It’s not every day that one of Princeton Engineering’s faculty members is interviewed in the Catalan language by Catalan TV — check out the embedded video interview at left with Sergio Verdú.

Verdú, a native of Barcelona, is a leading figure in information theory, the discipline at the interface between engineering and applied mathematics that drives innovation in many digital technologies. His research explores the fundamental limits of data transmission and compression systems. In 2007, Verdú became the youngest recipient of the Claude Shannon Award, the most prestigious prize in information theory, and also was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering.

In case you don’t happen to speak Catalan, take a moment to read this interview (in English) with Verdú, which was published a couple of years ago by the Institute for Mathematical Sciences. Verdú talks about his childhood in Spain, about his affection for the United States (with the exception of baseball), and his pioneering doctoral research in the field of multiuser detection, done at the University of Illinois under the supervision of  H. Vincent Poor, another leading researcher in information theory who is now dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering (Verdú was Poor’s second Ph.D. student). By the way, Poor is the co-recipient of a new National Science Foundation grant for research on the relationship between social and technological networks. His collaborators are fellow information theory expert Mung Chiang, sociologist Matthew Salganik, and political scientist Jacob Shapiro.

EQN can’t help but quote directly some of the gems that Verdú offered in the Institute for Mathematical Sciences newsletter:

On reconciling the two fields of mathematics and engineering:

"Strangely enough, they are not very different because the way you approach problems is essentially the same in both fields: going back to the basics. As much as I can, I always try to avoid carrying a bag of tricks that I can apply from one problem to another… Like the Zen philosophy says, in the mind of the beginner the possibilities are endless."

On the importance of mathematical training for engineers:

"Mathematical training is like wealth — nobody has enough of it."

On whether engineers focus on problems of practical concern to the exclusion of fundamental questions:

"Many of us who are working in theory are accused, more often than not, of doing exactly the opposite: of solving problems that are of no immediate practical concern and that may be relevant only in the distant future or never. Those of use who have followed in [Claude] Shannon‘s footsteps have an appreciation for beauty and elegance and for the fact that beautiful and elegant results sooner or later become practical."


Princeton’s Dean of the Faculty, David Dobkin, will join in a discussion this evening at Labyrinth Books on the intersection between poetry, mysticism, and science. Joining the conversation will be Scott McVay, founding director of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the poet J.C. Todd and the cultural philosopher William Irwin Thompson. Thompson will read from his new book Still Travels: Three Long Poems (Wild River Books, 2009).

By the way, last month Princeton Engineering’s Philip Holmes gave a reading at the Princeton Public Library along with fellow poets Paul Muldoon and Evie Shockley. Holmes has published four collections of poetry, including The Green Road (a Poetry Book Society recommendation).


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In the current issue of Chemistry World, Philip Ball calls proteins "Goldilocks molecules": everything has to be "just right" for them not to unravel. Proteins are sensitive to temperature,  pressure, acid levels, and exposure to certain small molecules known as denaturants. 

Why should we care how and why proteins behave? Because, Ball points out, understanding what makes proteins unravel is central to understanding what makes our earth habitable. It is also a driving force behind all manner of neurodegenerative diseases, from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s.

In his survey of cutting-edge protein folding research, Ball highlights work by Pablo Debenedetti and Frank Stillinger at Princeton and Peter Rossky at the University of Texas. Their lattice model (see image above) explores the nuanced way that temperature and pressure can destabilize proteins. For more on their research, conducted with former Princeton graduate student Bryan Patel and now continuing with postdoc Silvina Matysiak, read the full article here.

In the spring, Debenedetti and colleagues published research on a new way to freeze water.


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Princeton Engineering’s Alexander Smits seems to have been popular among the media during the annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics, which took place last week in Minneapolis.

The Pioneer Press quotes Smits on the aerodynamics of golf balls, which he says are one of "the most remarkable products of the industrial age."

In another article intriguingly titled "Wind Turbines Take a Lesson from Lance Armstrong" by ScienceNOW Daily News, Smits comments on a plan for arranging wind turbines much like a school of fish — making them safer for migrating birds and reducing the amount of land they take up by 100-fold. Smits said the plan, co-devised by Princeton Engineering graduate John Dabiri, shows great promise. Here is more coverage from Discovery News, via MSNBC, and from the Mendo Coast Current.

By the way, Lex Smits is chief editor of, whose media gallery features visualizations of cutting-edge fluid mechanics research that happens to be mesmerizingly gorgeous. Above is a screen grab of a simulation of a "wake of a low aspect ratio pitching plate." Studying such wakes helps researchers better understand the mechanisms that fish use to propel themselves. This image/animation depicts research by Smits that was published in the Journal of Fluid Dynamics.

Just for fun, don’t miss Smits’ video of dolphins playing with with bubble rings or the parabolic liquid jets shooting out of holes in this plastic bottle.

In other news, one of Smits’ former graduate students, Beverley McKeon, now of Caltech, this fall received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. More about her research  on PhysOrg.


The Guardian newspaper pays tribute to Anthony Evans, "a world-leading materials scientist who pioneered the use of brittle materials in such wide-ranging applications as jet engines, space-shuttle tiles, silicon chips and vehicle armour." Evans, who has died at the age of 66 of cancer, was the author of more than 540 scientific publications and is one of the most referenced authors in materials science, engineering and physics.

