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The rules of the annual Whiting School of Engineering video competition are pretty simple: 1) be a Hopkins engineering student; 2) make a video about engineering; 3) make it two to three minutes long. Entries are judged on technical merit, creativity, and success in promoting engineering. The 2008 competition drew 13 entrants, who produced their films at the Digital Media Center. The panel of five judges, which included Provost Kristina M. Johnson and Richard Chisolm, who won an Emmy as director of photography for the television documentary Hopkins 24/7, awarded first prize to freshmen Noel Sanjuan and Robert Huynh. Their winning entry, "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time," portrays a harried Huynh designing and then creating the prototype of a "telekinesis ring." To test it, he points it at a door and the door opens. He points it at a Rubik's cube and the puzzle solves itself. While he studies, the ring makes the vacuum sweeper clean his room and the laundry wash itself. All is well until the ring acquires a mind of its own. To view the shocking denouement (and all the other student entries), check out the WSE Video Competition Web site. Then try to figure out how Huynh glides all over campus without lifting his feet. (He revealed the secret to us, but we're not telling.) — Dale Keiger

Forever Altered

"In June 2002 I shattered my ankle playing intramural softball. During my post-surgery recuperation, Joel Grossman [professor of political science in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and winner of a 2008 Johns Hopkins Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award] showed up to visit and brought me what my people consider 'soul food,' bagels and lox and cream cheese, and 'brain food,' the newest book by a major scholar in our field. Joel broached the subject of rescheduling my fall semester course to allow me more time to recuperate. If I wanted to go ahead and teach the course as scheduled he said he would support me, but he needed to know so he could talk to the Registrar's Office to make sure I was in a wheelchair-accessible room. After Joel's visit, a friend who had been in the room said, 'Now that is an adviser.'

"I had been a student of Joel's for three years, and my friend's comment reminded me just how remarkable a teacher and mentor Joel is. He guides and encourages the intellectual and academic development of his students, is generous with his time and attention, and never forgets your physical and emotional well-being. I only hope I can give my students even a portion of the many insights, support, and experiences he has given me."

Erin Ackerman, A&S '08 (PhD), is assistant professor of government at John Jay College, City University of New York.


The graffiti, penciled on chestnut paneling inside the trim brick building near the Homewood Museum, won't win any awards for style or originality. The language is coarse. The drawings, mostly female body parts, are not artfully done.

But the graffiti has history. One hundred years ago it was applied to the interior walls of the original privy on the 19th-century country estate of Charles Carroll Jr., whose home is now part of the Homewood campus. The authors were students from the Country School for Boys (now the Gilman School), back when it held classes at Homewood.

Time has taken its toll on the privy. It needs renovations that will cost about $75,000. Earlier this year, Vernon Wright of the Homewood Advisory Council pledged a $25,000 challenge grant on behalf of the Charles Carroll of Carrollton Foundation to pay for the work. An earlier $10,000 grant came from proceeds of the 2006 Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage.

Why is an old outhouse worth saving? Because it helps people understand the historical context of the country house and gives us a glimpse of everyday life, says Catherine Rogers Arthur, curator of Homewood Museum. "It's rare to have an early 19th-century privy still standing," she says. "It's even rarer to have an early 19th-century privy with its 100-year-old graffiti."

And what does the graffiti, which will also be preserved, tell visitors to Homewood Museum? That's easy, says Rogers: "It's a timeless reminder of the human condition. The boys are so bad." — Maria Blackburn


A softer diet for "Nutcracker Man"
Scientists who have studied the enormous, thickly enameled teeth and robust jaws of Paranthropus boisei — "Nutcracker Man" — have long believed that the ancient East African forebear of humans must have eaten mostly foods that took hard chewing: nuts, seeds, and roots. Microscopic analysis of wear on these fossil teeth, conducted by a team that included Mark Teaford, professor of anatomy at the Johns Hopkins
Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution, has cast doubt on that assumption. The scientists' examination of grooves and pits in P. boisei teeth indicates a more varied diet of softer foods. "Just because they're capable of eating hard foods doesn't mean that they did," Teaford says. His research, done in collaboration with scientists at the University of Arkansas and Stony Brook University, was published in April by the online public science journal PloS ONE.

Nerve cells fight to the death
During gestation, the development of the nervous system includes a competitive struggle for survival among nerve cells as nerves reach out to connect organs and tissues. Exactly how they compete has puzzled scientists. A new study by a team of Hopkins neuroscientists combined computer modeling, molecular biology, and mouse models to discover how the "winning" cells survive. Developing tissue coaxes nerves to grow toward it by releasing nerve growth factor protein, NGF. Once nerves reach the target tissue, NGF assumes control of the nerve cell's genes that enhance the growth factor's effectiveness, which in turn strengthens the cells' ability to survive. These strengthened cells then release proteins that kill weaker nerve cells nearby. Only the strongest, best-connected nerves survive. The study appeared in the April 18 issue of Science; lead author was Christopher Deppmann, a post-doc in the lab of David Ginty, professor of neuroscience at the Hopkins School of Medicine. — — DK


Left at sea by all the talk surrounding warming ocean currents and global climate change? Thomas Haine, professor of physical oceanography at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, breaks down the big words scientists throw around as they monitor a rapidly warming planet.

North Atlantic oscillation (NAO): Westerly winds over the ocean can create strong storms that touch off hot, dry summers in Europe-or the opposite, depending on the winds' strength. Think of NAO as an El Nio-type phenomenon, but governed by fluctuations in atmospheric pressure systems between Iceland and the Azores, not the tropical Pacific.

