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Bottom Line

1.3: Terabytes of data transmitted from Chicago to Tampa, Florida, in less than 20 minutes. In case you missed it on the sports pages, that was good enough to win the annual Bandwidth Challenge for a team from Johns Hopkins and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

The competition was part of SC06, the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis, held in Tampa last November. For the last seven years, the conference has featured a competition to see who can move the most data at the highest speed, which matters to people like Alex Szalay. A professor of physics and astronomy at Hopkins, Szalay works with the Sloan Sky Survey, which generates massive data sets that have to be moved from computer to computer for astronomical research. He and his teammates won the Bandwidth Challenge by applying an open-source storage system called Sector and a high-speed network named PacketNet. The team transferred 1,300,000,000,000 bytes of data from disks at the National Center for Data Mining in Chicago to disks in Florida. Were you to line up those bytes end to end, they would stretch from ... well, actually, we don't know the answer to that one. But they would fill 2,000 CDs.

Says Szalay, "Two or three years ago, the only way we were able to distribute such large data sets would be to ship three whole computers around the world by FedEx."

Among the teams that Hopkins/UIC bested was the California Institute of Technology. Not that we're gloating or anything. —Dale Keiger


Excuse us. Yes, we mean you. You're so many miles away, you've been gone a while, yet you never write, you never call. Would it kill you to take a few minutes and send a "Greetings from... Johns Hopkins" virtual postcard? Look, it's easy. You have your pick of 23 different images: Gilman Tower, Peabody Library, the Dome, pictures from every Hopkins location — including APL, Nanjing, Bologna, and Villa Spelman — John Singer Sargent's portrait of the four founding Hop docs, even the university seal or the Hopkins blue jay. Pick one, choose your colors, fill in a destination e-mail address, then tap out a heartfelt message that, ahem, includes an apology for being out of touch for so long. Ever helpful, the Web site includes suggestions for signing off like "Sincerely," "Fondly," and "Regards." (May we suggest "Love"? Is that too much to ask?) You can then preview your card, or hit the "Start Over" button because, of course, you were trained at Hopkins and you're a perfectionist. When everything is just right, tap "Send" and make us happy. You do want to make us happy, don't you? —DK


Forecast from the space weathermen
A stream of hot plasma flows constantly from the sun to the Earth. This solar wind creates what is commonly called space weather, and its fluctuations disrupt terrestrial communications, light up the sky with auroras, and can endanger the health of astronauts in Earth orbit. Scientists had thought they could best forecast this "weather" by monitoring the solar wind's electric field. But a team led by Patrick Newell of the Johns Hopkins
Applied Physics Laboratory has found a much better predictor. Newell and researchers from APL and the U.S. Air Force developed a formula that describes what happens 40,000 miles above the Earth, where the magnetic fields of the Earth and sun collide and merge. Newell's formula measures the fluctuating rate of this merging, and from that can predict 10 different sorts of space weather activity. The scientists announced their findings at the American Geophysical Union meeting last December, and published them in the January issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Potent hybrid attacks cancer cells
Whiting School researchers have joined a sugar to a fatty acid compound to create a molecule that kills cancer cells. The team, led by Gopalan Sampathkumar, a biomedical engineering postdoctoral fellow, began with butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that was known to slow the spread of cancer cells. Butyrate required such high doses that it was not useful as a general anti-tumor agent, and scientists have been looking for a way to boost its potency. Sampathkumar, assistant professor Kevin J. Yarema, and several graduate students linked butyrate with a sugar called ManNAc and found the new hybrid molecule effective at triggering apoptosis, "cellular suicide," in cancer cells. Their research appeared in the December issue of the journal Chemistry & Biology. —DK

Up & Comer

Name: Zaruhi R. Mnatsakanyan
Age: 34

Position: Leads research in decision support and data fusion for the Homeland Protection Business Area at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Stats: MS '94 in automated control systems; MS '96 in computer science; and PhD '00 in computer science and machinery engineering, all from the State Engineering University of Armenia

Scouting report: Says Jose Latimer, who oversees the business area Mnatsakanyan supports at APL, "She brings an integration of several classical cultures — engineering, statistics, mathematics, information sciences, and operations research — and has figured out how to integrate and maximize each into advances in areas such as data fusion, pattern recognition, machine learning, and automated decision making. An accomplished chess player, she has that strategic 'end-game' kind of thinking. She can quickly understand problems in fields outside of her own, and adapt technology to solve them."

