Matters of note from around Johns Hopkins
Last October, when Yash P. Gupta was named the first dean of
the new Carey Business
School at Johns Hopkins, he was enticed by the prospect
of building, almost from the ground up, a top-flight business
school at an institution that has never had one. "In a way,
this is much more exciting than working at an established
school, where it is hard to change course or develop
meaningful collaborations with the other schools on campus,"
|New Carey Business School Dean Yash Gupta: "We'll leverage the strengths of Hopkins, our closeness to Washington, and the durability of Hopkins' reputation abroad."||
By seeking input from other Hopkins divisions that are
developing the knowledge and technology driving the global
economy, Gupta, a native of the Punjab region of India, hopes
to prepare students for a marketplace without borders. He
says he'll ask other educators to help the Carey School
create courses, encourage team teaching with faculty from
other Hopkins divisions, and attempt to partner with those
divisions to help students and faculty turn discoveries into
"We'll leverage the strengths of Hopkins, our closeness to Washington, and the durability of Hopkins' reputation abroad to form relationships," he says. "If we can collaborate with, say, the world-class School of Medicine, we'll be known by the company we keep. And there are many world-class programs here."
Gupta's goal at Hopkins is to make the Carey School a leader in business education oriented to intellectual property-helping people create it, and training them to lead companies that sell it and envision markets for new product categories. "The businesses being formed now bear no resemblance to those started even 25 years ago," Gupta says. "There is no nationality of capital anymore. The future of business education is in understanding the global context, understanding the life sciences revolution that is taking place, and understanding sustainability."
The new dean won't have a blank slate upon which to chalk out his vision. Various Hopkins business programs date back to 1916; the Carey School's immediate predecessor shared a school with education (which is now its own division). But Hopkins had long been lumped in with Brown and Princeton as an elite university that lacked a formal business school. That changed in January 2007 when Hopkins opened the Carey School, launched by a $50 million gift from the family foundation headed by trustee emeritus William Polk Carey.
Gupta, 55, has evinced a talent for raising money. While serving as dean at the University of Washington's business school, Gupta was largely credited with increasing its endowment from $44 million to $82 million over five years. Long a believer in the power of technology to transform markets, while at Washington he started the nation's first PhD program in technology entrepreneurship.
He comes to Hopkins after running business schools at the University of Southern California and the University of Colorado Denver. He left his last job abruptly two years ago, resigning as dean of the Marshall School of Business at USC not long after several magazines demoted it in their annual rankings. At the time, speculation swirled that Gupta's quest for higher-ranking jobs at colleges elsewhere — his bid for the presidency at the University of Arizona ended unsuccessfully — had angered USC leaders. (Gupta wouldn't comment specifically on his decision to leave USC. "I just felt that it was an opportunity that I did not want to explore further," he says.)
Gupta comes in highly regarded by Hopkins' leaders. William R. Brody, Hopkins' president, recommended him to the university's board of trustees. "Yash is a visionary academic leader," Brody said in an announcement. "He has the imagination, the energy, and the skill to build the Carey Business School into one of the nation's most innovative and respected."
Gupta says that from his perch at Hopkins' downtown Baltimore campus, where the Carey School is headquartered, he'll have the responsibility of living up to the Hopkins reputation. "When you think of Hopkins, you basically think of three words: science, medicine, and international," he says. "The task for me is to tap those three areas so the Carey School can thrive." —Michael Anft
Photo by David Thompson/EMI
In 2001, a producer at EMI advised Peabody Conservatory
faculty member Manuel Barrueco to begin recording his own
music. Barrueco looked at the shifting ground of the
classical music business and concluded that the producer was
right: His near-term future as a recording artist was
So the renowned guitarist set up a digital studio in the wine cellar of his house and with his wife, Asgerdur Sigurdardottir, founded Tonar Music. Last July Tonar issued Solo Piazzolla, the company's first CD. Five months later, the Recording Academy announced that the disc had been nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award. As beginnings go, not bad. The Grammy nomination, for best classical instrumental soloist, follows a 2006 nomination for a Latin Grammy, garnered by his previous recording, Concierto Barroco.
