The Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering team brought home some major awards from the 16th Annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition.

Princeton came in first in the design competition, was named “rookie of the year,” and placed third overall among 47 teams, who were tasked with creating a robot capable of negotiating obstacles and navigating with GPS all on its own.

Computer science professor Robert Schapire described Princeton’s team as “an extremely talented and motivated group of undergraduates.” “I am officially their advisor,” Schapire said, “but I can assure you that the project was entirely theirs from start to finish.”

You can check out some videos of Princeton’s award-winning robot at the PAVE website. The judges seem a bit surprised when they learn that one of the team members, Jonathan Mayer, is a Woodrow Wilson School (rather than engineering) major.

Photo by Frank Wojciechowski. Pictured above with their awards (left to right) are Gordon Franken, Derrick Yu, and Andrew Saxe.



The Princeton Laptop Orchestra made its Carnegie Hall debut recently as part of Playing it UNsafe, “the nation’s first professional laboratory for the creation of cutting-edge new orchestral music.” Catherine Rampell blogged the event yesterday for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The New York Times described PLOrk’s contribution this way:

“In Dan Trueman’s appealing “Silicon/Carbon: An Anti-Concerto Grosso” members of the Princeton Laptop Orchestra used computers to manipulate sounds made by the acoustic ensemble while adding rhythmic patter and rubbed-goblet peals. The results sounded something like a shimmering moment from a John Adams orchestral score stretched out indefinitely.”

PLOrk, under the auspices of Dan Trueman and Perry Cook, recently got a $238,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of its Digital Media and Learning Competition. Seventeen winning projects — PLOrk among them — were selected from 1,010 applications.

Trueman and Cook will be using the grant to make the instruments played in PLOrk as portable as electric guitars.

“The MacArthur grant will allow us to completely reinvent the PLOrk technology,” Trueman explains. “The history of musical instruments shows us that the music we imagine is inextricably linked to the instruments we make it with. It is hard to overstate how important this redesign might be for us.”

PLOrk also recently played at the Sonic Divergence festival. Here is some nice coverage by the Daily Northwestern.

This video takes you backstage for a recent PLOrk rehearsal. For a completely different style of reporting, check out this past coverage from Fox News (Ge Wang, a Princeton computer science Ph.D. now at Stanford, conducts).

Photo courtesy Alice Truong, The Daily Northwestern



Technology Review yesterday covered a new technique developed by Stephen Chou and Qiangfei Xia for improving microchip quality without increasing costs.

The idea, basically, is to liquefy microchip components and then let surface tension naturally “melt away” defects, producing in the end structures with precisely defined edges — important for chip performance.

“What is nice about the method is that it takes advantage of self-assembly,” George Whitesides, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University and a pioneer in nanofabrication, tells Stephen Ornes of Technology Review. “You start with a structure that isn’t the shape you want, and let it fold itself into the shape you want.”

The researchers report on their work in the May 4 online issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

The work inspired quite a lot of conversation on slashdot and was covered by nanodot.

For a full description of the technology, see this piece by Chandra Shekhar.

By the way, Qiangfei Xia won third prize in Princeton’s most recent Art of Science competition, for the image above — which he has appropriately titled “Easter Bonnet.” This and other images from the Art of Science exhibit were recently featured by the Washington Post.

Qiangfei describes the image this way: “A laser pulse melted a tiny piece of metal on a silicon chip, resulting in an unexpected shape that looks like a very, very small Easter bonnet. An unintended dust particle serves as a decorative flower on its top. The size of the bonnet in this photo, measured from left to right, is about 45 micrometers, half the diameter of a human hair.”


The Center for Information Technology Policy is hosting what promises to be a provocative conference May 14-15 on the Future of News.

The conference features a distinguished roster of panelists who will be discussing the sweeping technologically-driven transformation of the news business. Of special interest is a panel on the new journalistic frontiers of data mining, interactivity, and visualization.

Among the panelists: Gordon Crovitz, former publisher of the Wall Street Journal; author Eric Alterman; Kevin Anderson of the Guardian; Matthew Hurst of Microsoft Live Labs; technology writer Dan Gillmor; machine learning expert (Princeton’s own) David Blei; Mark Davis of the San Diego Union-Tribune, and Reihan Salam of The Atlantic.

The conference is free for those who can make it to Princeton; for those who can’t, plan on attending the live broadcast.

The director of CITP is maverick computer scientist and freedom-to-tinker blogger Ed Felten, whom you may have seen recently on Rocketboom being interviewed by WhyTuesday’s Jacob Soboroff about electronic voting machines. Also check out reports by Wired, Techdirt, and the Huffington Post.

For an in-depth discussion from Felten on recent research by his group, read this interview from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.


Princeton researchers have a new paper in the May 8 issue of the journal Nature which shows that water dynamics play a pivotal role in the biodiversity of river networks. The team has created a computer simulation that allows them to predict – based on rainfall measurements and on how rivers connect to one another — how many species of fish will occupy any given region.

The model is expected to be useful in predicting the impact of climate change on fish biodiversity, according to Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Princeton and the leader of the research group. “It is an extremely simple model but it predicts absolutely fantastically well all of the characteristics of biodiversity that we were interested in,” he said.

Paolo D’Odorico, associate professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, called the research “exquisitely original and thought-provoking.”

The lead author of the Nature paper is Rachata Muneepeerakul, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton Princeton who received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 2007.

