Category Archives: Tiger of the Week

Tiger of the Week: Fields Medal Recipient Manjul Bhargava *01

Manjul Bhargava *01 (Courtesy International Mathematical Union)

Manjul Bhargava *01 (Courtesy International Mathematical Union)

High-level math is not all fun and games, but for alumnus and Princeton professor Manjul Bhargava *01, games can be an important part. Bhargava, one of four mathematicians to receive the Fields Medal last week, has used games to help visualize problems. He explained one notable example in an interview with New Scientist:

“Gauss’ law [of composition] says that you can compose two quadratic forms, which you can think of as a square of numbers, to get a third square. I was in California in the summer of 1998, and I had a 2 x 2 x 2 mini Rubik’s Cube. I was just visualizing putting numbers on each of the corners, and I saw these binary quadratic forms coming out, three of them. I just sat down and wrote out the relations between them. It was a great day!”

Bhargava teaches a freshman seminar called “The Mathematics of Magic Tricks and Games,” which uses card tricks and the like to dig into meaty math topics such as number theory, topology, and cryptography. But his interests don’t end with groundbreaking math and clever magic: He also plays the tabla, a traditional Indian drum, and enjoys rhythmic Sanskrit poetry, according to a Quanta Magazine profile.

Bhargava is the eighth Princeton mathematician to receive the Fields Medal, presented every four years to influential researchers under age 40. His fellow 2014 honorees included the first woman to win the award, Maryam Mirzakhani of Stanford University, who taught at Princeton from 2004 to 2010.

READ MORE: Bhargava’s thoughts on the intersection of music, poetry, and mathematics, from a 2010 PAW story.

Tiger of the Week: Clayton Raithel ’12 To Debut Show at Fringe Festival

Clayton Raithel ’12 (Taylor Hooper Photography)

Clayton Raithel ’12 (Taylor Hooper Photography)

In the year after graduating from Princeton, Clayton Raithel ’12 faced a series of obstacles. He was living in a new city, dealing with a painful breakup, and unsure about his career plans — familiar territory for new college grads. But for Raithel, the sadness and anxiety caused more than a temporary low. “I think my friends can attest to the fact that I wasn’t me,” he says.

Raithel learned that he was depressed. In the course of seeking therapy and treatment, he found himself talking about his depression with just about anyone who would listen. And because he’s an aspiring comedian, he began to highlight the humor in each story. “As I got more and more distance from it, I would find natural punch lines,” he says.

The Quipfire! and Triangle Club alumnus decided to turn his experiences into a one-man show called Smile. Today through Aug. 24, Raithel will perform the hour-long Smile as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, with classmate Jeff Kuperman ’12 and his brother, Rick Kuperman, directing the production.

Creating Smile helped Raithel to process what he was going through, and he says that he hopes the show will help to destigmatize depression. In preparing for the Fringe performances, he has been focusing on practical issues, such as timing his delivery of particular lines, but he adds that “there are moments when I still feel very close to the material.”

While comedy is still very much in his future plans, Raithel also has found a second career direction. Last summer, he returned to his hometown in Massachusetts to volunteer at a special-needs camp where he had worked in previous years, and the experience inspired him to pursue a nursing degree. He recently completed his first semester in the nursing program at Columbia University.


This year’s New York International Fringe Festival also is home to a new play by John Simon ’63 and his wife, C.C. Loveheart. Jackass Flats, set in Las Vegas in the early 1950s, was inspired by Loveheart’s childhood in Nevada. Show times are posted at fringenyc.org.

Tiger of the Week: Energy Regulator Cheryl LaFleur ’75

Cheryl LaFleur ’75, chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. (Courtesy FERC)

Cheryl LaFleur ’75, chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. (Courtesy FERC)

Cheryl LaFleur ’75, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) since 2010 and acting chair of the commission since November, officially took the helm as chairwoman last week. Her appointment had been approved in the Senate two weeks earlier by a 90-7 vote, and her term as chair runs through April 15, 2015. In a statement released by FERC, LaFleur said she was “very honored to lead the commission at such an important time for the nation’s energy infrastructure and markets.”

LaFleur spent part of the week on Capitol Hill, speaking on behalf of FERC, which oversees much of the nation’s energy infrastructure, including interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. President Barack Obama’s push for stronger limits on carbon emissions has put LaFleur and her fellow commissioners in the spotlight. While the Environmental Protection Agency is at the helm of the Clean Power Plan, LaFleur said, “FERC can and should help the EPA understand the implications that such regulations may have on electric reliability and support utility compliance with those regulations where necessary and to the extent possible.”

A politics major at Princeton, LaFleur continued her education at Harvard Law School and later began work in the energy industry at New England Electric System and its successor, National Grid USA. She eventually served as executive vice president and acting CEO of National Grid before leaving the company in 2007.

