Lynn Loo, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton, has been named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum for 2012. Loo is one of 192 young leaders from 59 countries honored this year for their outstanding leadership, professional accomplishments and commitment to society.

Past Young Global Leaders — a k a YGLs — include Maria Bartiromo, anchor and managing editor of the Wall Street Journal Report on CNBC; David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; Larry Page, co-founder and chief executive officer of Google; and Zhang Xin, chief executive officer of SOHO China.

Loo, who is deputy director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, is a leading researcher in plastic electronics, a young and growing field (described in the video below) that can potentially change the quality of human life in a wide range of ways.

sci_star_shade_0228.jpgTime magazine’s Michael Lemonick this week reports on competing technologies coming out of Jeremy Kasdin‘s High-Contrast Imaging Laboratorythat could prove crucial for detecting exoplanets — earth-like planets beyond the sun’s orbit that can support life.

One of those technologies, being jointly developed by Kasdin and the Jet Propulsion Lab is a scheme that Lemonick describes as “breathtaking in both its simplicity and its audacity.”

Lemonick explains that exoplanets are hard to detect because the much-brighter light that streams from the stars they orbit washes out the image of faint bodies nearby.

The idea is to block out enough of the sun’s glare so that orbiting planets become visible, much as someone here on earth might hold a hand up to the sky to block the sun’s glare so that the road ahead is visible.The JPL/Princeton team proposes flying a giant “starshade” — otherwise known as an “occulter” — in space, Lemonick reports, “positioning it tens of thousands of miles away from a big orbiting telescope and covering up just enough stellar light to make a planet pop into view.”

Another technology Kasdin’s lab is developing is a “coronograph,” which Lemonick explains would put starlight-blocking technology directly into a telescope. Read the full Time report here.

Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Vorbeck_Baltimor Sun.jpgYesterday the Baltimore Sun profiled Vorbeck Materials, a company started by Princeton Engineering alumnus John Lettow.

Last week the Department of Energy announced that it had selected Vorbeck as one of three startup companies for the title of America’s Next Top Energy Innovator. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu recognized Vorbeck for its work on improving lithium ion batteries, done in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and researchers in the Princeton laboratories of Ilhan Aksay within the department of chemical and biological engineering.

Photo by John Morse, via the Baltimore Sun.

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Physics Today highlights a new paper showing that the performance of diesel and rocket engines may be improved by exploiting size differences in droplets. The paper is by Chung Law, Robert H. Goddard Professor of Engineering, and researchers Chenglong Tang, and Peng Zhang.

Read the full report here.

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Thumbnail image for Kobayashi book cover.jpgHisashi Kobayashi is the coauthor of a forthcoming book from Cambridge University Press on the fundamentals of probability and random processes.

Princeton Engineering Dean H. Vincent Poor calls it “a one-stop, unified treatment that gives the reader an understanding of the models, methodologies and underlying principles behind many of the most important statistical problems arising in engineering and the sciences today.”

Kobayashi, the Sherman Fairchild University Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Emeritus, earned his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1967.


The Department of Energy has just announced that Vorbeck Materials — one of the hottest companies out there exploiting the seemingly limitless possibilities of graphene, the Earth’s strongest substance — has been nominated for the honor of “America’s Next Top Energy Innovator.”

Vorbeck was started by John Lettow, who graduated from Princeton Engineering in 1995. The company’s products are based in part on research coming out of the labs of Ilhan Aksay, under whom Lettow did his senior thesis while an undergraduate.

Here is a video explaining Vobeck’s potential applications in long-lasting lithium ion batteries. These batteries are widely used in laptops and smartphones and to power electric vehicles. Vorbeck, working with Princeton and with the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Labs, is rapidly bringing this new technology to market.

Vorbeck is competing with 36 other companies to be America’s Next Top Energy Innovator. You can cast your vote for your favorite company on the DOE’s website. The winner will be announced at the Arpa-E summit in Washington, D.C., in late February.

In other Vorbeck news: the company just announced closing a new round of funding of $10 million. This month Nature Materials published a chart showing that three of the top ten graphene patent holders are associated with Vorbeck. And you can read more about Vorbeck’s health-related research in the latest issue of EQuad News.



The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics awarded Robert Stengel its 2012  Pendray Aerospace Literature Award at an awards ceremony during the 50th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting this month in Nashville.

John Valasek, director of the Aerospace Engineering Department at Texas A&M University, said in his nomination of Stengel that his  newest textbook, Flight Dynamics, is a landmark in its field.

