Author Archives: Emily Trost

Jackson *86 speaks about ‘unfinished business’ for the envionment

Ever have that nightmare where you still haven’t finished your thesis? Former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson *86 has.

Returning to campus can counteract that “recurring nightmare,” Jackson said, addressing an audience of students, faculty, and community members in Dodds Auditorium April 9.

“I still have that nightmare that it’s the day before my master’s thesis defense. And I haven’t finished it, but I’m really stressed,” she said, the audience laughing. “But every time I’m here, it reinforces that I got the degree.”

Jackson, a chemical engineer who served as head of the EPA in the Obama administration from January 2009 until February of this year, recounted her personal story of how she came to define herself as environmentalist.

Noting that the word “environmentalist” has, in some circles, come to refer to environmental activism for political purposes, Jackson provided her own definition: An environmentalist is someone “who cares deeply about and prioritizes the environment — the environment, not as an outside concept, but more for its impact on our health, its impact on our well-being … and its impacts on our prosperity,” she said.

Jackson recalled learning about environmental issues during her undergraduate years at Tulane, when she first heard of the “soup of chemicals” in the Mississippi River causing problems downstream in New Orleans as well as the government’s inability to adequately respond to large-scale, hazardous environmental problems like the infamous Love Canal in upstate New York.

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Kornfeld Simpson ’14 uses computer science to aid archaeologists

Anna Kornfeld Simpson ’14, left, and Yingxue Li ’13 test a robot at the project site in Malta. (Photo: Christopher Clark)

The complicated network of underground tunnels and wells under the island of Malta holds promise for archaeologists seeking to uncover more of the nation’s history. But to humans, they are largely inaccessible because of their narrow passages and the modern-day buildings that sit atop many. Archaeologists have resorted to using autonomous robots to explore the tunnels’ depths, and Princeton computer science major Anna Kornfeld Simpson ’14  has worked to improve how robots can navigate and understand where they are in the tunnels.

Kornfeld Simpson became interested in the project after a course in autonomous robot navigation with visiting professor Christopher Clark during her sophomore year. Looking for a way to get involved and apply what she’d learned, Kornfeld Simpson joined Clark’s team and set off for Malta last spring.

Kornfeld Simpson was tasked with finding a way to make it easier for a robot to move about the tunnels and create maps from the sonar information it collects. A robot lowered into an underwater tunnel is good at swimming, she said, but difficulties arise with how well the robot knows where it’s going. Sonar is helpful, but only up to a certain point.

“The biggest challenge with this data is that it’s really noisy, messy, and complicated,” she explained. “It’s just a whole bunch of numbers to the robot. … [The robot] takes a ‘look around’ like a bat might do. It finds out roughly how far away the nearest obstacle is in all directions.”

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Former ambassadors speak on ongoing violence in Middle East

In response to the recent anti-American violence in Libya, Egypt and Yemen, two Woodrow Wilson School professors and former U.S. ambassadors addressed the Princeton community Sept. 19. Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel, and Barbara Bodine, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, spoke before a packed audience of students and community members in Dodds Auditorium.
Kurtzer suggested that the displays of violence, which he called “horrific” and “terroristic,” demand a reassessment of the way Americans view the Middle East and its people. Such violence, he said, “happens against a backdrop of a certain way of thinking which we as Americans need to understand.”
Describing American embassies in these countries as “large and convenient targets,” Kurtzer recommended rethinking “the American footprint in the Middle East” and how the U.S. conducts diplomacy. Having had a staff of over 2,200 people in his own embassy, Kurtzer offered that a “leaner and meaner presence” may better serve U.S. interests in this region in the future.
Bodine similarly suggested that the events posed a “legitimate question about how we present ourselves in the Middle East” and a corresponding need to reconsider the size and structure of American embassies.

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TigerLaunch 2012 rewards top student entrepreneurs

Fast Company magazine founder Bill Taylor ’81 delivered the keynote remarks at Tigerlaunch 2012. (Photo: Emily Trost ’13)
The challenge: seven minutes to make a pitch, convince the judges, and win a slice of $20,000 to start a company.
On April 7, Princeton students competed at the TigerLaunch Startup Challenge, a competition now in its 13th year that encourages young entrepreneurs to envision and develop their own companies.
Organized by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, the competition attracted more than 60 teams composed of 110 students who proposed ideas for start-up companies in either a general entrepreneurship or social entrepreneurship category.
In the general entrepreneurship track, ideas incorporated student-designed technology and ranged from improving mapping for urban development to enhancing the social media experience. The social entrepreneurship projects sought to apply students’ entrepreneurial spirit to address global issues. Student-proposed projects included providing necessary sanitary options to those in developing countries, highlighting sustainable production in goods, and creating social networks to tackle unemployment.

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Geosciences Society takes on ‘The Day After Tomorrow’

Professor Daniel Sigman led the first screening in the "Hollywood Science Gone Bad" series. (Photo: Courtesy Christine Chen ’13)
As New York City was assaulted by an abnormally high tidal wave and the world rapidly began to freeze into a new ice age, laughter erupted in the Frist Campus Center basement.
The laughter came from an audience of students, faculty, and community members viewing the 2004 blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, a film often criticized by scientists for its unrealistic portrayal of geologic events.
In the film, a rapid climate shift turns today’s conditions into a new ice age in a matter of days. To most viewers, the plot is both frightening and thrilling. To a group of geoscientists, it’s ridiculous, at best.
The screening was the first installment of “Hollywood Science Gone Bad,” a movie series organized by the newly formed Princeton Undergraduate Geosciences Society (PUGS). According to Christine Chen ’13, the group’s president, the series is “dedicated to debunking all the awful science seen in Hollywood blockbuster movies.”
The inaugural event, held March 29, attracted more than 70 viewers who watched The Day After Tomorrow and listened to short lectures and critiques from geosciences professor Daniel Sigman.
Sigman, whose research focuses on nutrient cycling and ocean biochemistry, led the group through a crash course in ocean-atmosphere interactions before the movie began. He explained that even the extraordinarily inaccurate scientific details of the film were inspired by “actual kernels of evidence,” or actual past events studied by geoscientists as well as global processes known to happen on much longer timescales.
“Up to a certain level,” Sigman said, “it’s entertaining to watch the portrayal of natural processes … and to recognize the things I know about the system and see mistakes. And then, at a certain point, you just go, ‘Oh my God.’”

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Students debate religious freedom for Whig-Clio prize

i-16f0b5286c4f9bdb8bbd95c5fa4aedd4-wb_campus.jpgPrinceton doesn’t often pit members of different class years against one another, and when it does, the contest usually involves a grassy tumble for a cane on Poe Field.
The Whig Senate Chamber hosted a more civilized alternative to Cane Spree Feb. 25: the Class of 1876 Prize Debate. Four students, James Hao ’12, Evan Larson ’13, Anthony Paranzino ’14, and Aaron Hauptman ’15, competed for the historic prize, established in 1886.
The debate, held annually on Alumni Day, pairs a senior and a freshman to debate against a junior and sophomore team. The four were selected as the top debaters in their respective class years from a pool of 25 students who competed in preliminary rounds. Based on the strength of the preliminary competition, Chelsea Ayres ’12, chairwoman of the Woodrow Wilson Honorary Debate Panel, introduced the four as “the best their class has to offer.”
With notes in hand, the two teams faced off across an intricately carved table in the center of the Senate Chamber. Students, alumni, and parents were seated around the debaters, with the judges, Ayres, Benjamin Weisman ’11, and Jason Anton ’10, poised at the chamber’s main podium.

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