Johns Hopkins Magazine
Johns Hopkins Magazine Current Issue Past Issues Search Get In Touch
Wholly Hopkins
Matters of note from around Johns Hopkins


University: Falk named dean of Arts and Sciences

University: Tuition jumps 7.2 percent

Engineering: Hospitals are too darn noisy

Students: Meningitis claims student's life

Bioethics: On stem cells, more agree than argue

University: VP Lindgren departs for presidency

Humanities: A secret etched in stone

Sports: Football has its best year ever

Technology: How's and why's of computer hacking

Medicine: New vaccine to fight cancer

University: Falk named dean of Arts and Sciences

After a national search, Adam F. Falk has been appointed the James B. Knapp Dean of Hopkins' Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Falk has served as interim dean of the Krieger School since January 2005, when former Dean Daniel Weiss left Hopkins to become president of Lafayette College.

Photo by
Will Kirk
Falk was among several finalists for the position and clearly the best candidate, according to Johns Hopkins University President William R. Brody. "There is no question that Adam stood out, for the strength and clarity of his commitment to excellence, his firm grasp of the challenges and opportunities facing the school, and his proven ability to tackle important issues and to win the deep respect of all his colleagues," Brody wrote in a letter to the Board of Trustees recommending Falk's appointment. "I believe that Adam has the values, skills, and experience to help the Krieger School build on its considerable strengths and rise to an even higher level of national prominence."

An expert in high energy physics, Falk's rapid rise through the ranks at Hopkins began in 1994 with his appointment as an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. He was promoted to associate professor in 1997 and to professor with tenure in 2000. From 2002 through 2004 he served as vice dean of faculty under Weiss and was named dean of faculty in 2004. He worked closely with Weiss to develop and implement a strategic vision for the School of Arts and Sciences — a vision built on a commitment to academic excellence, enhancing the undergraduate experience, improving campus infrastructure, ensuring the school's financial stability, and nurturing community and diversity on campus.

"Whatever strategic and tactical choices we may make over the next decade, these points will be the issues that must inform our thinking," Falk wrote in a letter expressing his interest in becoming dean. "I believe that fundamentally, the school is on the right path for maintaining excellence.... My interest in serving as dean lies in my desire to continue to lead us in this direction. I would bring energy and commitment to the position, along with a deep understanding of and love for the Krieger School."

After receiving his bachelor's degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Falk earned his PhD in 1991 in high energy physics at Harvard University. Before coming to Hopkins, he held prestigious post-doctoral appointments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and the University of California, San Diego. His honors include a University of North Carolina Distinguished Young Alumnus Award, election as a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and a Johns Hopkins Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award.

Falk begins his tenure as dean on February 1. —Maria Blackburn

University: Tuition jumps 7.2 percent

Improved safety and security efforts around Homewood have pushed an undergraduate tuition increase beyond 5 percent — a cap university officials had maintained in recent years.

Beginning next fall, tuition for undergraduates at Homewood will rise by 7.2 percent to $33,900 — an increase of $2,280.

Last winter, in the wake of two undergraduate murders, the university instituted a $2 million security plan that encompassed the Homewood campus and surrounding neighborhoods. More recently, President William R. Brody announced plans to invest another $1.9 million to complete a network of "smart" closed-circuit TV cameras and build an advanced communication center.

Though the one-time capital improvements are being funded elsewhere in the university's budgets, Hopkins wouldn't be able to pay the increased annual operating costs of the new security — and still cover inflation and financial aid — without the 7.2 percent tuition increase. The university also would have been forced to delay some planned improvements in undergraduate academics and student life, and roll back others, according to Brody.

"That we will not do," he said. "We are not going to cut into the quality of a Johns Hopkins education or slow our progress in enhancing the undergraduate experience."

Though university officials can't offer guarantees, said Brody, trustees don't "envision this level of increase as setting a precedent" for the future.

He added, "Johns Hopkins will continue to work diligently to control expenses and keep our cost of attendance competitive with those of other private national universities." Hopkins' current tuition ranks 12th among a group of 18 peer private universities, including the entire Ivy League. —MB

University: Inside Tip for a Power Trip

"For those who want to walk the halls of power — not study them — Johns Hopkins and Georgetown University win the most praise."
— A survey in the November/December issue of Foreign Policy magazine ranked Johns Hopkins' Nitze School of Advanced International Studies the No. 1 master's degree program in the country for international relations. (Georgetown was a close second.) The survey, conducted by the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, also included SAIS as one of the top 20 PhD programs and named Francis Fukuyama, director of SAIS's International Development Program, one of the most influential scholars in the field.