Solo Piazzolla features Barrueco's performances of pieces by the Argentinean neo-tango composer Astor Piazzolla, including "Tango-Études," originally for flute but arranged for guitar by Barrueco. He and Sigurdardottir designed the CD's packaging, mastered it at Peabody's recording studio, and set up a Web site to sell it and all the rest of his recordings. He also placed the CD on the shelves of Internet retailers like Amazon and CD Baby.
By recording himself, Barrueco sacrifices the distribution and marketing muscle of a record company, but he seems in no hurry to sign another contract with a major label and take on the labor and stress that come with it. "I don't know if I want that at this stage in my life. I like the prestige, but I've done it already." —Dale Keiger
A new federal law enacted last November that limits the
amount universities will be reimbursed for some Pentagon
projects could make certain research at Johns Hopkins
prohibitively expensive, university officials say. They warn
that the law, which will cap the percentages of grants used
to reimburse universities for indirect costs (overhead),
could set a dangerous precedent for funding from other
William L. Brown
The cap will limit reimbursements to universities for expenses incurred while performing defense-related re-search projects, such as costs for administration, construction, maintenance, and utilities. The aim is to ensure that maximum grant dollars go for the intended research, not university expenses. But leaders of research universities have long argued that they face challenges keeping spending associated with grants within budgetary limits. They say the cap is the latest attempt in a nearly two-decade-long drive by some lawmakers to limit indirect costs. Up to now, universities individually have negotiated agreements with the government to determine how they will pay for costs associated with grants. But some worry that the new law on all types of overhead may force universities to tap other sources — including tuition payments — to cover indirect costs.
"The recent legislation capping Department of Defense indirect costs basically throws away decades of experience with a system that both sides agreed on and adhered to, without any rationale for reducing the level of reimbursement," says Hopkins President William R. Brody. "If this trend continues, universities may find it difficult to continue taking on DOD-funded basic research. University officials estimate the cap will cost Hopkins around $500,000 this year.
Universities, with the government's approval, had been
figuring indirect costs as a set percentage of direct costs.
In the past, Hopkins agreed with the government that its
indirect costs would not be more than 64 percent of the
amount spent on direct costs. So, for example, if Hopkins was
managing a grant for $100,000, it could, under the agreement,
bill the government for around $39,000 in supporting
expenses, while spending the remaining $61,000 directly on
the research. Under the new law, the university will be
limited to a maximum reimbursement of 53 percent — or
less than $35,000 on the same grant — for indirect
costs. If that $35,000 does not cover all of the university's
overhead, Hopkins will have to find the rest of the money
"If this trend continues, universities may find it
difficult to continue taking on DOD-funded basic
—William R. Brody
More than half of the federal grant money spent by the
university — in 2006, that was $700 million out of a
total $1.3 billion — was from federal contracts with
the Applied Physics
Laboratory, in Laurel, Maryland. But the new law only
applies to Pentagon funds for basic research. Because APL
mostly does applied research, less than 1 per-cent of its
Pentagon funding will be subject to the cap, according to an
APL spokesman. Most affected by the new rules at Hopkins will
be the Whiting School of Engineering, says Marc Donahue, the
school's associate dean for research. Whiting currently has
25 Department of Defense grants, totaling $20 million, for
defense-related basic research. The law, which will expire on
October 1 if Congress does not renew it, comes when many
universities are spending more of their funds to support this
research. A 2005 study of major research universities found
that each was forced to kick in an average of $2 million of
its own money annually to help cover indirect costs.
