Fast Company yesterday blogged about em[Power], the global student-run organization that aims to help people living in landfills in such places as Pakistan and Bangladesh use energy generated from garbage to improve their lives.

em[Power] was founded by Tiffany Tong, a graduate student in electrical engineering at Princeton (that’s Tong in the photo to the right), and Ryan Integlia, a graduate student in electrical engineering at Rutgers. The group is presenting its work this week in San Diego at the Clinton Global Initiative University’s Fourth Annual Meeting. Here is a video that [em]Power produced about its work.

In a posting to his Foreign Policy blog this week titled “How Eric Schmidt can save America,” Clyde Prestowitz predicts that President Obama will appoint the Google executive as the new secretary of Commerce.

Read the full Prestowitz article here. Schmidt studied electrical engineering as an undergraduate at Princeton.


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David Laur ’84 recently won a Sci-Tech Academy Award for his behind-the-scenes work turning complex 3-D models into two-dimensional movie frames for Pixar. A software engineer, Laur received a Technical Achievement Award for his role in developing Pixar’s Alfred system, which the Academy cites as being “the first robust, scalable, widely adopted commercial solution for queue management in the motion picture industry.”

You can hear Laur, who majored in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, talk about the system in this Pixar Podcast interview. Or read more in the Princeton Alumni Weekly.


Air laser

MSNBC ran a story on the Innovation section of its website about a laser-sensing technology developed by Richard Miles and three other researchers from Princeton’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering: Arthur Dogariu, a research scholar and the lead author on the paper, and James Michael, a doctoral student; and Marlan Scully, a lecturer with the rank of professor who also is a professor of physics at Texas A&M University.

“The laser developed by the Princeton researchers is thousands of times stronger than LIDAR, which enables it to determine not just how many contaminants are in the air but also the identity and location of those contaminants,” the story said. “In addition, the new process will enable scientists to detect much smaller quantities of contaminants, which is a particular concern when trying to detect trace amounts of explosive vapors. Any chemical explosive emits various gases depending on its ingredients, but for many explosives the amount of gas is miniscule.”

We’ve also posted a story on the research on the Princeton Engineering website.


The video above profiles “Flock Logic,” a project led by Naomi Leonard, Princeton’s Edwin S. Wilsey Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Susan Marshall, director of the Program in Dance in Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts, that brings together the art of dance and the study of the way animal groups move together.


The cover story in the January issue of Wired is devoted to research at the forefront of artificial intelligence. “Today’s AI doesn’t try to re-create the brain,” Wired writes. “Instead, it uses machine learning, massive data sets, sophisticated sensors, and clever algorithms to master discrete tasks.”

The piece features transportation algorithms developed by Princeton researchers to analyze Norfolk Southern’s rail operations. The Princeton Locomotive and Shop Management System (Plasma for short) “tracks thousands of variables, predicting the impact of changes in fleet size, maintenance policies, transit time, and other factors on real-world operations.”

Wired says that the key breakthrough was making the model “mimic the complex behavior of the company’s dispatch center in Atlanta.”

Princeton’s Warren Powell ’77, a professor of operations research and financial engineering at Princeton, tells Wired: “Think of the dispatch center as one big, collective brain. How do you get a computer to behave like that?”

Read the full piece here.


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What happens when humans behave as if they were schooling fish or swarming insects or flocking birds?

Well, we are about to find out. Engineering professor Naomi Ehrich Leonard ’85 and choreographer Susan Marshall are conspiring with a creative group of undergraduates to host live human flocking events on the Princeton campus on December 5 and 6. Those interested in learning the flocking rules early can show up to a practice run this afternoon at 3:45 p.m. in New South (no dance experience necessary).

The events come out of a Princeton Atelier course this fall taught by Marshall, a professor of dance, and Leonard, whose work closely examines the mathematical rules associated with the sensing and dynamic response that govern the movements of individuals in a group. The project explores what happens when a group of humans understands and works with the rules governing collective motion in animals.

Willa Chen, a sophomore majoring in operations research and financial engineering, has created a very cool online flocking simulator that allows you to design your own flocking rules and watch what happens.

And Aaron Trippe, a junior majoring in computer science, has been capturing the human flocking behavior of the Atelier group with overhead cameras so that the individual paths of the flockers can be analyzed later in order to better understand the patterns of collective behavior.

Last month Mechanical Engineering magazine published a terrific article explaining Leonard’s work in control theory. Leonard, who majored in mechanical and aerospace engineering as an undergraduate at Princeton, is also a long-time dancer.  Amy Laviers, a 2009 Princeton Engineering graduate, worked with Leonard to use machine learning algorithms to compare movements made in classical ballet to those made in modern dance.

Photo courtesy Mike Baird via Flickr.


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Andrew Houck has just received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers — one of the highest honors bestowed on young researchers.

Houck, who studies electronics on a microscopic level, has the not-so-unambitious ambition of building the world’s first quantum computer. In 2009, Houck was a Packard fellow, received a Sloan research fellowship, and was anointed one of Technology Review‘s top 35 young innovators. In 2008 he received the Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists from the New York Academy of Sciences.

Houck, who earned his Ph.D. in experimental physics from Harvard University in 2005, was an electrical engineering major as an undergraduate at Princeton, where he was valedictorian of the class of 2000.

All Things Digital columnist John Paczkowski is unequivocal in his enthusiasm for today’s announcement that Princeton’s Ed Felten has been appointed chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission.

Says Paczkowski:

“Looks like the Federal Trade Commission got its first choice of Chief Technologist, because it’s hard to think of anyone better to serve in that capacity than Princeton computer science professor Ed Felten, a guy whose CV makes everyone from Microsoft to Diebold shudder in embarrassment. A renowned computer researcher, Felten has over the years led charges against some of technology’s most ill-starred concepts, chronicling them in his widely read Freedom to Tinker blog.”

Gary Stix of Scientific American is equally effusive, calling Felten “one of the most incisive minds of the digital age.”

Read the full All Things D column here.


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Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California recently led a U.S. delegation of government representatives, technology company executives and venture capital investors to Russia. Among the governor’s posse: Princeton Engineering alumnus Don Dixon, co-founder of Palo Alto-based Trident Capital.

The delegation met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, took part in the Global Innovation Partnership forum, and discussed plans to develop the Skolkovo Innovation Center in a suburb of Moscow.

Dixon told ABC News correspondent Norman Hermant that he was impressed with what he saw during the visit.

“These companies are world scale,” Dixon said. “They are the same class of companies that we would see in Silicon Valley and that was actually quite surprising to me.” But Dixon noted that the Skolkovo Innovation Center has a ways to go if it aspires to become a Slavic Silicon Valley:

“In Silicon Valley, we’ve got the benefit of the entire infrastructure, of companies, executives, consultants,” said Dixon. “For us it’s very easy to start up a company very quickly. That doesn’t exist here. They have to do everything from scratch.”

Dixon, who majored in mechanical and aerospace engineering, is the co-chair of the School of Engineering’s Leadership Council.

Photo courtesy of California State Governor’s Office