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Princeton Engineering’s Robert Vanderbei’s new book on the cosmos, Sizing Up the Universe, hasn’t hit bookstores yet but astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, is calling it “a feast for the eyes and a banquet for the mind.”

The highly illustrated book, published by National Geographic with a release date of November 2, features a fold-out map of the universe that The Los Angeles Times says is “the most mind-bending map to date” and that  New Scientist calls a “stunning achievement.”

Vanderbei’s coathor is Princeton astrophysicist Richard Gott, author of Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe.

Vanderbei, who is chair of Princeton’s Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering and a researcher in probability and optimization, pursues astrophotography as a hobby; many of the images in the book were taken by him.

For more about the book, and for fresh shots of the cosmos, visit this site. The picture of Jupiter at the top of this post was taken by Vanderbei on October 1.

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Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal has a terrific piece on the two physicists who were just awarded the Nobel Prize for their experiments with graphene — an ultra-thin carbon that is extraordinarily strong and dense yet also flexible. Graphene is also the world’s best conductor of heat and electricity.

The Journal, noting graphene’s amazing commercial potential, mentions Vorbeck Materials, which makes a graphene-based conductive ink for printed electronics.

Vorbeck, which uses graphene technology developed at Princeton by Ilhan Aksay, was started several years ago by Princeton Engineering graduate John Lettow.

Technology Review recently wrote about Vorbeck’s ink. And PCWorld recently wrote about Vorbeck’s development of graphene-based batteries, which promise to greatly reduce the time it takes to recharge smartphones or laptops.

By the way, Aksay was just inducted into the National Academy of Engineering.

MonoRiver.JPGThe Daily Princetonian recently highlighted annual summer working trips that the university’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders has been making since 2004 to the Peruvian village of Huamanzaña.

EWB projects there have ranged from improving communal bathroom facilities to installing solar power generators.

Every proposal for community improvement has come from the residents, senior Barbara Hendrick tells The Prince. “The point of EWB is that you’re working with the community, not just for it,” says Hendrick. “It’s really a partnership.”

Engineering undergraduates also have many other opportunities to do public service and/or study abroad.

Margaret Byron, who graduated in June with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, spent the spring semester of her junior year at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Josh Muketha expanded his civil and environmental engineering education while in Rome, Italy, exploring the relationship between agrobiodiversity and indigenous communities’ efforts to cope with the effects of climate change.

During her sophomore year, Victoria Hewitt attended Ashesi University in Ghana followed by an internship in India at the International Water Management Institute in Hyderabad and junior independent work in Togo.

After graduating with a degree in operations research and financial engineering, Katie Hsih is now in Kono, Sierra Leone, on a yearlong public service fellowship during which she is conducting ethnographic research on female genital mutilation.  Her main work in Kono is as a program manager for a health clinic co-founded by Princeton alumnus Dr. Dan Kelly in 2006 to provide free health care to amputees and wounded from the country’s recent civil war. The clinic now serves pregnant mothers, young children and HIV positive individuals. You can follow Katie’s life and work in Sierra Leone on her blog.

To bring us back full circle to Engineers Without Borders: EWB members Meghan McNulty ’10, Henry Rounds ’09 and Neal Yuan ’10 last summer installed a photovoltaic system on the Kono clinic, powering an ultrasound and X-ray machine. Their Beacon Solar Energy Project was funded as a Davis Project for Peace.

Photo of Mono River, Togo, courtesy Victoria Hewitt

Princeton Engineering graduate John Dabiri, now a researcher at CalTech, has been named a MacArthur Fellow — an honor that comes with a no-strings-attached “genius grant” of $500,000.

Dabiri is a biophysicist whose work draws on a wide range of fields, from theoretical fluid dynamics to evolutionary biology. He studies the locomotion of jellyfish, which propel themselves by contracting cells in their bell-shaped outer skin and generating jet forces in the tail end, with tentacles trailing behind.

In the video above, Dabiri explains how his research might have applications for optimizing the placement of wind farms.

The Daily Princetonian‘s Nava Friedman published this interesting interview with Dabiri, who graduated from Princeton in 2001 with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Dabiri tells Friedman: “I guess the main thing that Princeton probably did was give me the confidence to be able to ask the unusual questions — to try to be creative without fear of failure. It’s a pretty amazing place.”

Other MacArthur “genius” grant recipients in the Princeton Engineering orbit include Naomi Ehrich Leonard, Claire Gmachl, and Theodore Zoli.


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Princeton Engineering graduate Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, recently went mano-a-mano with Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report….