Below you can view an interview/slideshow of Rodriguez-Iturbe. (Above image courtesy of Enrico Bertuzzo of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.)


Princeton Engineering professors Emily Carter, Pablo Debenedetti and Marlan Scully have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. They are in impressive company. Other 2008 fellows include film director Pedro Almodóvar, blues guitarist B.B. King, Dell computer founder Michael Dell, and former U. S. Secretary of State (and Princeton alum) James Baker III.

Carter — who works at the intersection of chemistry, materials science, applied physics and applied mathematics — also was just elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Debenedetti, a theorist who works in condensed matter physics and engineering (his recent work was recently featured by Philip Ball in his Water in Biology forum), was just named vice dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Scully, a k a the “quantum cowboy,” recently delivered the prestigious Loeb Lecture at Harvard, which you can view here. Scully is also the coauthor, with his son Robert Scully, of The Demon and the Quantum, a new book showing the close relationship between information science, thermodynamics and quantum physics.



Last week Margaret Martonosi gave a talk on the hot topic of mobile computing and sensor networks at the Royal Society’s “From Computers to Ubiquitous Computing by 2020 Symposium.”

Martonosi, a professor of electrical engineering at Princeton, is especially interested in power-efficient wireless networks and she is co-leader of the Sarana project, which is building software interfaces for collaborative computing among mobile devices.

Martonosi created, with ecology and evolutionary biology professor Dan Rubenstein, ZebraNet, a sensor network designed to track movements of zebra herds in Kenya.

For the technically inclined, the blogs Working 2.0 and Analog brains, digital minds describe different aspects of Martonosi’s Royal Society talk. The lay audience will appreciate this description of Zebranet in a National Science Foundation multimedia report on The Secret Lives of Animals.

Photo courtesy Vlad Trifa



Princeton Engineering freshman Seth Priebatsch’s scheme for a text-messaging scavenger hunt has won first prize in the Tigerlaunch Business Plan Competition. Priebatsch may be a freshman but he is by no means a greenhorn when it comes to starting businesses. His PostcardTech specializes in producing interactive postcards containing mini CDs. Among his clients: Boston City Hall and Google.

The Daily Princetonian describes Preibatsch’s SCVNGR system this way: “SCVNGR uses cell phones to send out clues and receive responses via SMS for digital scavenger hunts. The scavenger hunts would invite visitors and locals to spend time seeking out and winning prizes in major tourist destinations, such as New York City or Boston. To enter a scavenger hunt, team members would sign up online or text SCVNGR to a short code.”

Preibatsch is majoring in operations research and financial engineering, which in this interview he rightly calls “a program for entrepreneurs.”

Indeed ORFE has produced its share of entrepreneurs. Among them: Robert J. Moore ’06, who did his senior thesis on poker, well before Harvard Law School Professor Charles Nesson’s recent appearance on “The Colbert Report” discussing the value of poker as a tool for teaching strategic thinking.

Moore’s latest entrepreneurial adventure is, an affiliate marketing play that is heavily rooted in relationships with e-commerce companies. “The basic idea is that school, charity, and community groups can join for free and do their fundraising by referring friends and supporters to shop through the site’s partner stores,” Moore tells EQN. “A percentage of every purchase those supporters make at the 200-plus stores in the SmartRaise partner network goes toward their cause.”

On April 9, Princeton Engineering’s innovative faculty will be showing off technologies that are ripe for commercialization at a forum sponsored by the Center for Innovation in Engineering Education and the Jumpstart New Jersey Angel Network. Details can be found here.



Princeton Engineering alum Leonard Liu, the chairman and CEO of Augmentum, gave the keynote address at Asia America MultiTechnology Association Connect 2007, at which leading executives gathered to discuss China’s rising world influence.

At the event, Liu received the Asia Impact Award — an honor that recognizes leaders for risk-taking.

The Road to Innovation blog posted a video interview with Liu as part of its visionaries series. “Innovation is not just technical,” Liu says. “Innovation is at all levels.”

More here, from Reuters.



A new report from the Millennium Project at the University of Michigan offers a bold road map for the future of engineering. Among the report’s far-reaching recommendations: “the academic discipline of engineering (or, perhaps, more broadly, technology) should be included in the liberal arts canon undergirding a 21st-century undergraduate education for all students.”

This is a sentiment that Princeton has long embraced — and put into practice. When H. Vincent Poor, dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering, was invited in September to speak at the launch of Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, he addressed the role of engineering in the liberal arts. You can listen to a podcast of Poor’s address here. Poor, the recipient of a National Science Foundation Director’s Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars, for several years taught “The Wireless Revolution” — one of Princeton’s most popular undergraduate classes and heralded as a model for teaching technology in the context of political, economic and social dimensions.

By the way, Princeton’s quantum cowboy Marlan Scully has been invited to be Harvard’s Morris Loeb Lecturer in Physics in the spring. He will deliver three lectures and is expected to talk about his efforts to unite all fields of science under the umbrella of quantum physics as well as his research into applications for quantum physics, including the use of lasers to detect anthrax. The Loeb Lectureship has a long and distinguished tradition. Past lecturers include Enrico Fermi, Murray Gell-Mann, Stephen Hawking, Edwin Land, and Edward Witten.

Cover reprint of “Engineering for a Changing World,” courtesy University of Michigan