Universities could suffer even more if legislators required them to cap overhead spending on grants from other federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, says James T. McGill, senior vice president for finance and administration at Hopkins. "This represents one more chink in the relationship between the federal government and universities that perform research for it," McGill says. "Research, taken on its own, is a money loser for us. If executing these grants takes up more of our budget, we may have to reevaluate our whole business model." —MA
Improvised explosive devices have killed at least 1,600
soldiers in Iraq since the United States invaded in 2003.
Thanks to high-tech body armor, new helmets, and better
resuscitation techniques, many more soldiers now survive
blasts. But this has revealed a new problem: Blast exposure,
especially repeated exposure, can cause brain damage so
subtle that soldiers may not realize they've been wounded.
Ibolja Cernak, director of the Biomedicine Business Area at
the Applied Physics
Laboratory, says that these mild brain injuries can lead
to gradual neurodegeneration, similar to Alzheimer's
|Photo by stockphoto.com||
Most experts acknowledge that explosions can injure the brain
even when there is no direct blow to the head. The prevailing
argument has been that waves of compressed air emanating from
the blast shake the skull with enough force to strain or
stretch the brain, not unlike what happens in a bad car
crash. "It's like a turbo-charged whiplash," says Ross
Bullock, a professor in the Department of Neurological
Surgery at the University of Miami.
But Cernak's research suggests a different mechanism. She posits that energy from the explosion compresses the abdomen and chest, generating oscillating waves in large blood vessels such as the aorta. These waves, she says, then carry that energy, at the speed of sound in water, to the brain, where it induces slight physiological changes in brain structures — for instance, slowing a cell's metabolism or altering the permeability of its membrane — that can lead to delayed neuronal cell death. The effects can cascade over time. Symptoms such as balance problems and impaired speech may manifest months or years after the blast. Cernak calls this syndrome blast-induced neuro-trauma (BINT).
"If what she's saying is true," says Jeff Bazarian, a brain injury expert at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, "then how the brain gets injured by a blast is very different than how it gets injured in a car accident." Not everyone is convinced that Cernak is right, but if she is, her hypothesis has implications for body armor design. Armor currently used in the field contains hard plates that could, according to Cernak's hypothesis, concentrate the power of a blast and make neurological damage worse.
Cernak began her career at the Military Medical Academy in Belgrade. During the fighting that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia in the late 1980s, she was one of the first to study the neurological effects of blast injuries, sometimes collecting blood samples on the battlefield minutes after an explosion. Today most of her research takes place in the lab, where she replicates blast pressure waves using a shock tube, and studies their effect on rodents.
"I've been fighting since 1990 with the military medical community to convince them that BINT exists," Cernak says. "It is still a fight, but finally this problem is getting acknowledged." —Cassandra Willyard, A&S '07 (MA)
As demand for renewable energy grows, wind turbines are cropping up on land and even at sea. But wind farms could produce unanticipated effects. Simulations conducted by researchers at Duke University in 2004 suggest that large wind farms can bring heated air down from the upper atmosphere at night, leading to drier conditions downwind. They could, in effect, make their own weather.
"People are building these wind farms without a full
understanding of their interactions with the local
atmosphere," says Raul B. Cal, a postdoctoral fellow at the
Whiting School of
Engineering. Present computer models are inadequate, says
Charles Meneveau, Hopkins professor of mechanical engineering,
who is leading the research, because they don't accurately
represent turbulence or the turbines' effect on heat and
moisture transport. More realistic computer models could help
wind farm developers avoid adverse effects and perhaps create
more efficient arrangements of turbines.
Mini-turbines set up in a wind tunnel in the Homewood
campus's Maryland Hall could give scientists the tools to
better understand the effects of wind farming.
Photo by Will Kirk
To improve the models, the researchers have built a miniature wind farm, placing nine homemade turbines, each just 18 centimeters high, inside a wind tunnel in the basement of Maryland Hall on the Homewood campus. As air enters the tunnel, the researchers seed it with tiny particles from a fog machine. These particles follow the airstream through and around the turbines, and as they reach the last row, a laser generates two successive flashes of light, illuminating the particles for a camera to capture their positions. By comparing the images, the researchers can determine each particle's velocity and determine the flow field around the turbine, Cal says.
