the newer initiatives, such as the genomics institute, and in computer sciences, and electrical engineering and other areas where there are new intellectual activities."

Another major student concern has to do with the quality of life outside the classroom. Thomas H. Wright, Jr., vice president of the university, points out that the final Wythes Report underscores the university's commitment to provide an outstanding educational experience both in and out of the classroom. The report states that money will undoubtedly be directed toward areas of student life that most affect undergraduate life: the Frist Campus Center, residential colleges, programs offered and supported by the offices of undergraduate students, athletics, health services, and religious life.


Back to full menu of Notebook

Eight named to tenured faculty
Four associate professors move up to professor

At its April 15 meeting, the Board of Trustees approved the appointment of one full professor, Athanassios Panagiotopoulos (chemical engineering), and the promotion of one assistant professor, Elizabeth Gould (psychology), to professor. It also promoted six to associate professor: Bonnie Bassler (molecular biology), Luigi Martinelli *87 (mechanical and aerospace engineering), Kenneth Mills (history), Catherine Peters (civil and environmental engineering), Eileen Reeves (comparative literature), and Rob Wegman (music). All appointments are effective July 1.

Panagiotopoulos, who specializes in computational engineering, comes from Cornell University. He earned a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1986.

Gould studies the way nerve cells survive and proliferate in the brain. Gould received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1988 and spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow and five as assistant professor of neuroendocrinology at Rockefeller University. She joined Princeton as assistant professor in 1997.

Bassler studies the molecular mechanisms that bacteria use for intercellular communication. She earned her Ph.D. in 1990 at Johns Hopkins University. She was a postdoctoral fellow and then a research scientist at the Agouron Institute in La Jolla, California, from 1990 to 1994, when she came to Princeton as assistant professor.

Martinelli's field is computational fluid dynamics, focusing on the development of numerical methods and computer codes for the simulation of viscous flow past complex configurations. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1987. From 1987 to 1994 he was a member of the research staff and then joined the faculty as an assistant professor.

Mills studies colonial Latin America and the early modern Spanish world, with a special interest in evangelization and religious and cultural change. He received his D.Phil. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar from 1988 to 1991. He came to Princeton in 1993 as assistant professor.

Peters is a member of the Program in Environmental Engineering and Water Resources. Her research interests include processes governing the behavior of multicomponent organic contaminants in the environment, mathematical modeling of the chemistry of pollutants, and remediation techniques for hazardous waste sites. Peters earned her Ph.D. in 1992 in civil engineering and engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. After two years as a postdoctoral fellow at Michigan, she came to Princeton as assistant professor.

Reeves's special areas of interest are early modern scientific literature and journalism. She earned a Ph.D. in 1987 at Stanford University. She joined the faculty at Princeton in 1993 as assistant professor of comparative literature after four years at the University of Pennsylvania in the Romance languages and literature department.

Wegman's research focuses on medieval and Renaissance music. Wegman earned a Ph.D. in 1993 at the University of Amsterdam. He came to Princeton as assistant professor in 1995 after four years at Oxford University, first as a junior research fellow and then as a postdoctoral fellow.

Four associate professors move up

Four associate professors have been promoted to the rank of professor:

Scott Burnham (music), Andrew Ford (classics), Richard Register (chemical engineering), and Bruce Western (sociology).

Burnham, who has been at Princeton since 1989, teaches courses on music theory and analysis, history of tonal theory, and the music of Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart and others.

Ford is a specialist in Ancient Greek literature and the history of literary criticism and has been a member of the faculty since 1986. He teaches Greek language and literature and courses for the Humanities Council.

Register, whose field is polymer science and engineering, currently teaches courses in polymer synthesis and polymer structure and properties. On the faculty since 1990, he is a member of the Princeton Materials Institute and the Center for Photonics and Optoelectronic Materials.

Western, who joined the Princeton faculty in 1993, works in the areas of political sociology, economic sociology and methodology.

Back to full menu of Notebook

In memoriam
Gerald Garvey *62

Gerald Garvey *62, professor of politics, died April 9 at the Medical Center of Princeton from complications of cancer. He was 64.

After earning his Ph.D. in political science from Princeton in 1962, Garvey was an instructor at the Air Force Academy. He then served the government in a variety of offices, including that of the vice chief of staff of the Air Force and the Federal Power Commission. He joined the faculty in 1968 as an associate professor and became a professor in 1972.

He taught American Democracy, American Bureaucracy and Public Administration, The Politics of Corporate Governance, and other courses in American constitutional interpretation and political thought.

Garvey was comaster, along with his wife, Lou Ann Benshoof, of Princeton Inn College (now Forbes College) from 1977-80, and he was master of Stevenson Hall from 1970-74. In 1999 he received the Stanley Kelley Teaching Award, given by the politics department for distinguished teaching.

Back to full menu of Notebook

Packing round objects
Professor debunks theory of how spheres fit in containers

When professor of chemistry Sal Torquato says, "Stirred, not shaken," he's not referring to a martini, but to how spheres stack when poured into a container.