Tiger of the Week: Architect Tod Williams ’65 *67

National Medal of Art recipient Tod Williams ’65 *67, left, looks on as President Barack Obama congratulates Williams’ wife and fellow honoree Billie Tsien. (WhiteHouse.gov)

National Medal of Arts recipient Tod Williams ’65 *67, left, looks on as President Barack Obama congratulates Williams’ wife and fellow honoree Billie Tsien. (WhiteHouse.gov)

Architect Tod Williams ’65 *67 and his wife and professional partner Billie Tsien have made their mark on American urban landscapes with award-winning projects such as the David Rubenstein Atrium at New York’s Lincoln Center, the Barnes Foundation museum in Philadelphia, and Skirkanich Hall at the University of Pennsylvania. Their firm, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, also designed Princeton’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, currently under construction next to the Engineering Quadrangle.

On Monday, Williams and Tsien visited the White House to receive the latest honor in their distinguished careers: the National Medal of Arts. Joining them on the list of 2013 honorees were dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones, singer Linda Ronstadt, visual artist James Turrell, and a handful of other notable names from the fields of literature, music, and film.

The National Endowment for the Arts citation for Tsien and Williams hailed their contributions to their field, both as practitioners and educators: “Whether public or private, their deliberate and inspired designs have a profound effect on the lives of those who interact with them, and their teaching and spirit of service have inspired young people to pursue their passions.”

While Williams and Tsien often make headlines for their innovative designs or their creative use of materials, the last year has also seen them in the news as defenders of one of their most memorable creations, the Folk Art Museum in New York City, which was demolished by its new owner, the Museum of Modern Art, just 13 years after its completion. “Yes, all buildings one day will turn to dust, but this building could have been reused,” Williams told The New York Times. “Unfortunately, the imagination and the will were not there.”

Video: Take a look inside the New York office of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects in a 2013 video produced by the American Institute of Architects. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: John Sawin ’07, Amateur Golf Standout

John Sawin ’07, at the U.S. Amateur qualifier in Elverson, Pa., July 16. (Courtesy the Golf Association of Philadelphia)

John Sawin ’07, at the U.S. Amateur qualifier in Elverson, Pa., July 16. (Courtesy the Golf Association of Philadelphia)

Last year, John Sawin ’07 was working 80 to 90 hours a week in an investment banking job in California, using whatever free time he had to play golf, a sport he’s loved since childhood and excelled in at Princeton. He managed to play well enough to earn a spot in the U.S. Amateur Championship — his first USGA qualification after a dozen years of trying — and later won the Stocker Cup Invitational, a top amateur tournament in Northern California.

With his game reaching a new peak, Sawin made the bold decision to leave his job as a vice president at Barclays Capital and spend a year competing in amateur golf events around the country.

“I wanted to see how good I could get,” Sawin told PAW. “What would happen if I spent all my time playing, and preparing to play, competitive golf?”

What has been a rewarding experience got even better last week as Sawin qualified for two national championships in the span of six days: He shared medalist honors at the U.S. Amateur qualifier at Stonewall in Elverson, Pa., July 16, and gained entry to the U.S. Mid-Amateur, for players age 25 and older, in a July 21 qualifier at Huntingdon Valley (Pa.) Country Club. (Michael Davis, an incoming Princeton freshman, caddied for Sawin in the latter event.) Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Danielle Allen ’93, Up Close and Personal With the Declaration of Independence

Danielle Allen ’93 (Laura Rose)

Danielle Allen ’93 (Laura Rose)

Can a single period change the way we think about one of the United States’ founding documents? Danielle Allen ’93 thinks so. Allen, a professor and political theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study, notes in her new book, Our Declaration, that there is a discrepancy between the parchment version of the Declaration of Independence and the official transcript in the National Archives: In the latter, a period appears after the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” reshaping the meaning of a section that discusses both individual rights and the government’s role in protecting those rights.

“The logic of the sentence moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights,” Allen explained in The New York Times. “You lose that connection when the period gets added.”

The historical detail was big news on the eve of Independence Day, receiving coverage from the Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, PBS NewsHour, and dozens of other media outlets. But it was just one example extracted from a remarkably detailed examination of the Declaration of Independence. As Washington Post reviewer Thane Rosenbaum noted, relatively few Americans have read the full 1,337-word document or can recall much about the group of five men who drafted it — no, it was not Thomas Jefferson’s work alone. But Allen, applying a “geek’s gaze” and her experiences as a teacher and scholar, brings the full story to life, Rosenbaum wrote, with a book that is “not just an invaluable civics lesson but also a poignant personal memoir.”

Allen, a classics major at Princeton, completed Ph.D. studies in classics and government at Cambridge and Harvard, respectively, before joining the faculty at the University of Chicago. She joined the Institute for Advanced Study in 2007, and in a PAW feature published the following year, she talked about her book about the Declaration of Independence, then it its early stages: “People have a very clear narrative about liberty, and they’re very confused about equality. You need both to have a successful democracy. It seems to me it’s time to go to work on rebuilding our understanding of what the concept of equality means, why it’s important, and what it takes in order to secure its value through democratic politics.”