Engineering: Hospitals are too darn noisy

When Whiting School of Engineering professors Ilene Busch- Vishniac and James E. West strolled through Johns Hopkins Hospital's pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) a few years ago, they were startled by what they heard: Noise. A lot of noise.

Pages over the public address system, at least one every five minutes. A loud air-circulation system. Beeps from monitors and pumps. Trays clanging, doors banging, carts rattling. And everybody talking loudly. West smiles as he says, "I got myself in trouble right away because I said it would be impossible for me to work in an environment with this much noise."

The engineers, both experts in acoustics, were invited to the PICU by Johns Hopkins Medicine's chief information officer, Stephanie L. Reel, when Hopkins Medical Institutions senior administrators were urged to "adopt" units of the Hopkins medical system to better find, understand, and address safety concerns. Busch-Vishniac and West's two-year study found noise levels high enough to cause concern about quality of patient care.

A certain level of sound is inevitable in any hospital. People have to speak. Physicians must be paged. Vital machinery makes noise. For hygienic reasons, hospitals must circulate large volumes of air through their many rooms, and that can't be done silently. Hospitals can't use many standard methods of dampening noise, such as carpet, heavy drapes, or sound-absorbing ceiling tiles, all of which can harbor germs.

But medical people worry about noise for several reasons. Patients need sleep. Research has found that wounds heal faster in quieter environments. Noise can impede short-term memory. As hospitals deploy more digital technology, staff are discovering that voice-activated technology doesn't work because it can't hear or distinguish spoken commands. Many drugs bear similar-sounding names, and hospital administrators must worry about errors by nurses who can't properly hear physicians when they give orders. Finally, hospital staff are just tired of the din.

Busch-Vishniac and West sampled decibel levels at more than 30 locations in the PICU; at several spots, they monitored sound round the clock. Says Busch-Vishniac, "I could not believe the noise was constant over a 24-hour period." She had expected night hours to be quieter, but that was not the case. "There's almost no relief at any time of day." Nor did it matter what location they monitored. The engineers were curious if a facility newer than the PICU might be quieter, so they sampled noise levels in Hopkins' recently built Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. It was marginally quieter, says Busch-Vishniac, but not as much as they'd expected. Hospitals, they say, are engineered for efficient movement of people and air, not for quiet. And hospitals keep getting noisier. The World Health Organization established guidelines in 1995 that recommended a maximum noise level of 35 decibels in patient rooms. Busch-Vishniac and West charted data from a pool of studies worldwide and found current daytime sound levels averaging 72 decibels, up from 57 in 1960.

During their on-site work, both were struck by the sheer density of people in a modern hospital unit. Busch-Vishniac points out that a patient these days isn't in the care of simply a doctor and a nurse, but an entire team of doctors, nurses, specialists, technicians, and, at a teaching hospital, students. Add to the crowd visitors, family members, social workers, and a chaplain or two, and you have a lot of people trying to talk over background noise that the researchers found was in the same frequency spectrum, thus competing with human speech.

Busch-Vishniac and West were able to make some immediate improvements. In some cases, a noisy ventilation system could be made quieter simply by adjusting the system's air- flow balance. In the Kimmel Center, the engineers devised a new acoustic ceiling tile, wrapped in a special anti-bacterial fabric, that reduced reverberation time by nearly a factor of three. To cut down on the number of loud, intrusive public-address pages, Busch-Vishniac and West arranged for a two-month pilot study that equipped staff with personal communicators worn around the neck. The communicators have microphones and tiny speakers that allow the wearer to be paged individually and unobtrusively.

The engineers say that reducing noise by only five or six decibels makes a significant subjective difference. Busch- Vishniac wryly notes one measure of their success: When the free, two-month test of the personal communicators ended, hospital staff wouldn't give them up. The PICU ended up buying the units. —Dale Keiger

Students: Meningitis claims student's life

In October, only hours after arriving at the Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore with what he thought was an allergic reaction, Johns Hopkins University sophomore Gilbert Duvalsaint died, the victim of a fast-moving meningococcal infection.

Duvalsaint, 19, a chemical and biomolecular engineering major, had been vaccinated against meningitis, but the vaccination is not 100 percent effective in preventing the disease. Meningitis is a bacterial infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It kills 5 to 10 percent of the roughly 2,600 people a year who contract it.

Fregens Duvalsaint, Gilbert's father, is hoping to prevent other families from the heartache of having a child die so unexpectedly. The anesthesiologist from Searingtown, New York, told Newsday that he intends to establish a charitable organization to educate parents and their children about the aggressive infections that can go from causing flu-like symptoms to death in very short periods of time.