"The output will be computational tools to simulate different arrays of wind turbines and the corresponding airflow," says Meneveau. His team's data could be used to develop new mathematical expressions that could be plugged into existing software to improve the reliability of current predictive methods.
"It's a good first step," says Neil Kelley, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. But a wind tunnel, he points out, is not real life. "The real atmosphere works a lot differently," he says. "There are a zillion variables." —CW
Patrick Kennedy settled into the chair at the head of the
table. A Johns Hopkins senior and aspiring critic and art
historian, Kennedy exuded confidence. But as soon as the
interview opened, John Bader, Hopkins' associate dean for
and advising, sought to shake his confidence. "Why should
we think literary criticism is of any importance whatsoever?"
Bader asked. "Why should we give money to someone who wants
to be a literary critic?"
Art is important, Kennedy replied. In the wake of the Russian
Revolution, artists like Wassily Kandinsky and writers like
Mikhail Bulgakov were moved to create masterpieces. As for
criticism, people care, Kennedy added. "T.S. Eliot once
filled a baseball stadium with 10,000 people who came to hear
him speak on literary criticism."
"That was just before a Yankees game," Bader quipped. Laughter erupted in the Garland Hall conference room on the Homewood campus.
This was a practice interview — Kennedy's second — for the George Marshall Scholarship, a prestigious grant awarded to about 40 American students each year to cover at least two years of study in the United Kingdom. But just because it was practice didn't mean Bader or Kennedy was taking it lightly. After the interview, Bader, who oversees students who apply for national scholarships, says with a smile, "This is active intellectual sadism. I love this part."
Only a handful of applicants for top scholarships like the Rhodes, Mitchell, Gates, or Marshall are selected as finalists and invited for the interviews that clinch the grants, explains Bader, who after graduating from Yale studied in India on a Fulbright. That's why he organizes the mock interviews. He says, "To win these scholarship competitions, it all comes down to the interview. The difference between a finalist and a winner is not in their grades or in their accomplishments. It's just their spark. These interviews are designed to see who has that spark."
Bader spends four to five months working with students on their applications, reviewing their essays, helping them focus on what sets them apart as candidates. If they are chosen as finalists, he arranges the mock interviews on campus. He convenes a panel of Hopkins faculty as interviewers and lays down the rules: He always asks the first question, then for the next 25 minutes the professors can fire whatever queries they want at the students. Niceness is discouraged. "Interrupt," Bader tells the professors. "Disagree. There should be a feeling of discomfort in the air." If Bader takes a small bit of delight in unnerving the students to see how they fare, that's just part of the process.
Some students fall apart in the mock interviews, becoming less coherent until they go silent. Others get flustered in the first round but come back a second time and make it through in fine form. "It's a very exciting, almost scary experience for everyone," Bader says. "The best kids fight back. They hold their ground. They find it challenging and worthwhile, though I don't think they find it fun." Afterward, the interviewers review each student's performance and offer advice for improvement.
Kennedy was only one real interview from landing two years of graduate study at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. During the mock interview, a history professor asked, "Why did you explore the issue of the American expatriate abroad for another research project when everyone and his mother writes about that?" Kennedy made his case. "Can you contrast the impact on the world George Marshall had with the impact Dick Cheney has had?" Bader asked. Kennedy could. Afterward, the comments from the interviewers were straightforward. Much better than the first interview, Bader told Kennedy. Be more specific and use fewer platitudes, he added. Don't be afraid to have an opinion on political issues. Talk about what you love — it's infectious.
At the end, Bader wished Kennedy good luck on his actual interview the following day. "It's been a pleasure working with you," he said. "We'll be sending you good karma tomorrow. Would you like a piece of cake to go?"
