Ellie Kemper ’02 (Josephine Sittenfeld ’02)
Six years ago, we checked in with Ellie Kemper ’02 just after the young comedian and actress landed a role on NBC’s The Office. “I am a huge fan of the show,” she told PAW. “Being on set with them is like being in a dream, except the dream is real and I can reach out and touch them. Except I am trying not to touch them too much, because I was raised right.”
That earnest charm and humor came through in her character, receptionist Erin Hannon, and Kemper found a niche on the show for its final five seasons. She also built a career in movies, with credits that include Bridesmaids and 21 Jump Street.
Beginning next week, Kemper will take on a new role as the star of the Netflix sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Kemper plays a woman who is freed from a doomsday cult and decides to start fresh in New York City — a notable challenge for someone who has been locked away from the world in an underground bunker.
Fey told Dave Itzkoff ’98 of The New York Times that she and Carlock developed the show for Kemper, who has a history of playing roles that project “sunniness, but also strength.” Kemper added that the Kimmy character is “resourceful and crafty and incredibly tough” — which should give the actress a chance to show more of her own range. As author and friend Curtis Sittenfeld wrote in a January Vanity Fair profile, “she has an edge, of the good variety.”
Below, watch a trailer for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, courtesy of Netflix. Continue reading
Andrew Jarecki ’85, left, with Robert Durst, the subject of Jarecki’s new documentary series. (Courtesy HBO)
Andrew Jarecki ’85 has devoted much of his filmmaking career to stories of crime and deception, with credits that include the 2003 Oscar-nominated documentary Capturing the Friedmans and the 2010 fictional drama All Good Things. The latter was inspired by the story of accused murderer and real-estate scion Robert Durst, who takes center stage in Jarecki’s new project, The Jinx, a six-part documentary series that debuted on HBO earlier this month.
Vox.com hailed the documentary’s complexity and Jarecki’s technique of “gently withering away our self-certain narratives.” The Wall Street Journal called the series “an unusual hybrid” — an extensive investigative reporting project and a deep character study that humanizes Durst, who sat for 20 hours of interviews with Jarecki. And Esquire summarized its take with a question about the filmmaker: “Why does this man keep making us relate to psychopaths?”
That was actually the title of the Esquire Q&A, not a question in the piece. But Jarecki did provide an answer of sorts. “I’m always skeptical when somebody says that another person is evil,” he told the magazine. “I think it’s an excuse to separate ourselves and to say, ‘Well, I can’t even conceive of the possibility that I could be capable of such things, because that person is “evil.”’ But the truth is all people do strange things.”
Jarecki will be on campus for a Feb. 20 event that includes a screening of the first two episodes of The Jinx and a conversation with the director and producer. Continue reading
Mark Smith ’09, left, and James Burgess ’09. (Carolyn Edelstein ’10/OpenBiome)
Clostridium difficile colitis, commonly known as C. diff, infects some 500,000 people per year in the United States, with sometimes deadly effects, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. But Mark Smith ’09 and James Burgess ’09 have a safe and effective solution to fight the intestinal bug — and it uses material that normally gets flushed down the toilet.
Smith and Burgess are cofounders of OpenBiome, a nonprofit organization in Massachusetts that provides stool samples used in a procedure called fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), which introduces microbes from healthy stool to fight C. diff. If you think it sounds a little weird, you’re not alone. Smith, a microbiologist, said he had the same reaction when he first heard about FMT.
As a graduate student at MIT, Smith studied the human microbiome, the collection of microbes that live in or on the human body. After reading about FMT and its effectiveness, he asked Burgess if there might be a business opportunity for a stool bank, to provide the specimens needed for the transplant. But with the procedure’s intellectual property largely in the public domain, Burgess did not see much potential for profit.
The idea remained dormant until a friend’s relative contracted a persistent C. diff infection and struggled to find a medical facility that would provide the FMT treatment. (He eventually received a successful fecal transplant, after a year and a half of recurring infections.)
