Author Archives: Jennifer Shyue

Einstein and the Nazi Scientist Who Hated Him

Bruce Hillman ’69

Bruce Hillman ’69

Germany in the first half of the 20th century often is associated with the Nazi movement that ultimately ravaged the country. In the world of physics, however, it had become a battleground for opposing schools of thought: One side embraced experimental physics, which was based on the work of Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton and driven by the scientific method; the other believed in theoretical physics, which revolved around theories that sometimes were untested experimentally and was grounded in the work of Albert Einstein.

For Philipp Lenard, the recipient of the 1905 Nobel Prize for physics and an adviser to Adolf Hitler, the conflict between experimental and theoretical physics was personified in his hatred for Einstein. In The Man Who Stalked Einstein: How Nazi Scientist Philipp Lenard Changed the Course of History, Bruce Hillman ’69 and co-authors Birgit Ertl-Wagner and Bernd C. Wagner recount the events that led to Einstein’s rise, his rivalry with Lenard, and his eventual self-exile from his homeland, bringing to life the “smoldering, personal cold war” between the two men. The book’s publication coincides with the 60th anniversary of Einstein’s death. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Sarah Sherman ’08, Studying Earth From Space

Sarah Sherman ’08 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Dutch Slager)

Sarah Sherman ’08 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Dutch Slager)

When the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite launched smoothly on Jan. 31, Sarah Sherman ’08 had cause to celebrate. As the mission’s launch-phase lead at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Caltech-managed NASA center in Pasadena, Calif., Sherman was in charge of putting procedures and contingency plans into place, as well as executing dress rehearsals of the launch.

SMAP uses the radar and radiometer it has on board to gather soil moisture data, which can be used to monitor droughts, predict floods, and improve weather forecasts, among other things. Sherman is now doing operations for the satellite, which involves being on console as a systems chair and overseeing the 90-day commissioning phase that precedes the beginning of the three-year science, or data-collection, phase.

Perhaps that seems like a lot of responsibility for someone who hasn’t yet hit 30. In reality, however, Sherman has been working on SMAP for almost seven years, since the summer after she graduated from Princeton. Before that, she worked in the summers of 2006 and 2007 as a Caltech research fellow analyzing wind models of Titan and developing control algorithms to steer a hot air balloon in its atmosphere. Her next project will be as a mechanical engineer on the Sample Caching System of the Mars 2020 Rover. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Actor, Musician Valerie Vigoda ’87

Valerie Vigoda in 'Ernest Shackleton Loves Me' (photo by Jeff Carpenter for ACT Theatre, Seattle)

Valerie Vigoda ’87 in ‘Ernest Shackleton Loves Me’ (Jeff Carpenter for ACT Theatre, Seattle)

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, which stars Valerie Vigoda ’87 and is now playing at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, has an unusual premise: Kat, a blue-haired video game composer and single mother, has been when for 36 hours when Ernest Shackleton, a polar explorer famous for keeping his entire crew of 27 men alive for nine months after their ship Endurance sank in Antarctica, travels across time to reach her. Vigoda, who sings and plays her Viper electric violin as Kat, also co-wrote the music and lyrics for the show with her husband and partner Brendan Millburn.

“I’m passionate about all the work that I do and that I have collaborated on for the past many years,” she said. “But for me, this might be the one I’m most passionate about.”

Part of the reason is the nature of the story. Ever since she saw a museum exhibit about Shackleton’s harrowing adventures in Antarctica, Vigoda has been “sort of obsessed” with the explorer, she said. For her, the musical is “a combination of this inspiring story and the resonance of this modern character.”

Unlike Kat, Vigoda did not have blue hair or tattoos before she slipped into her role. She now embraces the head turns when she walks into a space. In addition to the musical, Vigoda is working on a solo album called Just Getting Good, which was fully funded through Kickstarter in the fall. Continue reading

Names in the News: Allen ’93 Nominated for PEN Award; Scheide ’36, McPhee ’53 on N.J. Hall of Fame Ballot; More

Danielle Allen ’93 (Laura Rose)

Danielle Allen ’93 (Laura Rose)

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, by DANIELLE ALLEN ’93, has been named a finalist for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction. Our Declaration is a line-by-line commentary on the Declaration of Independence and an analysis of its contents. The ultimate winner of the award, which is available for nonfiction books of “notable literary merit and critical perspective” published in 2013 or 2014, will receive a prize of $10,000.

In a podcast for the scientific journal Nature, astrophysics professor NETA BAHCALL speaks to Kerri Smith about having her and her husband John Bahcall’s wedding rings travel to the Hubble Space Telescope. John Bahcall, who played a major role in the launch and maintenance of the Hubble, died in 2005. In 2009, astronaut John Grunsfeld traveled to Hubble for its final servicing mission, and he brought with him the couple’s rings as a way of honoring John Bahcall’s important contributions to the Hubble project. Continue reading

Names in the News: Wage ’12 on Altruism, Crossword Champ Feyer ’99, and More

MATT WAGE ’12 was featured in Nicholas Kristof’s opinion column in The New York Times as the titular “Trader Who Donates Half His Pay.” Wage, who was a philosophy major at Princeton and a student of moral philosopher Peter Singer, is now an arbitrage trader who donates half his income to charity. Wage’s efforts are an example of “effective altruism,” a movement championed by Singer that encourages people to consider all the ways they can make a positive difference and choose the one with maximum impact.

Emeritus professor TONI MORRISON is the subject of a New York Times Magazine profile that starts in the century-old barn that is now the studio where Morrison recorded the audiobooks for her latest novel, God Help the Child, and delves into her life and vision as an editor and writer.

At the 38th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, DAN FEYER ’99 took first place after beating his opponent and fellow crossword champion Tyler Hinman by a half-second. Both Feyer and Hinman had previously won five consecutive titles at the tournament, which was founded in 1978 by New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz.  Continue reading

Mourning — and Celebrating — Abraham Lincoln’s Death

Martha Hodes *91

Martha Hodes *91

The president literally stopped the show when he walked into Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary, had arrived late to that night’s performance; the comedy Our American Cousin already had begun. As they took their seats in the dress circle, the actors onstage paused and the audience cheered. Lincoln bowed. Around 10:15 p.m., as Lincoln laughed at a line in the play, John Wilkes Booth shot him in the back of the head. The next morning, Lincoln was dead.

The nation’s seemingly universal reaction to the first presidential assassination is well documented in contemporary newspapers, in the formal expressions of condolences that followed, and in memoirs published in later decades. In Mourning Lincoln, Martha Hodes *91 asks: What were the “raw reactions” of people on the street, with their families, and by themselves when they heard the news? Some felt that “North and South are weeping together” but others thought the news was “glorious,” Hodes writes. She also explores how the aftermath of the assassination ultimately shaped the legacy of the Civil War. Continue reading