"Why not?" Kennedy said, and grabbed a hunk of pound cake off the tray on the conference table. —Maria Blackburn
Ruth Levy Guyer, a lecturer in Johns Hopkins' Advanced Academic Programs, is a veteran science writer, a visiting bioethics professor at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and a regular commentator on NPR's weekend All Things Considered. Her book Baby at Risk: The Uncertain Legacies of Medical Miracles for Babies, Families, and Society (Capital Books, 2006), released in paperback last month, investigates life in — and more importantly, after — the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Guyer spent six years interviewing physicians and nurses at Georgetown University Hospital's NICU and elsewhere, as well as parents of babies born extremely premature or with genetic or other disorders who were kept alive by high-tech medical interventions. While many of these babies respond to treatment and go on to live normal, healthy lives, many others do not. Extremely premature babies especially can be beset by medical prob-lems, including blindness, cerebral palsy, and heart conditions, as well as respiratory, gastrointestinal, and cognitive problems. Their lives, and those of their families, can be consumed with suffering. In her book, Guyer describes one child, David, who was born at 24 weeks. At age 13, he was dealing with cerebral palsy, seizures, and multiple surgeries, and was func-tioning at the level of a 3-year-old. "The doctors salvaged my son," his father explains. "They didn't save him. There are some things worse than death, and this is it. With David, my heart is broken every day."
Since the book's initial release, Guyer has spoken to thousands of people, at events ranging from hospital grand rounds, to bookstores and Rotary clubs, to call-in radio programs, trying to raise awareness among parents, health care professionals, and the community at large. We recently spoke with her about her book.
JHM: In the United States, there are 500,000 babies born prematurely every year, and you say that number is rising. Is it that more babies are born prematurely, or is it that more preemies are surviving?
RLG: It's a combination. The popu-lation is bigger, so more babies are being born. Older women are using assisted reproduction, and they typically give birth to multiples-multiples are almost always born prematurely. (In that group, there's also the issue that technology helped get them pregnant. They have a lot of faith in technology, so they push hard to keep the baby alive through technology.) Then there are young women whose bodies aren't ready for gestation and can't support a birth, and many of them are drug abusers. And there's been a push to push back the limits of viability to earlier and earlier gestation ages. So those four things are why the number has gone up every year for the past 25 years. We now call it an epidemic of prematurity.
JHM: You explain in your book that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about medicine's ability — or its limits — in treating these babies.
RLG: Gestation should be 40 weeks. Evolution figured out that a developing fetus should stay inside, different organs develop at different times, the lungs develop at a certain time, the heart develops at a certain time. It's hubris to say, "We know exactly how to do this and let's just bring the baby out early and put it in an incubator and make an environment that's perfect." It's not possible to create such an environment. The mother's body is perfect. . . . There was a woman from New Zealand who told me that her baby was born prematurely and the doctor told her, "Your baby's like a half-cooked chicken; in the incubator, it'll continue cooking." That's simply not true.
JHM: Why is that?
RLG: Medical science does not know (and cannot know) everything that happens inside the woman when a fetus is developing. So it is impossible to create an artificial environment that will meet all the needs of the developing fetus. We simply don't know what all the things are.
JHM: And the media perpetuates the misunderstanding?
RLG: Constantly. Last year there was a story in Florida of a baby who was born somewhere around 21 weeks gestation — just over halfway to full term. When you're that young, you don't have lungs that work to breathe air, you have buds. Why didn't any of the media coverage indicate that she doesn't have lungs? She'll probably have serious respiratory (and other) problems her whole life, as so many of these children do. Reporters don't talk about this because it's not a good story. People like to talk about the miracle stories. I am faulting the media — the media are really misleading people. It makes young women and their partners expect that any baby, no matter how small or how sick, can become one of those "miracle babies."
JHM: In some cases, this is really a right-to-die issue, which is a heated issue now. Have you encountered any opposition or anger when you've addressed audiences?