Smith and Burgess returned to their plans and decided to try launching a nonprofit. They researched the relevant regulations and developed protocols for screening donors and processing samples. Continue reading
Jonathan Mayer ’09 (Peter Stember)
Jonathan Mayer ’09, a leading online privacy advocate and proponent of the “do not track” initiative, made headlines again last week after he uncovered a digital advertiser’s use of tracking cookies that are difficult to delete.
As Mayer explained on his blog, Web Policy, he was looking for companies that were taking advantage of data from Verizon’s controversial advertising header, released last year. He found that one Verizon partner, Turn, was using Verizon data to generate cookies that kept coming back, even if a user followed the recommended opt-out mechanisms. The investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica also reported on Turn’s tracking tricks, after confirming the tests outlined in Mayer’s blog. The advertising company announced that it would suspend using the regenerated tracking cookies, also known as “zombie cookies.”
The New York Times, in a Jan. 26 story, reported that Verizon had not been notified of Turn’s specific use of the telecommunications company’s customer codes. But that, Mayer, explained, is at the heart of the issue. “Verizon is not in a position to control how others use its header,” he told the Times. “There’s no doubt that this particular approach does introduce new privacy problems.”
Mayer, a lawyer and computer science graduate student at Stanford, was featured in PAW’s Jan. 8, 2014, issue. His work on privacy began at Princeton, where the Woodrow Wilson School major explored internet anonymity and digital fingerprinting in his senior thesis, a paper that later caught the attention of experts at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Sometimes academia feels like you are writing into a great abyss,” Mayer told PAW contributor Nicole Perlroth ’04. “That was my realization that you can have a big impact.” Continue reading
David Weinberg *89 (Lisa Florman)
Claire Max *72 (Sameer A. Khan)
Two Princeton graduate alumni — Claire Max *72, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California–Santa Cruz, and David Weinberg *89, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University — were recognized for their achievements in instrument development and scientific research at last week’s meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. Max received the Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation, and Weinberg was awarded the Lancelot M. Berkeley–New York Community Trust Prize. Past Tiger of the Week honoree and Princeton professor David Spergel ’82 also was among the AAS prizewinners, sharing the Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics with colleague Marc Kamionkowski of Johns Hopkins.
Max, the 2009 winner of Princeton’s James Madison Medal, is an expert in adaptive optics, which enables earth-based telescopes to see distant objects more clearly by correcting for image distortions produced by the earth’s atmosphere. Specifically, the AAS award recognized her invention of sodium-laser-guide-star adaptive optics, and her long-term contributions to the field. “Her leadership has transformed how we observe by making near-diffraction-limited imaging possible on large ground-based telescopes, thus opening new fields of discovery including resolving stars and gas near supermassive black holes and studying extrasolar planets,” the AAS release said.
Weinberg, who was recognized for “highly meritorious work in advancing the science of astronomy,” delivered the final plenary lecture of the AAS meeting, an overview of insights in cosmology and galaxy evolution drawn from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), which has been actively mapping the universe since 2000. Weinberg’s involvement with SDSS actually dates back to 1992, when he was a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study. In addition to his research and teaching, Weinberg has collaborated with artist Josiah McElheny on cosmology-inspired sculptures. Continue reading
George Hawkins ’83 (Courtesy DC Water)
As CEO and general manager of DC Water, Washington’s water authority, George Hawkins ’83 helps to provide clean water and wastewater management to a city of more than 600,000 people. But his interest in water and the environment began far from the pumping stations and treatment facilities that are now his domain.
Hawkins was an associate at the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray, not long after his graduation from Harvard Law School, when a partner asked if he would be interested in working on a project examining environmental issues. The case centered on a manufacturer’s new water conservation plans, how the change would affect the concentration of chemical discharge at its factory, and which EPA regulations would apply.
“I loved it from the minute I got it,” Hawkins said. “It was one of those moments in life — it was very clear that this lined up everything that I ever liked in the humanities and sciences, all in one project.”
From that moment forward, Hawkins said, he knew that he wanted to be in the environmental field. The path led him to a job at the EPA; later work directing the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, near Princeton, and New Jersey Future, a smart-growth advocacy group; and most recently, recognition as one of Governing magazine’s 2014 Public Officials of the Year, for his forward-looking management of DC Water. Continue reading