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Matters of note from around Johns Hopkins

Research: A stem-cell first: Rats regain use of paralyzed legs

Development: Up to the "Knowledge" challenge

Peabody: New dean lays out vision

Research: Yes, there's magic in those mushrooms

Environment: Greening a campus takes ideas both major and mundane

Africana Studies: New director, new faculty, and new undergraduate major

Biomedical Engineering: Undergrads' plastic ties could revolutionize certain surgeries

Sports: New take on lacrosse classic

Sports: Tierney heads to Hofstra

Medicine: 25 years on the frontline, fighting HIV/AIDS

Astronomy: A million-dollar discovery

History: The Hungarian revolt reconsidered

Libraries: Best wishes, Mencken

Research: A stem-cell first: Rats regain use of paralyzed legs

During the summer of 2005, Douglas Kerr watched with rapt attention as about a dozen lab rats moved their hind legs. Scientists had paralyzed the rats with a virus that mimics human polio, and for weeks their back limbs had been useless. Now they were moving all of their legs, and Kerr and his colleagues were eager to learn if an experimental stem-cell therapy was the cause.

It was. In a paper published online in July in Annals of Neurology, Kerr, a Johns Hopkins associate professor of neurology, and a team made up mostly of Hopkins scientists announced the first reversal of paralysis by stem-cell therapy. To be more specific, they successfully restored functional motor neuron circuits — new neurons from the spinal cord to the leg muscles. They hope that further research will prove the technique as a means to enable people paralyzed from disease or spinal-cord injuries to walk again.

To disable the rats, the researchers infected them with Sindbis virus, a safer-to-handle cousin of West Nile virus. As the first step of the therapeutic procedure, they treated millions of mouse embryonic stem cells with retinoic acid and the whimsically named Sonic Hedgehog protein, inducing the undifferentiated cells to become motor neurons. The scientists then injected those neurons into the lumbar spinal cords of the paralyzed rats.

If the researchers stopped there, the new motor neurons would send axons, the long nerve fibers that conduct nervous impulses, up and down the rats' spinal cords. But that would do nothing to counteract the paralysis in the legs. Kerr needed the neurons to branch out laterally from the spinal cord, sending axons into the animals' damaged peripheral nervous systems. A rat's spinal cord, like a human cord, is sheathed in myelin, which inhibits this lateral growth. The researchers administered two more agents to counteract the myelin, so the new motor neurons would extend axons a little way into the outlying nervous system. The scientists were almost there.

Now they needed to induce the neurons to extend even farther, into the muscles of the rats' rear legs. In the sciatic nerve of each rat's hip, they implanted cells that secrete GDNF, a substance that stimulates nerve growth. They hoped the GDNF would draw nerve fibers out from the spinal cord. If the procedure worked, the scientists would have grown new neuron circuits to replace the neurons ruined by the virus.

Kerr and his team experimented on a cohort of 120 rats. Only one set of 15 received the full treatment. The other 105 were divided into seven control groups; for each of those groups, scientists omitted a different step of the procedure. The rats were coded to designate their particular groups, then housed all together. As they observed them in the weeks following the application of the therapy, none of the researchers knew the rats' codes, to eliminate any chance of bias in their observations and analysis.

"After 35 or 40 rats," Douglas Kerr says, "we were seeing the concordance we wanted to see. That was an amazing moment." During the first days after the procedure, none of the rodents could move by any means other than dragging themselves around by their front legs. But by 16 weeks, some of them had begun to walk with nearly normal functioning of at least one hind leg. After six months, 13 no longer exhibited paralysis. It was time to open the codes and determine which rats had received which therapy.

One by one, each rodent that showed no change proved to be from one of the control groups. When the scientists got to the first newly walking rat, its code indicated it had received the full procedure. So had a second, and a third. "After 35 or 40 rats," Kerr says, "we were seeing the concordance we wanted to see. That was an amazing moment." As they checked the code of each rat, a crowd began to assemble in the lab. Every time they came to a fully mobile animal, they were afraid they'd find its code would place it in one of the control groups. But that didn't happen. "By the time we got through the first 100 rats, we knew we'd stumbled on something that was right." Out of the 120 rodents, 13 had restored function in their hind legs. All 13 were from Group 3, the experimental group that had received the full regimen. (The scientists do not know why the other two full-treatment rats did not get better.) None of the control animals recovered from the paralysis. Says Kerr, "If you didn't give the whole cocktail, they didn't get any better." The recoveries were not random phenomena.

The exhilarated researchers now want to move on to a second trial, this time using federally approved human stem cells on larger mammals, probably pigs. If they get the same positive results, Kerr says, they will ask the FDA to authorize human trials, possibly on adults suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). He estimates human trials are at least five years in the future. —Dale Keiger

Development: Up to the "Knowledge" challenge

When you're looking for someone to take the helm of a $2 billion-plus capital campaign, go for experience. Michael C. Eicher recently completed a record-setting, $3 billion fundraising effort at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he was vice chancellor for external affairs. Now he's Johns Hopkins' new vice president for development and alumni relations.

So what makes a guy leave sunny CA for Baltimore and Johns Hopkins?

"Hopkins is a great place," Eicher says. "I'm excited about working with Bill Brody, with the trustees, with the academic leaders and faculty, the alumni, the staff — [Hopkins] is filled with great people." He adds that with the UCLA campaign finished, and with both of his children off to college, it's time for new challenges.

