Category Archives: Tiger of the Week

Tigers of the Week: Nonprofit Entrepreneurs Mark Smith ’09 and James Burgess ’09

Mark Smith ’09, left, and James Burgess ’09. (Carolyn Edelstein ’10/OpenBiome)

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

Tiger of the Week: Curator Jodi Hauptman ’86

Jodi Hauptman ’86 (The Museum of Modern Art)

Jodi Hauptman ’86 (The Museum of Modern Art)

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, a much-praised exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art scheduled to close next week, is the latest noteworthy project of curator Jodi Hauptman ’86, who also has helped MoMA showcase works by Georges Seurat and Odilon Redon in recent years. The Matisse exhibition was organized by Karl Buchberg, senior conservator at MoMA, and Hauptman, along with assistant curator Samantha Friedman.

The exhibition and a companion publication, co-authored by Hauptman, explore Matisse’s materials and methods, and how the cut-outs, created late in the artist’s life, fit into the broader context of his career. In a New York Times interview last June, Hauptman debunked one commonly held belief about Matisse’s choice of medium: “It was always thought that he was too frail to paint and hence turned to cut-outs, but we believe cut-outs allowed him to answer questions about color and drawing, bringing them together.”

While The Cut-Outs earned critical acclaim and a healthy stream of visitors, it also broke new ground in the art world when it kicked off a film series of exhibitions, screened at movie theaters around the country.

Hauptman, who majored in the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, studied art history at Yale, earning her Ph.D. She joined MoMA in 2002 and was promoted to senior curator in the department of drawings and prints last year. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Web Privacy Advocate Jonathan Mayer ’09

Jonathan Mayer ’09 (Peter Stember)

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

Tigers of the Week: Astronomy Prizewinners Claire Max *72 and David Weinberg *89

David Weinberg *89 (Lisa Florman)

David Weinberg *89 (Lisa Florman)

Claire Max *72 (Sameer A. Khan)

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

Tiger of the Week: George Hawkins ’83, Water Authority Chief

George Hawkins ’83 (Courtesy DC Water)

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

Tigers of the Week: Princeton’s SPIDER Scientific Ballooning Project Team

The SPIDER payload, in warmer climes. (Jon Gudmundsson *14)

The SPIDER instruments, in warmer climes. (Jon Gudmundsson *14)

While other Princetonians were marking the start of 2015 at holiday parties, a team of stalwart scientists led by assistant professor of physics William Jones ’98 gathered in Antarctica to launch a research balloon that will collect information about gravitational waves from about 110,000 feet above the Earth.

The project, called SPIDER (for “Suborbital Polarimeter for Inflation, Dust and the Epoch of Reionization”), could provide new insights about the early stages of the Big Bang. But first, the high-tech payload of telescopes needed to reach its perch in the stratosphere. After threatening weather cleared, SPIDER was able to lift off on Jan. 1. News of the successful launch was featured in The New York Times. Associate research scholar Zigmund Kermish ’03 also described the researchers’ experience on the project blog.

In addition to Kermish and Jones, the 21-member SPIDER team includes alumni John Ruhl *93, a professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve University; C. Barth Netterfield *95, a professor of astronomy at the University of Toronto; Aurelien Fraisse *10, an associate research scholar at Princeton; and Jon Gudmundsson *14, a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton.

The SPIDER launch initially was slated for December 2013, but a 16-day federal government shutdown in October 2013 forced a one-year delay. Jones told PAW at the time that the postponement stemmed from “a terrible confluence of politics, our artificial fiscal calendar, and the very real reality of the Antarctic climate.”

The story appears headed for a happy ending. Each of the subsystems was operating as planned shortly after liftoff, according to Kermish’s post. “Right now, we’re all an interesting amalgam of exhausted, thrilled, and wired by caffeine, as we watch the balloon disappear from view,” he wrote. “I can’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year.”

WATCH: Video of the SPIDER launch Continue reading