Research: She is developing an early-detection system for epidemic and pandemic flu. She uses vast amounts of data — from insurance companies, emergency rooms, and military communities — to develop algorithms that will teach computers to differentiate between a statistical anomaly and a real outbreak. "The computer systems we're building now are just bringing us more data; they don't help us make decisions. So we're trying to solve that problem with more knowledge- and perception-based systems."

On reading philosophy: "Especially with the type of work I do, which is very close to the human-thinking process, I don't want to go on the level of neurons to understand how humans make decisions. I want to understand it on a higher level."

Alternative career: Historian or journalist. "With history, you learn about the past; with journalism, the present. I just want to understand why humans do things and try to help them."


Course: "Where Is the Love?": Imagining Love in 20th-Century African-American Literature

Instructor: Tara Bynum is a graduate student in English at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and winner of the 2007 Center for Africana Studies Prize Teaching Fellowship.

Course description: With the emergence and growth of various media outlets related to black life — BET, MTV, The Source, Vibe — representations of blackness have evolved from the happy minstrel to the money-grubbing gangster, whose uncontrolled rage has become symbolic of appropriate masculinity. As this cultural representation gains ground nationally and internationally, there is a silent praise that follows it. Guided by literary texts and film, this course addresses the instructor's growing concerns about the lack of popular and academic dialogues about the ideological role of positivity-and more specifically, love-within the black community.


The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin (1963)
The Farming of Bones, Edwidge Danticat (1998)
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
Strength to Love, Martin Luther King Jr. (1963)
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, When the Rainbow is Enuf, Ntozake Shange (1975)
Uncle Tom's Children, Richard Wright (1969)


American History X, directed by Tony Kaye (1998)
Do the Right Thing, directed by Spike Lee (1989)
Boyz In the Hood, directed by John Singleton (1991)

Here and Abroad

The Bloomberg School's Gerard Anderson has published a report highlighting the need for more international assistance in fighting chronic conditions. A professor of health policy and management, Anderson says that chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and cancer kill more people in low- to middle-income countries than communicable diseases. "Most international aid is focused primarily on preventing and treating infectious diseases," he says. The article, co-authored with Hopkins' School of Medicine student Ed Chu, appeared in the January 18 New England Journal of Medicine.

... Also from the Bloomberg School, Adnan A. Hyder has received the 2006 Institute of Road Traffic Education & Prince Michael International Road Safety award. Hyder, who is vice chair of the Road Traffic Injuries Research Network, studies the impact of such injuries in developing countries; interventions aimed at reducing injuries in Asia and Africa; and equity in the distribution of injuries.

... Jason Farley, a doctoral student and clinical instructor in Hopkins' School of Nursing, was in Africa last Thanksgiving, working with the University of Namibia School of Nursing on a needs assessment for the World Health Organization. The WHO program, called "Integrated Management of Adolescent and Adult Illnesses," supports a larger role for nursing personnel to care for people with HIV/AIDS in developing countries.

... Seven U.S. journalists have been awarded International Reporting Project Fellowships at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies for spring 2007. The fellowships, which began in January, last 14 weeks — nine in Washington and five overseas. IRP fellows will report in Mexico, South Africa, China, Lebanon, and — for the first time since the project started in 1998 — Afghanistan, Liberia, and Senegal.


This is quite possibly the cutest thing ever to come out of an engineering class. M&M is a pint-sized, clear-plastic robot that rolls and spins and whirs out pretty little red and green flower shapes. The brainchild of Johns Hopkins seniors Alican Demir and Amit Evron, M&M bagged the People's Choice award at ArtBot '06. The December event was the culmination of Whiting School Professor Allison Okamura's Mechatronics class, in which student teams built self-contained robotic devices that could produce rudimentary works of art on a paper canvas. Nine teams competed, and the crowd picked its favorite by sticking blue dots on the robots' title cards.

Photo by Will Kirk For the competition, M&M certainly had nostalgia working in its favor. Not only is it named after everybody's favorite brightly colored, melts-in-your-mouth candy, but the robot employs a SpiroGraph, the very same toy you might have played with when you were a kid.

Demir, a mechanical engineering major, and Evron, a computer engineering major, put some 60 hours into designing and building M&M and were up until about 4:30 a.m. the day of the competition working out kinks. "It had a lot of problems when we were testing it," Evron says. They carried the day, however, and against tough competition such as Noah's Winged Glitter Ark, which the judges named "Most Whimsical"; Can Dinsky, dubbed "Most Dangerous"; and Twitchy, which took the Critics' Choice Award.

