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Matters of note from around Johns Hopkins


Bottom Line
Here and Abroad
Up and Comer
Forever Altered
Vital Signs

Bottom Line

In July, the CONTOUR spacecraft sponsored by NASA and developed, built, and managed by Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission is meant to provide clues to our cosmic origins by studying the icy nuclei of comets, the solar system's most primitive and mysterious small bodies. Some notable spacecraft and comet stats:

2,134: Total weight in pounds of the CONTOUR spacecraft, with fuel.

2: The number of comets scheduled for encounters -- Encke and Schwassmann-Wachmann-3 (or SW3) -- though others could be included if time and money allow.

1930: The year SW3 was discovered. Encke was first viewed from Earth in 1786.

2006: The year slated for the SW3 comet encounter, with the Encke flyby set for 2003.

60,000: Miles per hour the craft will fly as it zips past the comets.

60: In miles, the distance the spacecraft is expected to fly from the comet's nuclei, recording closest-ever views.

159: The dollar cost in millions of CONTOUR, including $14 million for mission operations and data analysis.

5: The layers of Nextel and Kevlar fabric on the craft's protective dust shield.
-- Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson

Here and Abroad

SAIS lecturer Ashraf Ghani in June was tapped by Afghanistan's new president, Hamid Karzai, to serve as that country's finance minister. Ghani's daunting task: to rebuild the nation's shattered economy. Ghani had already been coordinating the estimated $1.5 billion in foreign aid that has been pledged to help Afghanistan rebuild in the wake of last winter's bombings and spring's earthquake. "The challenge now is to improve the living conditions each day," Ghani told the Baltimore Sun in June. Ghani was introduced to Karzai by Karzai's brother Qayum, a Baltimore restaurateur whom Ghani befriended during a chance meeting at dinner more than a decade ago.

... Hopkins has set its sights on becoming the consultant of choice to health systems and government ministries in Europe, Asia, Central and South America, and the Middle East through Johns Hopkins International, a recently formalized nonprofit subsidiary of the university and the health system. The program taps the expertise of more than 100 Hopkins faculty and staff for a range of projects, including development of clinical programs and facilities, and preparing for accreditation. "These are the things hospitals in this country have to do, but it's a new concept to most countries," says Johns Hopkins International CEO Steven Thompson. With 12 employees and an annual budget of $2.8 million, Thompson says he aims to see $20 million in yearly revenues by 2005.

... Bangkok, Thailand, was the setting for a birthday bash July 4, when SAIS' Southeast Asia Studies program celebrated its 10th anniversary at the Pathumwan Princess Hotel. The program, formalized in 1995, has become one of SAIS' most popular academic concentrations, notes Asian Studies director Karl D. Jackson. Over the past decade some 170 student interns have spent their summers working and studying in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, he says. -- Sue De Pasquale


Course: "Policy Responses to the Post-September 11 World"

Instructors: Professors Francis Fukuyama, Thomas Keaney, and Roger Leeds, Hopkins' Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)

Course Description: International affairs graduate students will evaluate some of the complex policy choices faced by the United States in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Informed by readings, briefings, and guest lecturers, students will prepare policy "memos" to the president, including a national intelligence estimate of the terrorist threat; a plan for post-Afghanistan strategy; overall organization of homeland defense; economic responses, such as cutting off financial sources to terrorist organizations; as well as an analysis of the September 11 intelligence failure and proposals for changes.

Reading List:


How Did This Happen? Terrorism and the New War, Gideon Rose and James F. Hoge (2001).

Inside Terrorism, Bruce Hoffman (1998).

Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy, Paul R. Pillar (2001).

Articles (partial list):

"What's In a Name? How to Fight Terrorism," Michael Howard, Foreign Affairs 81 (2002).

"Their Target: The Modern World," Francis Fukuyama, Newsweek (Dec. 13, 2001).

"The Revolt of Islam," Bernard Lewis, New Yorker (Nov. 19, 2001).


At Hopkins, about 800 students speak Greek, with 12 frats and five sororities. Below, a Greek-to-English phrasebook, beyond the basics of "rush" (parties to recruit new members), "bid" (we want YOU!), and "pledge" (sure, I'll join).

Brother: What members of Hopkins' Phi Kappa Psi (PhiPsi) fraternity can call Michael Bloomberg '64; Alpha Delta Phi can claim Alger Hiss '26.

