Author Archives: Claire Nuchtern

#ThrowbackThursday: ROTC at Princeton

Princeton students are a chronically busy crowd — we love to fill our schedules with as many classes, extracurriculars, and social events as possible. And yet, there is a group of Princeton students that goes above and beyond by somehow finding time to also serve their country through ROTC. This fall, the University will welcome back Naval ROTC for the first time since the Vietnam War, partnering with Rutgers to allow students to participate in a “crosstown” training program.

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#ThrowbackThursday: Outdoor Action

Outdoor Action members in the mid-1970s. (Photo: PAW Archives, March 18, 1975)

Outdoor Action members in the mid-1970s. (Photo: PAW Archives, March 18, 1975)

It’s hard to talk to Princeton freshmen without the topic shifting to Outdoor Action, or OA. Last fall, more than 700 members of the Class of 2017 participated in the annual “frosh trip” and over the past 40 years, more than 18,000 Tigers have been able to count trekking into the wilderness as one of their first Princeton memories.

But OA, like any other program, had to have a bit of a growth spurt to get to where it is today. When it first started in 1973, it had only eight participants and took place at the nearby Princeton Blairstown Center. Its original mission was to “propel incoming students into immediate contact with a number of their new classmates under sometimes character-testing conditions.” Continue reading

#ThrowbackThursday: The Amazing Dr. Boom

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(PAW Archives)

This week, we remember the amazing, captivating experiments of Professor Hubert Alyea ’24 *28, also known as “Dr. Boom.” Alyea had a knack for making chemistry a subject that students wanted to learn about, not simply one they were forced to take as a requirement. Despite having classes at the dreaded 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. slots, Alyea’s courses regularly filled with science and non-science students alike. 

Alyea started each concept with a story. For example, he loved to tell students that “because Madame Lavoisier was a social climber, modern chemistry was born.” Accompanying his stories were personal touches that made students even more engaged. For 33 years, Alyea held weekly precepts at his home where students enjoyed cider, doughnuts, and free-flowing conversation about chemistry, philosophy, and the meaning of life. But perhaps what was most dazzling about Alyea were his demonstrations. Students remember him flying around the front of the classroom, conducting several experiments at once in order to show students all the applications of the concepts they were studying. During his famous last lecture of each semester, Dr. Boom managed to complete 50 experiments in 50 minutes. 

In addition to being a favorite of undergrads, Alyea caught the eye of Walt Disney. After seeing one of Alyea’s public demonstrations, Disney decided to make a film about a chemistry professor who invents a new, miracle substance. Alyea was brought to Hollywood to teach Fred MacMurray, star of The Absent-Minded Professor, the tricks of his trade. 

Alyea’s memory lives on at Alumni Day. On Feb. 22 at 10:30 a.m. in the Frick Chemistry Laboratory’s Taylor Auditorium, Kathryn M. Wagner, a lecture demonstrator in the chemistry department, will recreate some of Dr. Boom’s famous experiments. It’s sure to be an explosively fun event! 

VIDEO: Below, watch Alyea in a video from the University Archives, and see the 2011 “Magic of Chemistry” Alumni Day presentation.

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#ThrowbackThursday: Spontaneous Portraits

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Photos by Greg Conderacci ’71. Click to enlarge.

These days, most Princeton students riding elevators spend their time sending a quick text, checking their email, or taking a snapchat. Perhaps the last thing one would expect is to be asked to have her picture taken.

That’s exactly what Greg Conderacci ’71 did at Firestone Library on a spring day in his senior year. Conderacci, then a student writer for PAW, said at the time that “people reveal themselves in interesting ways when they have their picture taken.” Only one person declined his request. The six images published by PAW are featured above.

More recently, the idea of taking spontaneous portraits has gone viral thanks to the website and Facebook page Humans of New York. Affectionately referred to as HONY, the site is the work of a photographer who approaches strangers in New York City and asks to take pictures and ask them a few questions about their experiences. Alternatively inspiring, surprising, grim, and honest, the photographer’s posts push HONY’s more than 1.7 million viewers to look for the humanity in each stranger. Princeton has its own spinoff, Humans of Princeton, which has drawn more than 2,100 Facebook likes since the start of the academic year.

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#ThrowbackThursday: An Activities Showcase

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Most students recall the bustling Activities Fair on the Friday of the first week of classes freshman year, where campus groups try to draw first-year additions to their ranks. But the first activities fair, on Alumni Day in 1948, was held for a different purpose: to showcase the myriad undergraduate extracurricular options to visiting alumni. Thousands strolled through the aisles of Dillon Gym, hearing from undergrads about the accomplishments of each organization.  At left, Malcolm Forbes ’41, founder of The Nassau Sovereign, browsed the magazine with editor Robert Heimann ’48.

After the fair, alumni remarked about how thrilled they were to see the vibrancy of post-war undergraduate life. A Daily Princetonian editorial recommended “an encore in September … to give incoming freshmen some idea of the varied outlets at Princeton for their talents and interests.”

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#ThrowbackThursday: A Princeton President in China

As President Eisgruber ’83 travels through Asia during fall break this week, we reminisce about a previous president’s journey to China in December 1974. President William Bowen *58, part of a delegation of 13 American university presidents and educators, spent most of his three-week visit touring educational institutions, including six major universities, several middle and elementary schools, and the Institute of Physics. 

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(PAW Archives: Jan. 28, 1975)

During his trip, PAW reported, Bowen was struck by the small percentage of Chinese students who attended university (then only about 400,000 in a nation of more than 900 million). Students were required to spend at least two years working in a factory or on a commune before university, a Cultural Revolution policy aimed at preventing the creation of a new elite. Bowen worried about how the Albert Einsteins of the world — “someone who is very bright but who may be a miserable worker” — would fare in such a system. When he raised the question, he was told that “no such people exist.”

Bowen did take some positive lessons from the Chinese education system, noting that universities encouraged students to be more familiar with the world and the society around them — an area in which American institutions “haven’t always done as well as we might."

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