Okamura and Joan Freedman, director of Hopkins' Digital Media Center, organized the first Hopkins ArtBot competition two years ago. The idea was to get engineering students to tap into their creative sides.

The winning inspiration? "I just thought a SpiroGraph would work," Demir says. "You don't expect such a simple thing to look so good." —CP


The Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Program provides funding for Krieger School students, enabling them to pursue independent research while working closely with Johns Hopkins faculty. Here is more about the research of two current fellows:

Nik Krumm, A&S '07, neuroscience, "Developmental Spelling Deficits: What Is the Underlying Cognitive Impairment?"
Krumm believes a better understanding of our capability with written languages (thought to be a learned skill) can give us insight into cognition as a whole. "There is a clear link between natural languages and the 'language of thought,'" he says. "We hope to understand the latter by way of the former. For example, we might be able to better understand how the brain 'stores' information — i.e., mental representations — if we understand how the brain accesses the spelling of words."

Eli Shindelman, A&S '07, international studies, "Tourism Development in Latin America"
The Caribbean and the Americas are becoming increasingly popular destinations for American tourists who are reluctant to travel to other parts of the world. Shindelman seeks to find out how Latin American nations are coping with an increase or new surge in international arrivals. His hope is to determine a way in which a state's government, society, and international businesses can benefit from development in the tourism sector. For his research, he will travel to Peru and Costa Rica and use firsthand accounts of recent or developing tourism industries, as well as historical examples such as Cuba, to see what has worked and what hasn't in the past. —MB

Vital Signs

The lure of alternative asthma therapies
A Johns Hopkins
School of Nursing study of high-risk asthma patients found prevalent use of alternative therapies, including some that pose risks to the patients. Maureen George, an SoN researcher, interviewed low-income, mostly African-American women, all of whom were severely asthmatic. Every woman in the study combined conventional therapies with alternatives that included herbs, dissolving cough lozenges in herbal tea, and over-the-counter topical salves. The women said they augmented, rather than replaced, conventional medicine, although 63 percent reported less-than-strict adherence to standard therapy. The women said they believed the alternatives were more natural than conventional pharmacologic treatment, could reduce the need for conventional medicines, and offered hope of a cure. The Journal of General Internal Medicine published the study in its December 2006 edition.

Protein predicts ovarian cancer's return
Women at increased risk for recurrence of treated ovarian cancer have high levels of a binding protein in their tumor cells, according to a recent study from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Associate professor of pathology Ie-Ming Shih found that levels of protein NAC-1 were significantly higher in recurrent tumors compared to primary tumors from the same patients. The study indicates the possibility that testing for NAC-1 could identify cancer patients who need greater vigilance and extended therapy. Shih also suggested that drugs blocking the protein's activity could be useful in preventing and treating recurrences. The study appeared in the December 5, 2006, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. —DK

Forever Altered

"I met Bruce Barnett [who recently won the Maryland Association of Higher Education 2007 Outstanding Faculty Award] in the late 1990s when, as a physics graduate student, I took his undergraduate quantum mechanics course to brush up before my preliminary exams. He was always extremely clear in his delivery of what is a pretty complicated topic. When students asked Dr. Barnett challenging questions, he was never glib or quick, but paused to be accurate and thoughtful.

"Dr. Barnett is a member of the association that maintains Sherwood Gardens, a Baltimore park known for its beautiful spring tulips. He invited students to help prepare the gardens for summer plantings. Getting our hands dirty, sweating in the hot sun, and working with local volunteers was a fantastic way for us to feel invested in the community.

"After my master's, I became a high school teacher, and Dr. Barnett invited me to apply for a paid summer internship as a lead teacher for QuarkNet. This is an educational outreach program, funded by the National Science Foundation, that pairs particle physicists with high school teachers and helps teachers connect what they're doing in the classroom with current research. Dr. Barnett loves to share physics demos and experiments and, despite his experience, displays an almost childlike enthusiasm about how cool they are. The fact that he still has that genuine passion-that's part of what makes him a good teacher.

  "Thanks to Dr. Barnett, we have made significant contributions to improving high school physics instruction. Now that I am a teacher myself, I appreciate the level of preparation that Dr. Barnett put into each of his lectures, and how much he cared about students as he prepared a new generation of scientists."

James Rittner, A&S '00 (MA), teaches physics at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

Return to February 2007 Table of Contents

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