RLG: Not really. I am talking about compassion. It's not just life/death. It's about the quality of the life. Not just being alive. We have to talk in our society about suffering. There is a very active alternative to aggressive intensive care and that is palliative (comfort) care. Hold the baby, give it comfort and dignity. And I'm also not saying that it's bad to have a disability. I'm saying that people can often be happy with certain kinds of problems, but when they are in pain, and suffering, and having operation after operation, and have no quality of life, that is not a life that most adults would want for themselves. Why are we asking babies to endure that? —Catherine Pierre
"John" Hopkins heard on The Wire
"With John Hopkins buying up everything north of Monument Street and tearing that sh— down, I think we all can see the writing is on the wall in East Baltimore. We got some of our people being displaced. I think we got to care for those most affected." — Proposition Joe, East Baltimore drug lord in the HBO series The Wire, complaining about his traffickers having to move
When the September 11, 2001, attacks occurred, Trita Parsi, SAIS '06 (PhD), had just begun his doctoral research at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. He planned to work on Afghanistan because it had not received much attention and looked like a good niche for a young, ambitious scholar. But in the wake of the attacks, he says, "all of a sudden everyone in Washington was an Afghanistan expert." So he shifted attention to what he thought might be the next significant problem in the Middle East: the tense, complex relations among Israel, Iran, and the United States.
As guesses go, that was a pretty good one. Over the next five years, tensions increased over Iran's nuclear program and its alleged interference in Iraq. During that time Parsi, who is now a lecturer at SAIS, conducted more than 130 interviews with high-level officials in all three countries. The result was his doctoral dissertation and the book Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S. (Yale University Press, 2007).
Among Parsi's primary conclusions is that for years the U.S. and others have misunderstood the relationship between Iran and Israel, and that misunderstanding has played to those countries' interests. "The most important false perception," he says, "is that the conflict is ideologically driven." He argues that for too long, Western governments and opinion-makers have looked at the two nations and seen an intractable ideological conflict between a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy and the Middle East's only democracy. He says that actually Israel and Iran are rational pragmatists who have nurtured this wrong idea. Iran maintains the support of Arab countries and diverts attention from its own hegemonic ambitions by portraying itself as the vanguard of Islam and a selfless supporter of the Palestinians' struggle with Israel. In turn, as long as Israel can portray the conflict as a fight between a democracy and a theocracy ruled by "mad mullahs," it is assured of support from the U.S. and Europe.
One danger for the U.S., says Parsi, is that misconceptions limit its options. For example, if Iran's government is seen as irrational and driven only by ideology, that rules out diplomacy or deterrence. How do you negotiate with or deter someone who is not rational? That leaves military action as one of the few remaining options, and a military strike could serve Israel's interests more than those of the U.S. Parsi says, "If you wanted to convince the United States to take military action against Iran, that is the tack you would take."
Parsi believes that if the U.S. could see through these postures and misperceptions, productive negotiations might be possible. "I think it's critical for Iran to recognize that its policy toward Israel undermines its effort to be recognized as a major regional power," he says. "Iran needs to show it's willing to compromise and recognize the existence of Israel. Israel needs to recognize that the idea that its security can only be guaranteed by military hegemony will cause it to be in conflict with states it otherwise would have no conflict with [such as Iran]. If the United States wants to succeed in the Middle East and walk out of Iraq without a devastating defeat, it cannot ignore that Iran is a very strong power in the region. Dealing with it is necessary." —DK
Teachers often view the fruits of the electronic age as
malevolent competitors for the attention of children. Studies
show that the average teenager spends five hours each day in
front of a telvision or computer screen. Experts have tied
regular and prolonged video-game play to attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder and other problems. But a
collaboration that includes the Applied Physics Laboratory
and the Center for Technology
in Education (CTE, part of Johns Hopkins' School of
Education) may be a first step toward introducing video games
and high-tech simulations to the classroom.
