MSNBC recently highlighted a paper coauthored by Princeton’s Niraj Jha and Chunxiao Li and  Anand Raghunathan of Purdue University titled “Hijacking an insulin pump: Security attacks and defenses for a diabetes therapy system.”

The paper, presented at IEEE Healthcom’11 on June 14, demonstrates how malicious attacks can be launched against an insulin pump — and how such attacks can be defended against.

The researchers, MSNBC reports, demonstrated that “an insulin system, consisting of a wireless insulin pump in combination with a glucose monitor — worn by hundreds of thousands of diabetics in the US — is vulnerable to hack attacks. Using off-the-shelf hardware, the user manual and publicly available information, the scientists tapped into information on the system — like insulin dosage and glucose readings. With the PIN access code of the device, they showed that they could also wirelessly control the dosage of insulin.”

Read the full MSNBC report here.


The New York Academy of Sciences has named two Princeton engineers as finalists for the 2011 Blavatnik Awards for Young

Scientists: Olga Troyanskaya, an associate professor of computer science and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, and Gerard Wysocki, an assistant professor of electrical engineering.

The annual Blavatnik Awards recognize innovative and interdisciplinary accomplishments in the life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and engineering. Troyanskaya and Wysocki will each receive $10,000 for being named finalists. The winners of the Blavatnik Award, who will receive an additional monetary award, will be announced by the New York Academy of Sciences on Nov. 14.


bubbles.jpgResearchers from the Center for Information Technology Policy have released a study on the standardized forms commonly used in testing and voting that require respondents to select answers by penciling in a bubble.

CITP’s surprising finding? These forms are not so anonymous as one might think. The researchers have created a computer program that can identify an individual’s distinctive way of filling in bubble forms.

“Imagine that a student takes a standardized test, performs poorly, and pays someone to repeat the test on his behalf,” writes graduate student Will Clarkson in a blog post about the study. “Comparing the bubble marks on both answer sheets could provide evidence of such cheating. A similar approach could detect third-party modification of certain answers on a single test.”

The program could be used to detect fraudulent absentee ballots but also to violate anonymity in areas where scanned images of ballots are released to the public.

The senior author on the paper is CITP’s director Ed Felten, currently on leave from Princeton as the chief technologist for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Read more on Discover or Freedom to Tinker.

By the way, in another recent interesting study, graduate student Timothy Lee found that those black boxes used to redact information from court documents don’t always work

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In a report speculating that an African land grab could lead to future water conflicts, New Scientist magazine cites a new study by Princeton Engineering’s Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe examining how “virtual water” moves around the world. In an effort to secure their food supply, China, India, and Saudia Arabia are leasing water-rich tracts in sub-Saharan Africa to grow their own food rather than importing it. This is the equivalent of importing “virtual water,” according to New Scientist, since food production accounts for nearly 80 percent of annual freshwater usage.

New Scientist reports that Rodriguez-Iturbe and Samir Suweis of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have built the first mathematical model of the global virtual water trade network. To do so they drew upon the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization’s data on trade in barley, corn, rice, soya beans, wheat, beef, pork, and poultry in 2000.

“The model shows that a small number of countries have a large number of connections to other countries, offering them a steady and cheap supply of virtual water even if some connections are compromised by drought or political upheaval,” New Scientist writes. “A much larger number of countries have very few connections and so are vulnerable to market forces.”

This results in what Rodriguez-Iturbe terms “the rich club phenonmenon,” whereby 80 percent of water flows through just 4 percent of these connections.

Read the full article here.


Manta_Ray_-_Under.jpgThe journal Science reports on a friendly manta ray robot competition between Princeton and the University of Virginia. Mantas are super efficient swimmers and thus ideal models for autonomous underwater vehicles.

“They are such self-possessed, graceful animals,” Princeton’s Alexander Smits, an expert in fluid mechanics, tells Science. Smits began to focus on manta rays after a trip to Australia about a decade ago, when he had an “almost mystical” experience swimming among the manta rays.

Science reports that Smits persuaded former Princeton postdoc Hilary Bart-Smith, now an associate professor at UVa, to develop shape-morphing manta-like fins for underwater locomotion. Bart-Smith, Smits and four other researchers ultimately won a $6.5 million five-year grant to collaborate on building bio-inspired sea vehicles.

This year’s manta robot competition between the two collaborating universities took place at the Carderock Division of the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center. Princeton’s entry was designed by Mohammad Javed, who just graduated from Princeton with a degree in mechanical engineering.

How did Javed’s manta robot fare? You will have to read the Science article to find out.

Image courtesy Agsftw via Wikimedia Commons


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Frank Moss, until recently the director of the MIT Media Lab, has a new book coming out next week on the future of innovation. Full title: The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices: How the Digital Magicians of the MIT Media Lab Are Creating the Innovative Technologies That Will Transform Our Lives. The book has garnered ringing endorsements.

Chad Hurley, co-founder of Youtube, says the book “provides the inspiration and motivation we need to change the world.” Best-selling author and former CNN CEO Walter Isaacson says Moss “shows the way to harness passion and break down the walls between disciplines in order to unleash creativity in fields ranging from robotics to music to the making of mechanical limbs.” Moss earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton in mechanical and aerospace engineering in 1971.



Ashley Thrall, a recently minted Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering, has won a travel fellowship from the architecture firm of SOM that will enable her to draw on a wide range of inspirations in order to rethink the design of deployable structures used in disaster relief.

This summer Thrall will visit a disaster site in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, attend a national powwow in Danville, Indiana, to evaluate the potential use of tipi design, and interview Chuck Hoberman, a New York City-based expert in the design of kinematic structures (but best known as the inventor of the collapsible toy ball known as a Hoberman sphere). She also will spend two months in Europe visiting research centers and design firms. You can find a copy of Thrall’s winning fellowship essay here.


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The Bergen Record yesterday featured Alexander Salazar, who will begin pursuing a master’s in civil and environmental engineering at Princeton in the fall.

“Salazar’s story seems like a script for a modern version of the American Dream,” writes Mike Kelly, who chronicles Salazar’s journey from barely speaking English and earning $6 an hour in a factory job to his graduation this week from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Read the full story here.

Photo by Elizabeth Lara, courtesy


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Kelly Caylor, Justin Sheffield, and Eric Wood, members of the department of civil and environmental engineering, have won a grant from the Princeton Global Collaborative Network Fund to study how rainfall variability and land and water degradation affect food security.

The initiative will bring together university scholars, nongovernmental researchers and government scientists from the United States, Africa, China and Europe.

Image courtesy jacsonquerubin via Flickr


Today’s Daily Princetonian has some nice coverage on the election of four Princeton faculty members to the National Academy of Sciences — which, as the Prince notes, has been described as “an honor considered second only to a Nobel Prize.”

Two of the new NAS members are with the school of engineering: H. Vincent Poor *77, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and Michael Henry Strater University Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Loren Pfeiffer, a senior research scholar in the department of electrical engineering.

Poor’s research in statistical signal processing and stochastic analysis has had important implications for wireless networks. Pfeiffer’s work in materials science has facilitated discoveries in condensed matter physics.

The other Princeton faculty elected to NAS this year are mathematics professor David Gabai and sociology professor Sara McLanahan.