If ice cubes were round, and they were poured into a glass and then stirred and/or shaken, previous stacking theories say that 64 percent of the volume would be taken up by ice, leaving 36 percent for libation. Now, Torquato has demonstrated with computer simulation and theoretical observation that the resultant stacking-referred to as random close packing-long considered universal, is simply wrong. "People have been trying for years to theoretically predict what the percentage would be-to no avail," Torquato says, "and it's because the concept was totally ill-defined."

Instead, spheres may fit into a container if poured one way, and may not fit if poured another way. "When people called it 'random close packing,' they had no idea what they meant by randomness," Torquato says. To resolve the problem, Torquato, along with professor of chemical engineering Pablo Debenedetti and graduate student Tom Truskett, proposed a formal method for measuring randomness, a mathematical expression for how strongly the structure varies from the most ordered face-centered cubic array, a ubiquitous concept in freshman chemistry and materials science.

Torquato, a faculty member of the Princeton Materials Institute, said this new approach could have important implications for the design of materials. For more information, see


Back to full menu of Notebook

Que Serra sera
A sculpture for us to see

On a brutally hot day in May that did not at all resemble a normal day in spring, university work crews began to erect a massive sculpture that does not at all resemble any other sculpture on campus.

Still untitled, the Core-10 steel structure, comprising three parallel, S-shaped, 15-foot-high curves, each 94 feet long, was created by the sometimes controversial New York City artist Richard Serra. Located on a pathway between Peyton and Fine Halls, the sculpture can be walked through, as the artist intended.

Peter Joseph '72, who died of cancer in 1998, commissioned the million-dollar artwork in honor of his parents and donated it to the university. Serra, who had the work built in Germany, has taught as a visiting professor in the visual arts department.

In Brief

A group of people calling themselves the United Parents Protesting Singer came to the FitzRandolph Gate on April 22 to stage a protest and ask the university to dismiss Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp professor of bioethics, for his controversial views on people with disabilities. The group presented a petition with 1,500 signatures to university vice president Thomas Wright to give to the Board of Trustees. This is the second anti-Singer protest on campus. The first occurred on Singer's first day of classes and was staged by Not Dead Yet, a Chicago-based organization of people with disabilities.

On April 12, President Clinton presented Gennady Shvets, a physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, with a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Shvets was cited for "theoretical and computational investigations of the interaction of ultra-strong pulses with plasmas, with applications to inertial confinement fusion, to plasma-based particle accelerators, to new radiation sources based on beams and plasmas." Shvets, who comes from Kiev, Ukraine, emigrated to Baltimore in 1989, received his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1995, and came to PPPL that year.

An ongoing concern in the state of New Jersey is the need for automatic sprinklers in university and college dormitories. Prompting immediate legislation this year was a fire in January in a Seton Hall University dormitory that killed three students. State legislators continue to work out the specifics, including the time frame, of a bill that will require sprinklers in all sleeping and common areas of dormitories. At Princeton, according to Jon Hlafter, director of physical planning, 1,000 of the 5,000 bedspaces, including those at the Graduate College, are sprinklered. As the university renovates dorms, sprinklers are being installed, and he expects all rooms will be sprinklered within five years.

On April 21, a small chemical spill in a laboratory at the Engineering Quad sent three graduate students and a secretary to the hospital, where they were treated and released; there were no injuries. The spill occurred when one of the researchers tripped and knocked over a glass beaker containing chlorobenzene, a stinky, volatile, flammable liquid used to coat computer chips.

At the end of April hundreds of participants celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Center for Human Values at five panel discussions. Questions debated over the two-day celebration were: How Can Values Be Taught in the University; What Do Citizens Owe Their Constitutional Democracy, How Should We Address the Greatest Evils and Injustices of Our Time?, What's Public, What's Private, and Should Popular Culture Support Morality? The first question was addressed by panelists President Shapiro, Professor Toni Morrison, president of Smith College Ruth Simmons, Professor Peter Singer, columnist George F. Will *68, and Susan Wolf, a professor of philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. A warm, if not heated, exchange between Will and Morrison after the panelists had spoken was enjoyed by the audience and soon quelled by a diplomatic Shapiro. The center, which has 24 faculty members associated with it, began in 1990 with a $21 million gift from Laurance Rockefeller '32.

The university has named John B. Webb the director of the Program in Teacher Preparation, effective July 1. He succeeds Marue E. Walizer, who retires at the end of this month. Webb earned his doctorate in education at New York University in 1986, and since then has been chair of the foreign language department at Hunter College High School in New York. He holds two adjunct teaching positions, one at Hunter College of the City University of New York and one at Manhattanville College.