Photo by Stockbyte /
The collaboration, called Learning Games to Go, is a result
of a five-year, $11 million U.S. Department of Education
grant awarded in 2006 to create innovative approaches to
education that use video games and virtual modeling. Learning
Games to Go came about after educators and scientists at
Hopkins — and at Maryland Public Television and the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also partners in the
project — recognized that using technology can change
David Peloff, program director of emerging technologies at CTE, says, "The hypertext world kids play in now is changing how they process information. Our hypothesis is that simulations hold great promise as an educational tool."
Video games affect glucose levels and certain brain waves in adolescents, but scientists cannot agree on whether the changes are pernicious, or long lasting. At least one group, the Federation of American Scientists, stated in 2006 that video games might help children develop higher-order mental skills, including problem solving and strategic thinking.
The main thrust for APL and CTE, Peloff says, has been simulating real-life situations for science or social studies classes. CTE's role is to guide APL's adaptation of simulation tools for teenagers, he adds. APL, which has created simulations to help the military train submarine drivers, unmanned-aircraft operators, and Navy SEALS, has begun to turn that expertise toward high-fidelity simulation games that incorporate fun, says James F. Miller, APL's project manager for Learning Games to Go.
"The types of games we can develop are vehicle-type games where the student can fly, drive, or navigate an aircraft, land rover, or boat," says Miller. For example, one game under development by APL and CTE encourages students to undertake a virtual search-and-rescue operation after an explosion of Mount St. Helens, in Washington. The students must find a missing child. Afterward, they discuss with teachers and classmates their results and how they got them. Miller adds, "The goal here is to augment a student's learning, not replace classroom instruction."
Peloff and Miller hope to test the game in after-school or summer school programs, perhaps in the next year. Eventually, Miller adds, similar virtual models could teach aspects of several areas of study, including anatomy and biology. "I can easily imagine a student using a vehicle to explore the inner workings of the human body," he says, "or to travel through the veins of a tree to watch photosynthesis in action." —MA
Dead satellites do not often inspire ballads. Yet, there was
Bill Blair "channeling" the ghost of an 18-foot-tall space
camera to the tune of "Memory" from the musical Cats. Two
hundred people had assembled on the Homewood campus at the
Bloomberg Center for
Physics and Astronomy to pay their respects to FUSE
— the Far
Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, a NASA satellite that
had been operated from Bloomberg's basement for eight years.
Demoted from working satellite to lowly space junk, FUSE
crooned, via Blair's bellowing baritone: "I am flying
alone/In the darkness, I slowly spin, reflecting the moon/Let
my batteries charge again!"
The now-defuct FUSE satellite: "In the darkness, I slowly
spin, reflecting the moon / Let my batteries charge
Photo by JHU FUSE Project
Five days earlier, Blair, a Johns Hopkins research professor
in physics and astronomy, and his staff of 25 had shut off
the orbiting device's juice and ceased radio transmissions.
In effect, the operations staff induced the satellite to
commit suicide by tweaking its energy-collection software so
FUSE collected just enough solar power to off itself.
Blair's musical exercise in anthropomorphism was meant to amuse, but scientifically speaking, there was good reason to mourn. Launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 1999 after nearly two decades of planning and construction, FUSE was programmed to record and send back ultraviolet images (or "spectra") of space objects to scientists who would search them for clues to the history of the universe. The FUSE mission was designed to last three years. But the orbiting craft proved much more durable than NASA, which had financed what became a $220 million project, could have foreseen. The space agency three times extended its mission.
During its eight-year working life, FUSE looked back billions of years into the cosmos, complementing the deep-space images from the Hubble Space Telescope by recording wavelengths lower than those Hubble could glean. While Hubble hogged the headlines, FUSE made the news for scientists who needed to measure the depth and chemical makeup of interstellar gas clouds, search for particular clues to universal conditions immediately following the Big Bang, or peer into previously obscured areas of space where planets form. Data gathered by FUSE has played a part in 1,200 published astronomical papers, says Warren Moos, professor of physics and astronomy at Hopkins and the principal investigator for the project.