Colonization: Part of the process of establishing a chapter of a national fraternity or sorority on campus. Hopkins' Theta Chi colony dissolved; the newest sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, passed the colony stage in 2000.

Alpha Epsilon Pi: The Jewish fraternity at Hopkins, chartered in 1936 and rechartered in 1999 for "young men desiring a brotherhood where Jewish values and traditions were honored." Not to be confused with Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi, the University of California, Davis sorority in the MTV reality series Sorority Life.

WaWa: Alpha Delta Phi, so nicknamed because the frat house sits atop a former WaWa store (now the University MiniMart). Noted for its jock membership and for its blowout parties, a distinction it shares with neighbors PIKE (Pi Kappa Alpha) and SAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon).

Pig Dinner: Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) kicks off its annual "Islander" weekend with a formal dinner for brothers and alumni. Despite the name, chicken parmesan was on the menu last year.

Alpha Kappa Delta Phi: Asian-interest sorority established in 1997 at Hopkins. Lambda Phi Epsilon is the Asian fraternity.

Philanthropy: The service-oriented side of sororities and fraternities. For example, Alpha Kappa Delta Phi put together "Breastival," a breast cancer awareness event; Kappa Alpha Theta sisters lead a Girl Scout troop; Phi Mu and SAE support the Children's Miracle Network.

Paddles: Pledges give these to their big brothers and sisters (who shepherd them through to initiation) as a sign of gratitude. In days of yore, paddles were rumored to have a less ceremonial use. -- Mary Mashburn

Up & Comer

Name: Ellen-Marie Whelan
Age: 38
Assistant professor,
School of Nursing; joint appointment with the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute (UHI)

Stats: BSN Georgetown '86; MSN University of Pennsylvania '88, PhD '98; postdoctoral fellowship Hopkins, '98-2001

Scouting Report: Says School of Nursing Dean Martha Hill, "Ellen-Marie is well-positioned to emerge as a leader in linking data sets at the community and neighborhood levels."

Most Rewarding Accomplishment: At Penn, she established a primary care clinic for teens at a West Philadelphia community center. "It's staffed by nurse practitioners and nursing and med students -- and it's still going strong."

Current Quest: Examining health care accessibility for East Baltimore residents by gathering data on residents' use of the Hopkins health system. "The mission of the UHI is to improve health for all East Baltimore residents. But we first need a benchmark." Also training pediatric nurse practitioner students at Nursing.

The Challenge: "Just giving someone an insurance card doesn't mean they're going to be healthy. We may have to change the system" -- so that clinic hours are more convenient, for example.

"Social determinants" of health must be considered, she notes. Obesity in children is a major problem, for instance, but to fight fat, kids need to exercise and eat well. What happens when their parks are not safe -- and when cheeseburgers are cheaper and easier to get than fresh produce?

The Goal: By looking at the "hard numbers" of how Hopkins health care is -- and isn't -- being used, while also taking into account various social determinants, "we hope to be able to offer health care services in a different way."

Heros: Florence Nightingale, who reformed the British military health care system "by statistically showing that the social phenomenon of 'sanitation' could influence health outcomes." -- SD


Coaxing Nerves to Grow

Amazing things are happening in the cell culture dishes in Ronald Schnaar's lab. "Nerves that were clumped and stunted [are forming] axons that are lacy and long and spread out," says the School of Medicine neuroscientist. "They become normal looking." In the June 11 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Schnaar described how his lab coaxed cultured neurons to regenerate. The ultimate goal: translating petri dish wonders to patients with spinal cord injuries.

"When an axon is cut or crushed, the nerve cell may live for a very long time" -- but something instructs the axon not to grow, Schnaar explains. These "stop signals" appear to come from molecules in the myelin sheath, the insulation for axons.

Schnaar and his team hypothesized that one of these molecules, MAG, or myelin-associated glycoprotein, stops neuron growth when it binds to target molecules on the surface of gangliosides. In the lab, various methods were used to prevent MAG from binding to the gangliosides of rat brain cells that had been inhibited from growing. In each case, the neurons sprouted new axons. -- Melissa Hendricks

Alternative for Tracking Tumors

Hopkins researchers are developing a promising tool in the fight against cancer -- a means to analyze tumors by tracking heat that can accompany tumor growth.

