Tag Archives: Throwback Thursday

#ThrowbackThursday: The Amazing Dr. Boom

(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: A Lap with the Olympic Torch

(PAW Archives)

With the 2014 Winter Olympics underway in Sochi, Russia, we turn back the clock 34 years to Princeton’s own Olympic moment: On Feb. 3, 1980, 10 days before the opening ceremonies in Lake Placid, N.Y., the Olympic torch relay came to town, making a stop at the Princeton Indoor Relays in Jadwin Gym. Alison Carlson ’77, pictured, carried the torch for a ceremonial lap around the Robert Garrett Memorial Track, named for Robert Garrett, Class of 1897, a track and field star at the first modern Olympics, held in Athens in 1896.

Carlson was one of 52 women and men selected to guide the torch from Virginia to upstate New York. On hand to watch her were hundreds of sports fans and a handful of dignitaries, including Harrison Garrett ’33 (Robert’s son), New Jersey athletics commissioner and former boxing champ Joe Walcott, and John Woodruff, a gold medalist in track at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.

Princeton has a long and distinguished history at the Olympics, but Tigers have had most of their success in the summer games. More than 90 alumni have competed in summer events, compared with seven in the winter. Andrea Kilbourne-Hill ’02 is Princeton’s most recent winter medalist. She won silver with the U.S. women’s ice hockey team at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

#ThrowbackThursday: Princeton’s ‘Monuments Men’

Seven decades after the Allied Armies of World War II commissioned the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program to preserve art and architectural treasures from the wrath of war, the hundreds of so-called “Monuments Men” are set to achieve new fame with the upcoming release of a feature film starring Matt Damon, George Clooney, and others.

Alumni “Monuments Men” Lt. Col. Ernest DeWald *1914 *1916, far right, and Lt. Perry Cott ’29 *37, third from left, examine relics of the Holy Roman regalia upon their return to Vienna in 1946. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD)

Princetonians played a significant role in the MFAA’s efforts, and in a 2010 PAW feature story, W. Barksdale Maynard ’88 highlighted the wartime and postwar activities of several alumni, including Lt. Col. Ernest DeWald *1914 *1916, a World War I veteran who joined the MFAA efforts in Italy. Maynard described DeWald’s experiences, drawing on the professor’s pocket diary, now housed at Firestone Library:

“Air-raid sirens howled as he reconnoitered medieval towns for endangered art. DeWald often came upon Army engineering units bulldozing fallen buildings out of roadways, using the debris to patch holes in blown-up bridges — until he frantically waved them to stop, pointing out fragments of historic sculpture, fresco, and manuscripts mingled with the rubble. ‘It’s amazing what Italian experts can piece together from what appears to be just a pile of smashed rock,’ he told PAW in a wartime letter.”

After returning home, DeWald directed the Princeton University Art Museum until 1960, when he retired and was succeeded by fellow MFAA veteran Patrick “Joe” Kelleher *47.

Other alumni Monuments Men included Lt. Cdr. Perry Cott ’29 *37, Lt. Robert Koch *54, Capt. Everett “Bill” Lesley *37, Lt. Charles Parkhurst *41, and Lt. Craig Hugh Smyth ’38 *56.

READ MORE: When art historians went to war (PAW, June 2, 2010)

#ThrowbackThursday: Beat Yale (in Chemistry)

“Pretend you’re not in Frick, but that you’re walking down a beach in Southern California, watching the waves. Hold that image for three seconds. Now go to it. Go Princeton!”

Photo: Mike Beahan/PAW Archives

Those were the final instructions of Miles Pickering before the start of the Princeton-Yale Titration Contest in December 1978. Contestants were given a sample of a chemical compound, mixed with an inert substance, and asked to determine the concentration of the mixture. The team with the most students scoring in Pickering’s “golden circle” — within one percentage point of the actual concentration — would be the winner.

Pickering, a Yale alumnus, Princeton lab instructor, and in PAW’s words, “the Abner Doubleday of intercollegiate titration,” initiated the contest in 1977. Yale won, and a summary of the project later earned a place in the Journal of Chemistry Education.

In 1978, Yale again proved more proficient in a closely contested rematch: 51 percent of its team finished in the golden circle, compared to 49 percent for the titrating Tigers.

#ThrowbackThursday: Back to the Books

Firestone Library, circa 1965.

With the first-semester reading period in progress, this photo from the Sept. 21, 1965, issue of PAW seemed like an appropriate Throwback Thursday selection. Taken by Ulli Steltzer at Firestone Library, the image accompanied a long feature story titled “New Challenges to University Libraries,” written by William S. Dix, then the University librarian.

Dix’s primary concern was space, since libraries must “increase as the volume of world publishing increases.” Nearly five decades later, Firestone’s ongoing renovation is not geared toward expansion — off-site storage has relieved some of that pressure — but it has other space-related goals, such as refreshing study areas and carrels and adding compact shelving.

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#ThrowbackThursday: 10 Years, 10 Themes


The Jan. 8 issue of PAW, arriving in mailboxes next week, will be our annual theme issue, continuing a tradition that started in 2003-04 with a special edition devoted to Campus Life. Since then, we’ve spotlighted Ethics (2004-05), Princeton and the Arts (2005-06), Global Princeton (2006-07), Princeton’s Most Influential Alumni (2007-08), Looking Ahead (the Future Issue) (2008-09), Race (2009-10), Humor (2010-11), Books (2011-12), and Music (2012-13). The covers of all 10 are pictured above.

What will be the theme of this year’s issue? Find out Friday on Facebook and Twitter.