He told Newsday that he hopes to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to increase awareness of meningitis. "Something definitely needs to be done," he said. —MB

Bioethics: On stem cells, more agree than argue

When it comes to the stem cell debate, politicians may be far more strident than the public they represent, suggests a recent Johns Hopkins bioethics survey called "Values in Conflict: Public Attitudes on Embryonic Stem Cell Research."

According to the report's conclusion, "[The] survey ... reveals a public opinion landscape that bears little resemblance to the polarized, deep moral divide expressed on the floor of the Congress and in the op-ed pages of American newspapers."

Published by the Genetics & Public Policy Center of Hopkins' Phoebe R. Berman Bioethics Institute, the survey found that 67 percent of respondents approved of stem cell research. Sixty-one percent believed the research to be more important than protecting human embryos; only 37 percent placed more importance on protecting embryos.

Says Ruth Faden, executive director of the Berman Institute, "In pretty much every group we looked at, at least a majority of the people we surveyed were supportive of embryonic stem cell research in one form or another. That was pretty striking."

Present U.S. government policy prohibits federal funding of research that uses any but a handful of already created stem cell lines. Those lines are few in number and, say most scientists, inadequate. The Hopkins survey found that nearly 40 percent of respondents supported federal funding for creation and study of new embryonic stem cell lines, and another 19 percent favored federal support for research using new cell lines created by privately funded efforts.

In September 2005, researchers collected data from 2,212 Americans selected at random. Eighty-one percent had heard of stem cell research, and 72 percent correctly identified a picture of an embryo, indicating significant awareness of the issue. Among the majority who approved or strongly approved of stem cell research, there were more women than men, more Democrats than Republicans, and more people with college degrees. There were no significant differences in attitudes across racial or ethnic lines. Approval was lowest among respondents age 30-49. More than two-thirds of Roman Catholics approved.

One of the most striking findings: Among respondents who identified themselves as either fundamentalist or evangelical Christians, 50 percent approved of the research, while 48 percent did not. Says Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics & Public Policy Center, "We find that among evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, whose leadership has a strongly disapproving view of any technology that would involve embryo destruction, many of the people in the pews support those technologies, depending on the purpose."

One of the more interesting parts of the survey asked people to indicate, on a continuum, what they regarded as the moral status of a one-week embryo in a Petri dish. According to Hudson, of those respondents who indicated that such an embryo has the maximum moral status, more than a third still approved of embryonic stem cell research.

"Among those who say, 'Eh, embryo schmembryo,' there is nonetheless 16.6 percent who disapprove of stem cell research, and 22 percent who support the current policy or more restrictions," Hudson continues. "I think that's interesting because the public policy debate has been framed almost exclusively in terms of the moral status of the embryo. There's more than that going on in the public's mind." —DK

University: VP Lindgren departs for presidency

After leading Johns Hopkins University through two successful billion-dollar fundraising campaigns, Robert R. Lindgren has moved on to become the 15th president of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. He started his new job on February 1.

"Though I will very much miss Bob, both personally and professionally, I am most pleased for him," noted President William R. Brody, in an email announcement to faculty and staff in October. "I congratulate Randolph-Macon on its choice of an extraordinarily able, thoughtful, and accomplished leader."

Lindgren, who joined Hopkins in 1994, said he's "inspired" by the contributions made by liberal arts colleges like Randolph-Macon. One of his goals, he said, is to ensure necessary funding for Randolph-Macon's strategic plan, which "focuses on student engagement, personal interaction, and academic rigor at all levels."

As vice president of development and alumni relations at Hopkins, Lindgren first led the university through the Johns Hopkins Initiative, a fundraising effort that recorded $1.52 billion in gifts and reached its initial goal two years early, in April 1998. The current campaign, Knowledge for the World, has already gathered almost $1.9 billion in commitments toward its $2 billion goal (see p. 62 ).

Before coming to Hopkins, Lindgren spent a 10-year stint as vice president and chief development officer at University of Florida (his undergraduate alma mater). He also holds a law degree from Florida and a master's in management studies from Oxford University.

Lindgren is the third leader at Hopkins in recent months who has taken a presidency elsewhere. Dan Weiss, former dean of the Krieger School, is now president of Lafayette College. Bob Sirota, former director of the Peabody Institute, is president of the Manhattan School of Music. —MB

Humanities: A secret etched in stone

Staring at the surface of the 40-pound hunk of limestone, Kyle McCarter tried in vain to see any trace of writing.