The new method uses an infrared camera and computer imaging technology to measure the rate of heat exchange that occurs when blood flows into the tumor. (Cancerous tumors cause surrounding tissue to produce new blood vessels to support tumor growth.) Such a tool would improve upon current imaging methods by quickly distinguishing between active and inactive tumors, as well as gauging a tumor's density and growth rate. It could be especially promising in detecting breast cancer because small tumors are more easily missed amid dense breast tissue.

Oncology professor Jerry Williams and John Murphy and Robert Osiander of the Applied Physics Laboratory collaborated to develop the infrared imaging method, which won APL's 2002 Invention of the Year. The method is now in prototype stage. -- JCS


For scientists and the libraries that serve them, electronic publishing and the Internet are raising important questions regarding scholarly work and access to it. Should the scientific record be freely available to all? Is cost a barrier to online access to scientific research results? Are established journals essential to the quality of the scholarly research record?

Such questions were debated at Hopkins last year at a forum sponsored by the Welch and Eisenhower libraries, and led by James Neal, former dean of Hopkins University libraries, now at Columbia University.

On the Web site: Links to groups actively involved in the ongoing debate surrounding access (including SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, and the Public Library of Science); as well as links to collaborative groups (BioOne, Project Euclid, HighWire Press) that provide free access to a wide variety of journals. -- JCS


Next to the blue campus shuttle van, the microvan looks like a rich kid's glitzy toy. With its pint-sized proportions, the van is easy to anthropomorphize: The school seal plants a pug nose between two headlights that look like eyes; the grillwork resembles the grin of a teen with a full set of metal braces.

"Anybody who's large width-wise or height-wise will be a little uncomfortable," says Lt. George Kibler, the Hopkins Security officer responsible for maintaining campus security vehicles, including the microvan. At 6 foot 2, he should know -- the van redefines the concept of leg room.

A microvan hits the bricks with security officer Shanna McClendon at the wheel. But the microvan's tiny size is exactly what suits it for its task: to roll blithely along the pathways of red brick and marble paver that have replaced interior roadways on the Homewood campus -- without cracking the decorative brick. At 54 inches wide and about 10 feet long, the vehicle weighs 1,800 pounds; its top speed is 25 miles per hour.

The $13,000 microvan is one of a handful at Homewood, all used to transport equipment, supplies, or people through the interior of the campus, which this summer became even less accessible to traffic. "Great Excavations 2" advances the master plan to create a pedestrian-friendly campus by moving cars and vendor trucks to an outside ring of roads. (This summer alone, workers have placed more than 200,000 bricks and 1,000 pavers.)

In addition to the microvans, the university has a fleet of small utility vehicles -- think golf carts -- to traverse brick and lawn and squeeze between the bollards (large posts) that bar entrance to the pathways.

Some larger vehicles still have right-of-way: Reinforced foundations beneath certain paths will bear the weight of emergency vehicles and also allow cars to drive up to residence hall doors on move-in day this fall. -- MM


July 30, 2002

Summer in Baltimore was brutal this year, with temperatures surpassing 90 day after day. Nevertheless, the 10 to 15 Hopkins students who work as summer tour guides soldiered on, leading prospective applicants and parents on thrice-daily, one-hour surveys of a Homewood campus turned hard-hat zone because of new building construction. On the penultimate day of July we tagged along.

9:55 a.m. In Garland Hall lobby, about 30 parents and offspring wait patiently, many hydrating with bottled water -- good plan.

10:14 a.m. Young man in T-shirt, shorts, with shoulder-length hair announces, "It's supposed to be the hottest day of the summer." His tour-guide name tag says he's Eric '04, majoring in biomedical engineering and mathematics, from Larchmont, New York.

10:15 a.m. Young woman asks one-third of group to follow her. She's named Vicki. Or Nikki. Hard to tell, because construction generator overwhelms whatever she's trying to say. She begins the tour on the Lower Quad, explaining academic majors: "You can even double-major, if you kind of get organized."

10:21 a.m. Eric's group catches up to ours. His stronger voice can be heard above screaming circular saws. We slide over.

10:25 a.m. Nice breeze on Upper Quad. Eric points to Eisenhower Library, remarks on how it extends four stories beneath the ground. Says it had to because Daniel Coit Gilman's will stipulated no building to exceed Gilman Hall in height. It's a good story, flawed only by being apocryphal.