Janelle Wright '00 was awarded $15,000 as the recipient of the university's Labouisse Fellowship, which is given to a graduating senior or first-year alumnus who is planning a career in the area of development and modernization. Wright will work in Durban, South Africa, helping with the establishment of a community-based corporation. She will be working with the Built Environment Support Group, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the living conditions of residents in urban areas of Kwa-Zulu-Natal. The Labouisse Fellowship was established in 1987 to honor the memory of Henry Richardson Labouisse '26, who held posts in the State Department and United Nations for nearly 40 years. He served as head of UNICEF from 1965 to 1979.

Daniel Wesley '00 won a Churchill Scholarship, provided by the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States, which will allow him to study at Churchill College at Cambridge University. The award is given annually to outstanding American students for graduate study in engineering, mathematics, or the physical and natural sciences. Wesley's field is physics. At Princeton he won two prizes in physics: the Pyka Prize, for exceptional progress as a freshman, and the Kusaka Prize, awarded to outstanding physics undergraduates. After studying at Cambridge, where he plans to earn a certificate of advanced study in mathematics, he intends to return to the U.S. to pursue a doctorate in physics.

Back to full menu of Notebook

tech notes
Encrypting for security; interactive Web study guides

Princeton, along with a half-dozen other research universities, is among the first to adopt a new form of encryption technology that uses "digital certificates" to verify the online identity of students and faculty and allow them access to a range of online information.

Digital certificates, the latest development in Internet security, are tiny files stored in an individual user's Web browser that use coded information to identify a particular individual or institution. Each file contains an extremely long sequence of characters that is virtually impossible to crack or forge.

The digital certificate verifies for other computers that "people are in fact who their computers say they are," according to Ira Fuchs, outgoing vice president for computing and information technology.

Fuchs admits that "digital-certificate encryption is so complicated that many universities don't want it. Princeton is moving forward with two pilot projects in areas that can benefit from digital certificates." One will be to protect sensitive health-related information that students submit to health providers at McCosh. The other project will enable authorized users to do research at home or anywhere else, using any server to gain access to databases and electronic copies of journals outside their campus collection.

In November, Princeton was issued the first institutional digital certificate by the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking, a nonprofit organization of colleges and universities which is facilitating the shift to digital certificate encryption technology.



"Is this going to be on the exam?" is the single most commonly asked question in college, and Jack Goodman '89 and his brother Will '83 have created a new e-business,, that will help students whether or not they get an answer to that question. The company plans to sell interactive Web-based study guides for survey-level college courses.

Among the professors the company has engaged as project editors are Princeton's James L. Gould, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Aaron Lemonick, professor, emeritus, of physics. Former university president Robert F. Goheen '40 *48 is on its board of academic advisers.

According to Jack Goodman, the company "is responding to college students' high degree of connectivity. Students want to learn this way."

Directed to the Web site by their professors, students will be able to buy an online study guide for some introductory courses. The guides will feature interactive components and offer diagnostic testing that allows students to track their progress and compare their competency to that of other students. Professors can also customize the study guides based on material they want to emphasize, something they cannot do with the currently available printed study guides. They can also choose to restrict any customization to their students or to make it available to all students who purchase the guides.

Professor Gould has been using his own computer-based study guides through the Princeton network for years. "Students don't stop coming to lectures," he explained. "And they do feel they've been given every opportunity to do well."

-Diane Krumrey


Back to full menu of Notebook

Talks on Campus

Franklin Chang-Diaz, the U.S. astronaut with the most shuttle missions, spoke on May 8 as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Plasma Physics Laboratory and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. His talk, Plasma Rockets for the Next Generation, included his vision of the future of space flight.

David R. Murray, former professor of anthropology at Brandeis University and now director of research for Statistical Assessment Service in Washington, D.C., spoke on April 25 to a group of chemists about how much of the press jumped to poor conclusions about the studies that suggested Thomas Jefferson fathered a child by his slave Sally Hemings. Murray said that much of the media does not interpret science information accurately. The studies regarding Jefferson and Hemings suggest only that a Jefferson fathered Hemings's child, but it could have been one of another 24 living in the area, and not necessarily the third president, Murray said.

The Reverend Eugene F. Rivers III, a former gang member and now a pastor and community activist in Boston, spoke on April 25 at the Woodrow Wilson School about the need for upper-class black and white communities to help the urban poor. Inner cities need church leaders who can give moral consistency to their constituents by way of fatherhood seminars, cultural literacy programs, and job and education opportunities, said Rivers.

Victor Fuchs, professor, emeritus, of economics at Stanford University, came on April 26 to lecture and meet with students. The May 2 New York Times reported some of his views on health care: "I think we should have universal coverage financed by a general, broad-based tax which is earmarked for health care-such as value-added tax-which would give every American a voucher to be part of some health care plan. . . . I like to think of it as a multitiered system where every American has basic coverage and people have options to buy more, not subsidized by taxes but with their own after-tax dollars."

New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman's talk at the Woodrow Wilson School on April 27, entitled Sewers: The Last Frontier of Smart Growth, concerned the state's open space and how sewers are the determining factor when it comes to land development.

Back to full menu of Notebook

GO TO the Table of Contents of the current issue

GO TO PAW's home page