In other engineering alumni news: Nick Frey has launched Boo Bicycles… … Paul Johnson has been named dean of engineering at Arizona State University…

Frank Moss announced he will be leaving MIT’s Media Lab for the private sector… And to raise money for diabetes research, Lee Iacocca is raffling off a silver 45th anniversary Ford Mustang

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Yueh-Lin “Lynn” Loo, who researches plastic electronics, was one of five young scientists who spoke this month in China at the World Economic Forum’s “Annual Meeting of the New Champions,” otherwise known as Summer Davos.

Plastic electronics is a young and growing field that can potentially change the quality of human life in a wide range of ways, according to Loo.

Says Loo: “Imagine electronic wallpaper that changes patterns from green stripes to pink polka dots at a click of a switch.”

“Imagine tinted windows that can also generate power during the day. Imagine disposable sensors that would change color if the water source is contaminated, or yet, think of smart plastic patches that can monitor your health and deliver medication when you’re sick. The possibilities are endless.”

Photo courtesy Philip Chew 

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The Obama administration has appointed Princeton Engineering alumna Alice Gast as one of three State Department envoys charged with promoting U.S. global engagement in science and technology.

According to the State Department, she will use this role to “deepen existing ties and foster new relationships with foreign counterparts and gain insights from other nations about potential areas of collaboration.”

The Science Envoy program, announced by President Obama in Cairo in June 2009, has the goal of creating global collaboration on developing new sources of energy, creating green jobs, digitizing records, providing clean water and growing new crops.

Gast earned her  PhD in chemical engineering from Princeton in 1984.


Former Princeton Engineering undergraduate and legendary entrepreneur (at the ripe age of 21) Seth Priebatsch recently gave a TED talk on his ambitions to “build a game layer on the top of the world.”

His first step in doing so is  SCVNGR, a phone-based gaming system that Priebatsch first developed at Princeton. After winning a business plan competition, he dropped out to launch a company of the same name.

SCVNGR now employs 60 people and has  received $4 million in financing from Google Ventures, according to this recent profile of Priebatsch in the New York Times.

For the profile, which undertakes the larger question of what makes an entrepreneur tick, the Times interviewed Princeton Engineering alum Paul Maeder of Highland Capital, one of Priebatsch’s investors.

To be an entrepreneur, Maeder tells David Segal, “You need to suspend disbelief to start a company, because so many people will tell you that what you’re doing can’t be done, and if it could be done, someone would have done it already.”

For more on entrepreneurial Princeton, watch this video.

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This weekend the Star-Ledger had terrific coverage of Project X, described by funder Lynn Shostack as “a slush fund for creativity and risk-taking.”

The Project X grants underwrite unconventional engineering research projects that are unlikely to find funding elsewhere.

The Star-Ledger piece features a video by Nyier Abdou on Edgar Choueiri, who has developed a mathematical technique for recording and playing back sound in 3-D.

Writes Judy Peet of the Star-Ledger: “Choueiri has a world-class reputation in deep-space propulsion and plasma dynamics. Yet with the university’s blessing, he is exploring a totally foreign field in which he has little training and few credentials. And in the process, he may revolutionize the way deaf people hear.”

Elsewhere, digital music pioneer Paul Lansky has called Choueiri’s efforts ingenious. What Choueiri has managed to do,” said Lansky, “is recreate the spatial dimension of the original recording situation. If he could make this truly portable, it would change the world.”

The Project X grants come from a fund named in honor of  Lynn Shostack’s husband, David Gardner, Princeton Class of ’69. The fund, administered by Princeton’s Council of the Humanities, is known as the Magic Fund — read the full article to find out why.

Princeton’s Mudd library has posted a 1962 instructional film for students who were serving as campus tour guides.

At first what is striking about this film (above) is how much the Princeton undergraduate experience has changed in less than 50 years. For one, thing Princeton students are a much more cosmopolitan group, taking advantage of enviable opportunities to study and travel abroad and Princeton’s new bridge-year program, as well as engaging in worthy endeavors like Engineers Without Borders.

Princeton is emphatically not the all-male, all-white institution of the past. But what is just as  striking as the film rolls along is that some of the iconic cornerstones of a Princeton education are pretty much unchanged from what they were back then.

For example: the film’s emphasis on student independent work for upperclassmen. At about minute 7 in the film we see a senior show his original thesis research in the aeronautics department. That kind independent work is still very much a part of the engineering undergraduate experience today.

The 1962 film also hits another very familiar theme: the importance of learning engineering in a liberal arts setting.

“There is more to being a good engineer today than just getting a grasp of technical subjects,” a professor intones at about minute 14 in the film. “It’s been the experience of the University that an education in the liberal arts as a complement to engineering studies produces better engineers… You’ll be living in a world of non-engineers. You will have to know how to communicate with them. You will have to be able to understand their ideas, and you will have to know how to express your own.”