10:32 a.m. Group passes through library, gazes at the Beach, which is very green despite Baltimore drought. Eric points out Wolman and McCoy halls, notes problem with dormitory suites: "You have to clean your own bathrooms."

10:35 a.m. Freshman quad. Eric squeezes group into unoccupied dorm room. Gives tips on how to arrange furniture for more open space. Somebody's little brother not paying attention to tour, instead reading Harry Potter and walking at same time; prospective English major, assuming Charles Street "death lane" doesn't claim him first.

10:46 a.m. Eric points out Remsen Hall, notes presence of Remsen's ashes in wall. One dad, who's obviously been studying the admissions brochures, asks about Mattin Center. Eric replies, "We've cut that out of the tour because of the heat."

10:50 a.m. Inside Gilman Hall foyer, Eric warns everyone that if they step on the seal, they won't graduate. Boasts that 80 percent of Hopkins undergraduates are afforded opportunity to do real research. Points out that two local pizzerias will deliver to Hutzler Reading Room.

11:03 a.m. Tour concludes back at Garland. A mother asks if Hopkins students are competitive or collaborative. Eric says collaborative. In front of Garland, Eric tries to make concluding remarks. Nearby jackhammer drowns him out. -- DK

Forever Altered

"I remember walking into Mudd Auditorium my freshman year as Dr. Nick Jones of the Civil Engineering Department greeted the class by saying, "Hello, my name is Nick Jones, and you can call me Nick." At first, I thought he was the TA or the lab technician, but as it turned out, he was the professor! I was immediately struck by his unassuming personality, but through the years of working with Nick, I discovered that he is anything but casual.

"Although I had developed my interest in wind effects on civil engineering structures before attending JHU, Nick helped me to determine my eventual career path. More importantly, he influenced the attitude that I bring to the office every day. Nick explained to me that Johns Hopkins graduates are seen as technical experts and industry leaders, and he continuously demonstrates these traits in his own research projects and in professional practice. In my brief engineering career I have received compliments for the technical and leadership skills that I have developed, and a large part of the credit has to be given to the example that Nick set before me.

"Nick is also an ingenious motivator. I will always remember one research field visit to Southern Shores, North Carolina, in January 1997. We were behind schedule, and the weather was not cooperating. Nick could sense our frustration as we broke for dinner, and before long he came up with an alternate course of action. By the time we got the check at the restaurant, I was anxious to finish the job!"

Steve Kelly '98 (MS '99) works as a bridge design engineer for the URS Corporation in Florida. He is currently responsible for the in-house wind engineering of the new Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge in Connecticut, an extradosed cable-stayed structure that is the first of its kind in the United States. He still works with Nick Jones, who is one of the dynamics consultants for the project.

Vital Signs

Taking Aim at Liver Cancer

Hopkins School of Medicine researchers have found a way to annihilate liver cancer in animals using an exceptionally simple, off-the-shelf chemical called 3-bromopyruvate. The treatment killed 90 percent of liver tumor cells in rabbits but left healthy cells unharmed, reports Peter Pedersen, professor of biological chemistry.

No current therapy comes close to this success in treating liver cancer, which has an especially bleak prognosis. Approximately 16,600 new cases of primary liver cancer occur in the U.S. each year. "The five-year survival is usually zero," says Jeff Geschwind, director of interventional radiology, who with Pedersen reported their results in the July 15 Cancer Research. They also found that systemic injections of the compound, through rabbits' ear veins, suppressed cancer cells that had metastasized into the lungs.

Getting Real About an AIDS Vaccine

Much of today's news about AIDS reflects shattered hopes: Rates of new infections are climbing in sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia. The prospects of a 100 percent-effective AIDS vaccine are zilch.

Sobering news. But AIDS researcher Ronald Gray believes there is cause for cautious optimism. "Even if we had an only moderately effective AIDS vaccine, it could have enormous effects for the population," says Gray, the Robertson Professor of Reproductive Biology at Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.

According to calculations that Gray presented in July at the International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, even a 25 percent-effective vaccine could dramatically curtail the spread of AIDS.

Using a mathematical model he developed based on infection rates in Rakai, Uganda, Gray found that a 50 percent-effective vaccine given to all residents would cause the disease to slow and eventually burn out. So would a 75 percent-effective vaccine given to half the residents or a 25 percent-effective vaccine administered to three-fourths of the city. -- MH

Return to September 2002 Table of Contents

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