Dave Hitz .jpgForbes magazine has a fascinating interview with NetApp cofounder Dave Hitz, who describes his experiences at Deep Springs ranch before coming to Princeton. One of those experiences was learning how to castrate a bull (the title of Hitz’s 2009 book).

Hitz says his experience on the ranch was invaluable because it exposed him, a suburban kid, to people from other walks of life. Here is some advice for entrepreneurs straight from Hitz:

“I do think it would probably be good for all entrepreneurs to do some kind of blue collar work. I mean suburbs kids. Being on the ranch was the first time I’d interacted with a lot of people who had no college degree, no sort of formal education. And it’s pretty easy to imagine, ‘Oh, well, I’ve got the college degree. I grew up in the suburbs. I’m better than all those guys.’ And when you’re on the ranch and the job is something that they know how to do really well and it involves sharp knives or heavy lifting equipment, skip loaders and stuff, suddenly you find out those folks are a whole lot smarter than you are in some pretty important domains about how you get to keep your fingers.

“It gives you a different perspective on the roles different people play. Maybe you don’t feel as superior as you thought you were. Like, those are pretty smart folks in their own domain. The reason I think that matters for entrepreneurs and for business, two reasons: In big giant companies, you’ve hired a lot of people, either yourself or outsourced it, who are doing that kind of stuff for you. Do you respect ’em or not?  And you kind of can’t fake that.  If you don’t, they’re gonna feel it. People don’t do so well in environments where they’re not being respected.

“In smaller companies especially, if you’re an entrepreneur, you may find yourself doing some of (those jobs). I mean if you’re the CEO and it’s a 10-person company, probably you go pick up the pizza yourself. You sweep the floor if it didn’t happen and it’s important for it to look good.  You don’t wanna be having a lot of that weird stuff like ‘Oh, well, that labor’s beneath me.’  So does it have to be a cattle ranch?  No. But I think something like that that just sort of helps get you in touch with your not-your-Ivy League high-falutin background.  I think that is very healthy.”


SPIE.org, the international society for optics and photonics, reports that Michael McAlpine‘s research group’s work integrating highly efficient energy conversion materials onto stretchable

and biocompatible substrates could yield breakthroughs in implantable

biomechanical energy harvesting systems. McAlpine talks about his research in the video above.



The Soyuz space capsule that carried Princeton Engineering’s entrepreneur-in-residence Greg Olsen back to earth from his journey into space in 2005 goes on display today through October 18 at  Princeton Market Fair in West Windsor, N.J.

Olsen, the third private citizen to travel in space, re-entered the atmosphere in the Soyuz TMA-6 capsule accompanied by one American astronaut and one Russian cosmonaut. The capsule landed by parachute in the desert of Kazakhstan. Scorch marks on the capsule are from the heat of re-entry.

Olsen, a research scientist and the founder of Sensors Unlimited, devotes much of his time to inspiring school-age children to pursue careers in science and engineering. Here is a very fun video of Olsen drinking water in space.


ABC News and io9 have some interesting coverage on how astronaut Dan Barry discovered that it is impossible to whistle while out on a moon walk.

Barry, who has seven hours of spacewalking under his belt, tried whistling during his spacewalk in May 1999. “I thought of it on the fly,” ABC News quotes Barry as saying. “It turned out that it didn’t work.” Why not? “You can’t whistle because the air pressure in the suit is only 4.3 [pounds per square inch], and normal atmospheric pressure is 14.7 psi, so there are not enough air molecules blowing by your lips to make a sound,” Barry said.

For the record: the tune he would have whistled could he have whistled was “Whistle While You Work.”

Barry, who earned his doctorate from Princeton in 1980, is just one several Princeton Engineering astronauts. Others include Pete Conrad *64, the third man to walk on the moon, Greg Linteris ’79 *90, James C. Adamson *77, and Gerald Carr *62.

By the way, the Trenton Times recently featured Robert Stengel‘s contributions to NASA’s space shuttle program. Stengel, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at

Princeton University, designed a control system for the Apollo Project Lunar Module.


augustine-300x243.jpgThe National Science Foundation announced yesterday that aerospace titan Norm Augustine will be heading a strategic review of U.S. science-support operations on the continent of Antarctica.

“The Obama Administration strongly supports the U.S. Antarctic Program and understands its importance in America’s conduct of international diplomacy, polar scientific endeavors, science leadership, and exploration of this vast continent and its surrounding seas,” said John P. Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology and director of Office of Science and Technology Policy. “The Administration’s goal is to ensure that these important research programs remain on a strong and stable footing well into the 21st Century, and this review will be crucial to meeting that goal.”

