global map of local climate change

Robert Vanderbei has published a new paper describing a computer program that allows one to analyze data from a specific weather station to detect whether the local climate has changed. First he applied the model to data from a local New Jersey weather station, which showed that temperatures have gone up in that area by about 2F over 55 years. Then for fun (Vanderbei remarks in the paper) he fed that same computer model data from thousands of local weather stations across the world over the same time period. The result was a global map, which you see above, that shows climate change at the local level.

The paper appears in the current issue of SIAM Review. Vanderbei is a professor of operations research and financial engineering at Princeton.

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Armuta Sarma

Amruta Sarma, who graduated from Princeton with a degree in civil and environmental engineering in 2008, has won a Fulbright to India to study the implementation of a heat-wave “early warning system” for health officials so that they can help communities better anticipate and respond to extreme environmental conditions.

After conducting her research in Ahmedabad during the current academic year, Sarma will attend Yale University, where she will pursue her doctorate in environmental studies.

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Princeton engineers have won a highly competitive grant of $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to collaborate with the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab in order to tackle materials science challenges in the creation of fusion energy.

One key challenge is how to contain the hot plasma that fuels fusion power — maintaining the so-called “star in a jar.”  The hot plasma “star” tends to react with the so-called  ”jar” (a torus-shaped device that uses a magnetic field to confine plasma)  in a way that that halts the energy-producing fusion reaction.

The new DOE grant will focus on the science and engineering behind using liquid metals as an interface between the hot plasma and the interior surface of the torus-shaped device containing it. The Princeton Engineering proposal is unusual in that it addresses the materials science challenge of plasma-facing components at all scales and includes a dream team of researchers whose expertise ranges from atoms to macroscopic fluid flows.

“How do you maintain the plasma so that you can turn it into a real source of energy?” said Howard Stone, the lead principal investigator of the grant.  ”This research addresses fundamental science questions.”

Stone is an expert in the field of fluid dynamics and his laboratory researches thin-film flows along curved boundaries and flows in porous materials. Co-PIs are Emily Carter, director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, who studies quantum mechanical simulations at the atomic scale;  Thanos Panagiotopoulos and Pablo Debenedetti, theorists who employ classical simulations at the molecular level; and Bruce Koel and Steve Bernasek, who conduct experiments on the surface science of metals. PPPL senior collaborators Robert Goldston, Richard Majeski, and Charles Skinner helped Princeton researchers prepare the grant application.

Bruce Koel, who has been working with PPPL scientists on liquid metal issues, said he expected that the grant would “lead to new synergies that will be essential to solving the hard, interdisciplinary materials science challenges facing fusion energy.” Koel has been experimenting with lithium metal films (see photo above), which are being used at PPPL and elsewhere as a liquid metal lining, with promising results.

The Princeton proposal was one of four selected for funding out of a field of about 80 applicants. It grew out of discussions beginning two years ago with Stewart Prager, the director of PPPL, who  wrote an excellent op-ed last year in the New York Times explaining the need for fusion research.

Photo by Elle Starkman, courtesy PPPL.

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Anne-Marie Slaughter‘s cover story in the Atlantic magazine debunking the idea that women can “have it all” was on the mind of two high-profile academics who recently spoke about women in science and engineering at the 2012 Women in Theory conference at Princeton in late June.

Joan Girgus, professor of psychology Princeton, largely concurred with the conclusions drawn by Slaughter, the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton. “Women continue to be seriously underrepresented in science and engineering,” notes Girgus, as she examined trends and statistics over the past 50 years.

However, Maria Klawe, a former dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering who is now president of Harvey Mudd College, disagreed with Slaughter’s conclusions in pretty strong terms at Women Theory, a conference for women working in theoretical computer science sponsored by the Princeton Center for Computational Intractability.  In particular, she took exception to Slaughter’s critique of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg for exorting women to “aim high.”

“Can we have it all? said Klawe. “Can we really combine a career with having children? … That’s the wrong question. … Nobody gets to have it all.  … Everybody throughout their life, whether you are male or female, if you have a family, even just  a partner in your life, if you have children, if you have parents – you’re going to be constantly weighing different things and making choices.”

You can watch the Women in Theory talks by Girgus and Klawe by clicking the Youtube videos below. Also below you will find a video of Princeton President Shirley Tilghman, who spoke about women in the sciences at the 2010 Women in Theory conference. And, for your amusement, here is a link to Slaughter’s recent appearance on the Stephen Colbert show.

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Zi Chen, who earned a Ph.D. in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton this year, has won a prestigious five-year fellowship to ETH Zurich, where he will investigate how one-dimensional information coded in DNA translates into three-dimensional shapes.

Chen is one of eight new fellows selected for the Society in Science-Branco Weiss Fellowship at ETH Zurich (a k a the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich).

Chen’s thesis advisers were Mikko Haataja and David Srolovitz. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at Washington University in St Louis.

Image courtesy Zi Chen.

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Princeton Energy & Climate Scholars have just returned from Rio+20, where they rubbed elbows with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the president of Aruba, and Sir Richard Branson – all while gaining behind-the-scenes insights into environmental policy. The Princeton engineering students who attended the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development — the largest United Nations conference ever — were Mary KangMegan Konar,  Minghui Diao, and Hang Deng (from Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Victor Oyeyemi  and Joe Roy-Mayhew (from Chemical and Biological Engineering).
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An interview with Ed Felten, director of the Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, on a “Do Not Track” system for web browsers aired recently on NPR.

Felten, who is currently on leave as chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission and a member of the Do Not Track working group, called on advertisers to voluntarily be  ”more polite” when tracking web activity of users.

“The advertiser tries to inject tracking on the user’s computer, and the user tries to engage in technical blocking measures,” Felten said. “That kind of arms race is really not good for anybody.”

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Sounds to good to be true: Naveen Verma and colleagues are developing a technology “that could lead to widespread wireless charging stations for all our electronics.”

Verma, assistant professor of electrical engineering, is interviewed by IEEE Spectrum in this report.

Image courtesy Warren Rieutort-Louis.

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arvind narayanan

arvind narayanan

 

Kim Zetter has written a fascinating, in-depth profile of computer scientist and data privacy expert Arvind Narayanan. As the article notes, Narayanan is “heading to Princeton University next year to join the well-regarded Center for Information Technology Policy, led by computer scientist Ed Felten.”

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