McCarter, the William Foxwell Albright Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University, had left his students and research at the Homewood campus for a hurried mid-semester trip to Jerusalem to study the stone. Had it all been for nothing?

The Tel Zayit stone, with what may be the oldest example of a Hebrew abecedary found to date.
Photo by Bruce Zuckerman and Marilyn Lundberg, West Semitic Research. Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority
When McCarter moved to the side of the stone and allowed the light to fall upon it from just the right angle, the surface "gave up its secret," he says. Etched into it were the letters of an alphabet written 3,000 years ago. He believes the abecedary was written by a scribe living in the western part of the kingdom of Judah.

"If this is an outpost of Jerusalem in the 10th century, the fact that someone is able to write is very important as it suggests a lot about the status of civilization at the site," McCarter says. "We don't expect to have literate people at this outpost at this time." The discovery has been lauded by experts in the field as tremendously important. "What we'd like to be able to say is that this is the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found," McCarter says. "But we can't. Not yet."

McCarter and his colleagues simply don't have enough information yet to make that claim. For starters, it's just an alphabet written on the stone, not a language. And they are not 100 percent certain what language it is. "The script is evolving toward Hebrew script," he says. But they need more information before they can determine whether it is Hebrew.

The stone was discovered in July at Tel Zayit, about 30 miles from Jerusalem, by Ronald Tappy, a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and director of the Zeitah Excavations, which include Tel Zayit. McCarter is the project's epigraphist — that is, the person who deciphers ancient inscriptions.

To determine whether the language is Hebrew, archaeologists will spend the next two summers further excavating at Tel Zayit, trying to figure out whether the site was controlled by the rich and powerful city of Jerusalem. Doing so would link the writing on the stone to the Hebrew language and could make the stone the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered. According to McCarter, the next oldest Hebrew abecedary dates from around 800 B.C. and was written on a storage jar and found on a site in the Sinai peninsula.

"They'll clear out more of the area around where the stone was found and look at the pottery there," he says. "Once you find something with writing on it, chances grow that you'll find more objects with writing on them."

While studying the stone in October, McCarter and his colleagues took more than 200 photographs of the inscription. They reported their findings in November at the joint academic meetings of a number of academic societies in Philadelphia. They expect to publish a paper about their latest discovery in the Israel Exploration Journal in May. —MB

Sports: Football has its best year ever

At the start of the 2005 season, Johns Hopkins football coach Jim Margraff set two goals for his players: Win the conference championship and earn the program's first invitation to the NCAA national championship tournament. By the end of November, the Blue Jays had delivered on both counts.

The best year in Hopkins football history ended with an 8-2 regular season record, the Centennial Conference championship, and an NCAA Div. III tournament clash with Thiel College of Greenville, Pennsylvania. Undefeated Thiel dispatched the Jays, 28-3, but Hopkins celebrated making the tournament field after near-misses the last three seasons.

Coach Jim Margraff and the 2005 Blu Jays — the best in Hopkins football history
Photo by JHU Photo Services

Each of those three seasons had ended with Hopkins forced to share the Centennial Conference trophy. Not this year. The Jays, led by a ferocious defense — ranked seventh in the nation in points against — won their first seven games before Ursinus College scored a 21-17 upset at Homewood Field. After a second defeat, this one at Hampden- Sydney, Hopkins righted itself and drove 99 yards in the closing minutes of the final regular season game to cement a defeat of rival McDaniel College, 14-5. In the NCAA tourney, the Jays scored first against Thiel, but could not shut down a superior Tomcats passing attack.

Several Hopkins players earned post-season honors. The Centennial Conference named junior wide receiver Anthony Triplin its offensive player of the year. His 66 receptions for 757 yards were best in the league, and the number of receptions was fourth best in Hopkins football history. Senior safety Jim Sanders finished third on the team with 61 tackles and maintained a 3.42 GPA in biomedical engineering, a combination that made him a national Div. III academic all-American. The Jays placed six players on the regional academic all-America team, including Sanders, senior linebackers Max Whitacre and Mike Aynardi, senior running back T. J. Lyons, senior cornerback Adam Colicchio, and junior defensive lineman Brian Nickel. Sanders' design and implementation of educational enrichment activities for underprivileged children at the Hopkins Center for Summer Learning also earned him a selection to the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team for 2005. —DK

Technology: How's and why's of computer hacking

It doesn't matter who you are, where you work, or what you do. Every day, computer security breaches like viruses and break-ins beset companies all over the world. Even computer security firms aren't safe. Last December, according to The Washington Post, Guidance Software, a leading provider of software used to diagnose hacker break-ins, was hacked. This caused the leak of financial and personal data connected to thousands of law enforcement officials and network-security professionals.