In an interview with AIAA, Stengel offered advice to students:

“Recognize that your undergraduate education provides a unique opportunity for learning a broad variety of skills, for appreciating the context within which engineering contributes to society, and for understanding what interests you. Identify the topics that are the most fun for you, and then learn enough about those topics to assure that you can earn your living doing what you like to do. Enjoy your social and athletic activities, but know that too many college graduates look back and say, ‘If only I had paid more attention to the fundamentals, had taken that technical elective course, or had drilled deeper into my senior research project.'”

Stengel, who is professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, earned his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1968. Stengel is also director of the Program on Robotics and Intelligent Systems. In case you missed it, here is a terrific Princeton Alumni Weekly piece from a couple of months ago featuring Stengel and Princeton’s robo shop.


quasicrystals_SteinhardtStiishovite_400.jpgCatherine Zandonella recently published a fascinating account of how an international team of researchers led by Princeton University scientists discovered evidence for the extraterrestrial origins of the world’s only known sample of a naturally occurring quasicrystal. She describes the quest undertaken by physicist Paul Steinhardt, the Albert Einstein Professor in Science at Princeton, to find a quasicrystal, a mineral so exotic in structure that it was thought impossible to occur naturally. One interesting dimension of Steinhardt’s quest not detailed in previous media coverage involves the role of Nan Yao, director of the Imaging and Analysis Center at the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials.

Here is Zandonella’s account of Yao’s role:

“When the sample arrived … it had been cut away from the surrounding rock, leaving Steinhardt with microscopic grains to work with, and no room for error. ‘If we had dropped the sample, it would have been lost forever,’ said Nan Yao, Steinhardt’s Princeton colleague. Yao painstakingly ground the tiny sample, which measured the width of a human hair, into the even smaller slivers required for probing the structure to see if it was a quasicrystal. The technique they used, transmission electron microscopy, involves firing a beam of electrons at a sample and observing how the electrons bend, or diffract, when they hit the sample.

“Within a sliver of the Russian rock, the researchers found the signature diffraction pattern of a quasicrystal, consisting of aluminum, copper and iron, embedded next to the khatyrkite and other minerals. ‘I was very excited when I saw the diffraction pattern,’ said Yao, who had come into work on New Year’s Day to do the studies when the lab was quiet.” In the image above the pink and white material is a rare mineral called stishovite, found only

in meteorites and meteorite impacts. The dark material in the middle is quasicrystal. Wow. Read the full account here.

Image courtesy Paul Steinhardt


In the video above Paul Hsieh, a research hydrologist with a specialty in underground water reserves, discusses his role in helping to contain the worst spill in U.S. history.

It’s an incredible story. In July 2010, a 75-ton containment cap was placed on the Deepwater Horizon well to stop the flow of oil, which had been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for 86 days.

Problem was, no one knew whether the cap would hold. Hsieh used a modified version of his reservoir modeling software to do complex calculations of the well’s pressure curve, which he determined by examining a photo sent from a colleague’s cellphone. Hsieh worked through the night from his office in California. After hours of analysis, Hsieh concluded the cap would hold and was not leaking beneath the Gulf surface. The cap remained in place and indeed never spilled another drop of oil.

“Paul’s model provided the confidence for the government team to keep the cap and stack closed,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Cook, director of prevention policy, U.S. Coast Guard. “It was a real game changer.”

Read the full story in this citation when he was named 2011 Federal Employee of the Year. Hsieh earned his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Princeton in 1977.



Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney begins his three-day tour of Iowa today in anticipation of next week’s caucuses. What is the optimal path for him to travel in order to hit all 99 counties?

This is a version of something known as “the traveling salesman problem,” one of the great unsolved problems in mathematics. But three professors specializing in the field of operations research appear to have solved “the traveling politician problem,” at least when it comes to Iowa.

Above is a map developed by William Cook, a professor of industrial and systems engineering at Georgia Tech, and Alain Kornhauser and Robert Vanderbei, professors of operations research and financial engineering at Princeton.

“The white path traces the quickest possible tour through the state, hitting all 99 county seats in 55.5 hours and 2,739 miles,” Cook explained in a recent opinion piece in The New York Times. “The trip is circular, so you can start and stop at any of the 99 and travel the same total distance.”

To construct the optimal tour, the professors had to compute point-to-point trips  from county seat to county seat for each pair of counties, adding up to nearly 10,000 individual trips. They did this by using a software called CoPilot developed by Kornhauser.

The colors in the map above are based on Vanderbei’s Purple America map, which shows Democatic counties in blue and Republican counties in red.