Thermohaline circulation: Thermo=heat; haline=salt. Describes the global surface-to-seafloor system of ocean currents that helps regulate climate by distributing heat and dissolved gases around the Earth. Melting ice sheets in Greenland could make the surface waters of the North Atlantic less salty, which would slow thermohaline circulation by making water less able to sink during a downswelling cycle.

Ocean ventilation: Water rich in dissolved oxygen and low in carbon moves from the ocean's surface to the deep seas. This is a key step in the ocean-to-floor movement of thermohaline circulation. It's partly controlled by NAO.
Polar lows (also called Arctic hurricanes): Strong, small-scale atmospheric cyclones that can be hazardous to seafarers and off-shore oil platforms. An increasing NAO caused by warming could increase the frequency and ferocity of polar lows, although the current science is unclear.

Tipping point: The threshold at which ocean temperatures rapidly change and are not easily reversed. Those who study climate and the oceans see thermohaline circulation and other systems of the sea as nearing their tipping points. — MA

Vital Signs

Obesity linked to dementia
Researchers from the
Bloomberg School of Public Health reviewed 10 previously published studies and found a consistent relationship between obesity and dementia. For example, pooled analysis of seven of the studies revealed that compared to normal weight, baseline obesity increased risk of Alzheimer's disease by 80 percent. Senior author of the analysis, which appeared in the May issue of Obesity Reviews, was Youfa Wang, associate professor with the Bloomberg School's Center for Human Nutrition.

Lowered blood pressure not enough
Strict control of blood pressure alone does not halt the progress of chronic kidney disease (CKD) among African-American patients, according to a study led by Lawrence Appel, professor of medicine at the Hopkins School of Medicine. The research, which appeared in the April 28 Annals of Internal Medicine, indicates that while controlling blood pressure remains important, additional unknown factors may be involved in CKD's progress. End-stage renal disease associated with high blood pressure afflicts African Americans at nearly twice the rate of whites.

Fighting brain bleeds
Intracerebral hemorrhage — bleeding with-in the brain — is a deadly form of stroke that until now has killed approximately 80 percent of victims. Daniel Hanley, Hopkins professor of neurology, led a study that found flooding the area of trapped blood in the brain with a high dose of tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) dissolved blood clots in three to four days. One month post-treatment, 80 percent of test subjects had survived and 10 percent had returned to work. The findings were reported in May to the European Stroke Conference in Nice, France. — DK


Course: Terror as Political Opposition

Instructor: Camille Pecastaing, SAIS '02 (PhD), assistant professor of Middle East studies at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Course description: A condensed form of the two-course Series in Terrorism, this accelerated summer course familiarizes students with the history of modern terrorism and its theoretical framework. Pecastaing uses case studies, films, and a 10-page reading list to introduce the functional aspects of terrorism (think financing, propaganda, and strategy) and its major players.

Selected readings:

"What Went Wrong: The C.I.A. and the Failure of American Intelligence," Seymour Hersch, The New Yorker (2001)

"Who Wants to Be a Martyr?" Scott Atran, New York Times (2003)

"The Law of War in the War on Terror," Kenneth Roth, Foreign Affairs (2003)

A History of Terrorism, Walter Laqueur (2001)

Inside Terrorism, Bruce Hoffman (2006)

The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon (1961)

Islam: A Short History, Karen Armstrong (2002)

Terrorism in Context, Martha Crenshaw (2005)

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Lawrence Wright (2006)

Selected screenings:

The Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontevorco (1965)

Munich, Steven Spielberg (2005)

Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, Robert Stone (2004)
— Siobhan Paganelli, A&S '08


Epidemic Proportions, the Johns Hopkins undergraduate public health journal, blends research articles by students with editorials and faculty perspectives. A look at two articles from the Spring 2008 issue:

Manuel J. Datiles IV, A&S '07, "Agents of Apocalypse: American Interventionism, the Philippine-American War, and Consequences for the Philippine Cholera Epidemic of 1902"
Tens of thousands of Filipinos died in the cholera epidemic of 1902. At the time, the United States occupied the Philippines after the Philippine-American War. U.S. officials tried to impose public health measures to curtail the epidemic, such as isolating infected patients and burning their huts. These measures were scientifically sound but violated local cultural norms and recalled American brutality in the war. Frightened Filipinos often concealed cases of infection or fled to other parts of the country, spreading the disease. Datiles found one town in which the American commander put Filipino villagers in charge of isolating patients; the result was no concealment of new cases. In a second town, the U.S. commander did nothing, and the epidemic simply ran its course in a month.

Lindsay Brown, A&S '08, "Vietnamese and Cambodian Refugee Cancer Knowledge and Screening"
Asian Americans are the only ethnic group in the United States for whom cancer is the leading cause of death, and many researchers have shown that these minorities are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at more advanced stages. Brown looked at data from Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees in the U.S. and found deficits in their knowledge of cancer and participation in cancer screening. She suggests the need for targeted, culturally appropriate education programs, as well as policy reform measures to help ensure access to health information and services for these populations. — MB

Bottom Line

900,000: Square feet of the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus when fully built out during the next decade. The current campus, established in 1988, occupies 215,000 square feet devoted to a mix of academic, research, and corporate use. Even more square footage could be coming. A bit more than a mile away are 108 acres of land that Hopkins has owned since 1989. The institution plans to begin building the Belward Research Campus in 2010, adding 1.4 million square feet of research space. A plan developed by Hopkins and Montgomery County, titled Vision 2030 for the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, states that to compete on a global scale, the county needs 12 million square feet of research park development in the Shady Grove area. — DK

Return to June 2008 Table of Contents

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