This is just the latest in a series of high-profile, high-impact blue-ribbon panels on science and technology that Augustine has headed up. In 2009 he was asked by the White House to review NASA’s plans for human space exploration. He also headed up the panel that issued the influential 2005 report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future” and was one of the authors of a followup report in 2010.

Augustine earned his BSE, magna cum laude, from Princeton in 1957 and his MSE from Princeton in 1959.


Yesterday’s New York Times featured an op-ed by Stewart Prager, director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, on the future of nuclear fusion, which he describes as an abundant, safe and clean energy source that may be closer to becoming a reality than many think.

“Fusion energy generates zero greenhouse gases,” Prager writes. “It offers no chance of a catastrophic accident. It can be available to all nations, relying only on the Earth’s oceans. When commercialized, it will transform the world’s energy supply.

But, Prager notes. there’s a catch: making nuclear fusion work is one of the most difficult science and engineering challenges ever undertaken. “Among other challenges, it requires production and confinement of a hot gas — a plasma — with a temperature around 100 million degrees Celsius.”

A number of researchers affiliated with the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment  are collaborating with PPPL to overcome the  technical challenges of taming plasma. Bruce Koel, for example, is conducting investigations into surface science that will be of great interest, ultimately, to fusion research. Other Andlinger researchers working in the area of fusion include Alexander Glaser, Clarence Rowley, Howard Stone, Edgar Choueiri, and Emily Carter

Read the full Times article here.

Photo by Elle Starkman and Charles Skinner, courtesy Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory



Princeton’s Olga Troyanskaya, described as “one of the most promising young researchers in bioinformatics” has won this year’s Overton Prize, given by the International Society for Computational Biology for outstanding accomplishment to a scientist in the early to mid stage of his or her career.

One of the key problems Troyanskaya focuses on is “making better use of the vast but unwieldy biological datasets in databases around the world,” according to the June 2011 issue of PLoS Computational Biology. Her website — which offers clues to the role DNA plays in aging and disease by mashing up genetic data from different sources — has been called a Rosetta Stone for the human body.

You can read the full PLoS profile of Troyanskaya here.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has terrific coverage of William “Red” Whittaker, who with a team of students from Carnegie Mellon is competing for the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize, which will go to the first privately funded team able to get a robot to reach the moon, travel 500 meters and flash data back to the Earth.

Whittaker, who graduated from Princeton in 1973 with a degree in civil engineering, says he has a “very robot-centric view of the universe.” Robots he has created have “crawled into mines and volcanoes, crossed deserts, won a 60-mile road race, helped clean up nuclear waste and harvested alfalfa.”

The Journal portrays Whittaker as a risk-taker — he once wrestled an ape at a carnival — who prefers to undertake projects that  “border on the unachievable.” You can watch a video interview with Whittaker, see a slideshow about the spacecraft his team is building to launch the robot, and read the full article  here.


Thumbnail image for Vince Poor_Edinburgh.jpgH. Vincent Poor, dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, this week received an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh.

Poor is a leading researcher in the areas of statistical signal processing, stochastic analysis and information theory — particularly as they apply to wireless networks. Interestingly, two giants in Poor’s field of research also have an Edinburgh connection. The physicist James Clerk Maxwell and the inventor Alexander Graham Bell were both educated at Edinburgh. Reaching even further back, John Witherspoon, one of Princeton’s early presidents was also educated at Edinburgh.

Earlier this year, Poor, the Michael Henry Strater University Professor of Electrical Engineering, was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences and also received the IEEE Eric E. Sumner Award.

Another Princetonian, Angus Deaton, also received an honorary doctorate this week from Edinburgh. Deaton is Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and Department of Economics.

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chime generator.jpg

Wired magazine and others are reporting on the monumental-scale 10,000-year clock that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is building inside a mountain in west Texas.

For Bezos, Wired reports, “the clock is not just the ultimateprestige timepiece. It’s a symbol of the power of long-term thinking. His hope is that building it will change the way humanity thinks about time, encouraging our distant descendants to take a longer view than we have.”

Bezos is reportedly spending $42 million on the clock project, which is the brainchild of American inventor Danny Hillis, who first conceived of the idea in 1989.

“Over the lifetime of this clock, the United States won’t exist,” Bezos tells Wired. “Whole civilizations will rise and fall. New systems of government will be invented. You can’t imagine the world — no one can — that we’re trying to get this clock to pass through.”

Bezos, who graduated from Princeton in 1986 with a degree in electrical engineering, has launched a website to publicize the clock. You can also learn more from PC Magazine, GeekWire, RedOrbit and the Technium.

Image above of 10,000 year clock chime generator, courtesy Applied Minds