From 1998 to 2002, Evans was the Gordon Wu Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton and also director of the Princeton Materials Institute.


CD_61469.JPG A device used by electrical engineering Professor Stephen Chou to develop a technique for manufacturing the tiniest of electrical circuits and other nanostructures is featured in a new exhibit in the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany. 

The museum is displaying the original press Chou used for nanoimprint lithography, a method he invented to simplify the production of computer microchips and a broad range of other nanoproducts by creating molds that can emboss intricate patterns onto silicon chips.

The production method is based on a set of Chou’s inventions that allows the printing concept originated by ancient Chinese centuries ago to be applied to nanoscale. It is featured as part of a nanotechnology exhibit in the museum’s Centre for New Technologies, an interactive center for cutting-edge science and technology topics which opened on November 19.

Chou attended the opening of the new center, at which Dr. Horst Köhler, the president of the Federal Republic of Germany, delivered the opening address. Deutsches is the world’s largest museum of technology and science, attracting nearly 1.5 million visitors per year and exhibiting over 28,000 artifacts of science and technology.

The inclusion of Chou’s press in the new exhibit comes six years after MIT’s Technology Review named nanoimprint lithography one of "ten emerging technologies that will change the world.”

The magazine wrote in 2003 that “ultimately, nanoimprinting could become the method of choice for cheap and easy fabrication of nano features in such products as optical components for communications and gene chips for diagnostic screening.”

Photo courtesy of Deutsches Museum


Sasha Frere-Jones,  the pop-music critic of The New Yorker, writes about I Am T-Pain, a new iPhone application from Smule that is getting something like 10,000 downloads a day.

Smule, a company that specializes in sonic iPhone apps, was cofounded by Princeton Engineering alum Ge Wang. Hear Ge talk about Smule and about his philosophy of invention in the video above. The Ge profile is by Michael E. Wood ’08, who has created a video library of interviews with prominent Princeton Engineering alumni.

Last week, Princeton’s Keller Center hosted a panel titled “iPhone Apps: the New high-tech Gold Rush.” The panel included Princeton Engineering alum David Lieb of Bump Technologies and Matt Conner, an operations research and financial engineering major at Princeton who recently won a $100,000 grant to develop iPhone app that helps diabetics manage their disease.


Thumbnail image for Emily Carter w Nancy Pelosi_color corrected.jpg Princeton Engineering’s Emily Carter appeared yesterday at a Capitol Hill news conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt to announce a new initiative that will highlight scientific research made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (a k a the congressional economic stimulus package).Carter said that engineering and physical sciences had been on “starvation budgets” for basic research throughout her 25-year career, reports, and that “with one fell swoop, this bill… really has changed the tone among the whole scientific community."

You can hear Carter describe her work in computational modeling of materials for energy applications in this video of a workshop hosted by Princeton’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.

Photo courtesy V. Hume, The Science Collection


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Princeton engineers are building a 92-foot-long replica of the Golden Gate Bridge as part of a $3 million National Science Foundation interactive display that will open in 2012.

Assistant professor Maria Moreyra Garlock is leading the model-building project along with Sylvester Black (pictured in the photo at right), who graduated from Princeton Engineering last year and who did his senior thesis on the Golden Gate bridge.

Interestingly, before the Golden Gate bridge was built, Princeton engineering professor George E. Beggs made and tested a steel model of the bridge tower, built to a scale ratio of 1 to 56. According to the Engineering News-Record of January 25, 1934, Beggs reported his results to some 200 engineers. HIs conclusion? The bridge was sound.

Garlock’s colleague and mentor, the legendary David Billington, is interviewed in the current issue of Boston Architecture. In the interview, Billington talks about bridges (naturally), teamwork, and the importance of imagination in engineering. In the video below, Garlock discusses an exhibit on the mid-20th century structures of Felix Candela, which she and Billington co-curated. The exhibit features models of Candela’s work created by Princeton students.

Photo of Sylvester Black by Frank Wojciechowski.


The Keller Center has just posted its spring list of of cutting-edge technology courses, all of which are taught by exceptional teachers and designed to appeal broadly to all undergraduates.

Michael Gordin,  the author of a new history of the Cold War as well as a recent essay in the Los Angeles Times on the United Nations and nuclear arms control, will be teaching a keystone course called Technology and Society.

Why should non-techie undergraduates care about technology? Because virtually all the problems the world faces have some kind of technological dimension. And why should techie undergraduates care about society? Because the deployment of technology always has societal repercussions. But don’t take EQN’s word for it — you can hear from Gordin directly in the video above.

A centerpiece of the Keller Center‘s mandate is to ensure that all students at Princeton gain a clear appreciation of technology and the social and political forces that shape it. To that end, Princeton undergraduates will find spring course offerings in engineering and community service, in entrepreneurship, and in a range of topics at the intersection of technology and society, from alternative energy to the computational universe.

By the way, one of Princeton Engineering’s most prominent alumni, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, recently remarked that he was  attracted to Princeton precisely because its engineering school was embedded in a liberal arts setting.  “I believed that the value of a liberal arts education would serve me in some inchoate way,” says Schmidt. “That has proven true.”

You can watch a 3-minute feature video profile of Schmidt here or on Youtube. It is part of a library of engineering alumni videos  created by Michael E. Wood ’08.