To staunch this fast-growing crime, Johns Hopkins has launched a new undergraduate program in cyber forensics.

Just as security works to prevent a computer break-in from occurring, cyber or computer forensics attempts to find out why that security breach happened, how to fix it, and how to prevent it from happening again, explains John Baker Sr., director of technology programs for the undergraduate division at Hopkins' School of Professional Studies in Business and Education.

As part of SPSBE's Bachelors of Science in Information Systems program, students — who are most likely professionals in the information technology field — can concentrate in cyber forensics. They take eight courses that give them a technical and legal overview of investigating a security breach and how to work with law enforcement to handle the problem effectively.

"It's important for us to be on the cutting edge of things people need to know," says Baker. "If you've been hacked, you need to know why and how. All of that is digital forensics." Since viruses are constantly changing and the information systems field is growing so quickly, it's important to stay a step ahead of hackers. "If you don't have access to the latest understanding, research, and tools on the issue," he says, "you are going to be at a disadvantage."

Although law enforcement for some time has had a formal method for investigating computer security issues, private industry has not. "People know that buying a certain piece of software can prevent a virus, but they can't do much beyond that," Baker says. "Or they've had hit-or-miss on-the-job training."

The passage of such privacy laws as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and corporate governance laws like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Gramm- Leach-Bliley Act has made companies realize the importance of digital forensics, says Mark Pollitt, former director of the FBI's regional computer forensic laboratory. Pollitt helped design the SPSBE program and is an adjunct faculty member at the school.

"Now we have a number of statutes that all require organizations to demonstrate they have safeguarded their information and their information is reliable," Pollitt says. "One of the ways you can test for that is by using forensics." —MB

Medicine: New vaccine to fight cancer

Cancer of the pancreas is one of the most lethal of all cancers. More than a third of its victims — 30,000 per year in the United States — die within one year of diagnosis, more than half within two years. But Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers have devised a new therapeutic vaccine and treatment regimen that has produced startling results in early testing.

Oncologist Elizabeth Jaffee takes on pancreatic cancer. Elizabeth Jaffee and Daniel Laheru, respectively professor and assistant professor of oncology, recently reported early analysis of a study of 60 patients with operable pancreatic cancer who received the new vaccine. For those patients able to be evaluated so far, the survival rate was 88 percent after one year, 76 percent after two. The vaccine does not destroy pancreatic tumors. Instead, the patient first undergoes a Whipple procedure to surgically remove the diseased pancreas and any nearby cancerous tissue. Then the physicians inject the vaccine, to seek and destroy any pancreatic cancer cells still circulating through the patient's body. After the initial vaccine, the patient receives chemo and radiation therapy, followed by four booster vaccines. (For patients who undergo the Whipple procedure without the follow-up vaccines, survival rate is 71 percent after the first year.)

The vaccine was developed at Hopkins in the mid-1990s. Researchers obtained cancer cells from two pancreatic cancer patients and used them to create two cell lines. Cells from these lines are then genetically modified to express an immune-stimulating protein named granulocyte- macrophage colony stimulating factor, fortunately referred to as GM-CSF.

When the vaccine is injected under a patient's skin, GM-CSF attracts dendritic immune-system cells. These dendritic cells, says Jaffee, are the most important cells of the immune system for orchestrating the cascade of events essential for generating an immune response. When the dendritic cells arrive at the vaccine site, they encounter antigens within the vaccine cells. The antigens activate the immune-system cells, which then circulate throughout the body to target and destroy any cancer cells that they encounter. This is important because by the time pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, it often has spread.

The vaccine cells are irradiated prior to injection, to prevent them from dividing in the patient's body. But Jaffee notes that the radiation has proven to have an unexpected additional salubrious effect: It facilitates the dendritic cells' ability to pick out the antigens and process them.

Hopkins' Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center is currently conducting a fully enrolled phase-two study of the treatment. Jaffee says that researchers hope to begin a multi-institutional phase-three study within a year. She cautions that the first results, while promising, are preliminary. Of the 60 test subjects, all had received the vaccine but only 38 had completed the full treatment regimen at the time of the study's announcement. But as they design phase three of their study, Laheru and Jaffee are encouraged. "This is a start," says Jaffee. "We're hoping to build on this until we can optimize the vaccine. We're excited." —DK

Return to February 2006 Table of Contents

  The Johns Hopkins Magazine | 901 S. Bond St. | Suite 540 | Baltimore, MD 21231
Phone 443-287-9900 | Fax 443-287-9898 | E-mail