Every now and then, the satellite would offer space-watchers some unexpected observations. "Originally, we wanted to explore deuterium, which is like a heavy hydrogen and is a remnant of the Big Bang," Moos says. "But we also found that there is a very thin corona of gas around the Milky Way that stretches out at least to the surrounding galaxies." Scientists also came across evidence that Mars was once soaked with enough water to form a global ocean reaching a depth of 100 feet. They observed for the first time molecular nitrogen outside our solar system.
But FUSE wasn't always cooperative. Three times, Blair and the operations team had to figure out on the fly how to keep the satellite working. The team performed repairs from the campus command center, without the help of astronauts who have serviced the higher-profile, more costly Hubble. "It required people here to come up with solutions to problems they'd never dealt with before," says Moos. "They were heroes."
Blair admits to a strong attachment to FUSE. "When you work on a project like this for a significant part of your career — for me going on 12 years, and much longer for some others — it becomes a member of the family. At various times, we have lived and breathed FUSE," he says. Moos concurs, minus the nostalgia: "I've carried a beeper or cell phone everywhere since 1995. Professors don't usually live that way. I've done it every day."
All that's left is for scientists to pore over and archive the data gathered during the FUSE mission and wrap up documentation of the details, which will be available to astronomers for years at the Space Telescope Science Institute, the NASA-run observatory adjacent to Homewood. The bulk of the FUSE team, including Blair, will have to line up new jobs.
As for FUSE, it will join that procession of metal zombies that encircle the planet, a 3,000-pound hunk of aluminum, titanium, Mylar, curved plastic, and glass that will orbit for 25 to 30 years before the battering of atoms and radiation in space weakens it, breaking it apart and scattering it into the atmosphere. But through Blair, at least, it got to sing its own epitaph: "I am nothing but space junk/I am cold and alone/But my data are archived down on the earth/Let my spectra live again!" —MA
Photo by Peter Howard
When Diane Griffin wanted to replace herself as director of
the Johns Hopkins
Malaria Research Institute, she didn't have to think too
hard about who would make a worthy successor. She sought an
old colleague with a storied Johns Hopkins past.
Peter Agre, Med '74, co-winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in chemistry, accepted the post last October. He began work in January, hoping to bolster the seven-year-old institute's $100 million endowment and drive a staff of 19 faculty researchers to develop new tools against malaria, which annually infects more than 200 million people worldwide and kills 1 million. He'll also try to recruit to Hopkins more of "the finite supply of the best students and researchers who are doing Third World health research," he says.
"I see this as a real opportunity to take malaria into the forefront of research," notes Agre, who had left two years earlier to be vice chancellor for science and technology at Duke University.
In the intervening years, Griffin and others did more than reach out to Agre, who had retained a visiting professorship at Hopkins. "He was an obvious choice," says Griffin, who serves as chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. "We never left him alone." The attraction was mutual. Over the course of many months, she says, "he would buttonhole me at conferences and meetings elsewhere and say, 'I think [running the institute] is what I should be doing.'"
During his first stint at Hopkins, Agre won the Nobel for discovering aquaporins, proteins responsible for the movement and regulation of water in and out of cells. He and William Guggino, a professor of physiology at the School of Medicine, found aquaporins in various plants and animals. Now, Agre is investigating whether aquaporins within Plasmodium falciparum, the malaria-causing parasite, could be used to disrupt its life cycle and eliminate it as a health threat.
Agre, admits to having missed Hopkins' collegiality. "People are just dying to help each other," he says. "You don't find that often. I'm just overjoyed to be back here." He is sanguine about the future of malaria studies at Hopkins as well. "I'm 58. I don't have unlimited decades of science ahead of me. But with the resources for research we have now here and elsewhere, we should be able to eradicate malaria before I hang up my lab coat." —MA
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