Good thing. Beginning this month, he will be in charge of the Knowledge for the World campaign. Launched in 2000 as a seven-year effort, the drive has already surpassed its $2 billion goal. But with unmet needs like more student aid, endowments for faculty chairs, hospital construction, and the Gilman Hall renovation, the campaign goes on.

Eicher, who had been at UCLA since 1986, says, "A number of trustees have told me that they're eager to be even more involved than they have been. The challenge for me and for us as staff is to use that desire and put them to good use." —Catherine Pierre

Peabody: New dean lays out vision

When Jeffrey Sharkey speaks of directing a music conservatory, he talks in terms of an overview, and a game board: "I like to step back and observe it like a chess game, making sure all the pieces are aligned so all the areas can flourish." Starting October 1, his overview will be of the Peabody Institute, where he will succeed Robert Sirota as director.

Dean Jeffrey Sharkey's goal is "to create a thinking musician." Sharkey, 41 years old and currently dean of the Cleveland Institute of Music, is a pianist, chamber musician, composer, and veteran educator who prior to Cleveland taught in England at the Purcell School and Wells Cathedral School. He was a founding member of the Pirasti Piano Trio, along with his wife, cellist Alison Wells. In a bit of musical circularity, he is a 1986 graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, where Sirota is now president.

"Peabody is one of the grand names of music conservatories in the United States," he says. "It has both a proud history and an enormous potential for the future. For me, the chance to lead such a strong team of faculty and staff is very exciting."

For his first year, Sharkey says, "I think I'm going to do a lot of listening, that's number one. I'll be talking to faculty, talking to staff, meeting trustees, looking to hear their take on what's strong about Peabody and what needs strengthening." Prompted to describe the school's present strengths, he lists the piano, guitar, conducting, voice, and opera departments; Peabody's renovated campus; and its geographical position on the East Coast, which helps in recruiting and retaining top-flight faculty.

Under Sirota's leadership, the conservatory tried to foster cultural entrepreneurialism in its students. The incoming director says that needs to continue. "It's not gotten any easier to play the violin, or to sing, or to compose. All the skills from the past are needed, and more. At the same time, the market has changed. The job-for-life in one area of music is getting rarer. Musicians now need to know more than ever, and they need to be passionate advocates for music."

At the Cleveland Institute, Sharkey has been known for his close involvement in a $40 million capital campaign, for strengthening ties with nearby Case Western Reserve University, and for increasing student applications by 25 percent. At Peabody, he says, he wants to renew the conservatory's links with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and persuade more of each year's top tier of applicants to enroll. To accomplish the latter, he says, will require better marketing and a larger endowment to fund scholarships.

Sharkey promoted the Cleveland Institute's exchange programs with the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Paris Conservatoire; he is already exploring similar programs with those schools and Peabody. He's also mindful of the conservatory's relationship with Hopkins. He says, "The goal I have is to create a thinking musician. The fact that there's such a wonderful college of arts and sciences just up the road is a major strength. We should challenge our students to question. So much of teaching music is a passing down of a long tradition. That's wonderful. But there's a danger if a student isn't thinking for him- or herself and simply parrots what the master teacher says. I want students to question things and to challenge themselves." —DK

Research: Yes, there's magic in those mushrooms

For years, Roland R. Griffiths had heard about the profound spiritual experiences of people who had ingested psilocybin, a hallucinogen that, if you came of age in the 1960s, you might recall as "magic mushrooms." Anthropologists had described, sometimes rapturously, the effects of psilocybin, but Griffiths, a Johns Hopkins professor of psychiatry and behavioral biology, was skeptical. He knew of little rigorous clinical research in which psilocybin had been administered under appropriate laboratory conditions. After completing his own carefully constructed study of the drug, he is skeptical no more.

Illustration by
Alex Nabaum
Griffiths' research, published in July by the journal Psychopharmacology, found that psilocybin did, indeed, bring about profound mystical experiences in his test subjects, who had been selected in part because they already engaged in spiritual practices. The study found that 61 percent of its subjects, 22 out of 36, reported phenomena that met the psychiatric criteria for "complete mystical experience." Seventy-one percent rated it as among the five most spiritually significant experiences of his or her life, and 33 percent called it the most significant. Two months later, 79 percent of subjects reported they still experienced moderately or greatly increased feelings of well-being or life satisfaction after the psilocybin. Only 11 percent, 4 out of 36, reported mystical experiences after ingesting the control drug.

The Hopkins research team took extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of the participants and the rigor of the study, screening volunteers for physical and mental health, especially personal or family histories of psychotic or bipolar disorders. One of their biggest concerns was that expectancy would distort the study's results. There is wide belief among scientists that whatever one expects of a hallucinogen plays a large role in the actual response, so the Hopkins team selected volunteers who had no previous history with hallucinogens, and thus no expectations beyond what the researchers had an ethical duty to tell them. The scientists also went to elaborate lengths to prevent both the volunteers and the study's monitors from knowing whether the subjects had ingested psilocybin or the control drug, methylphenidate hydrochloride, better known as Ritalin.

Volunteers underwent two sessions, one for each drug. At around nine in the morning, the subject would take either the psilocybin or the methylphenidate — the sequence was randomly and blindly assigned — then recline on a sofa in a room outfitted to resemble a living room. The subject was encouraged to use an eye mask to block visual distractions, and headphones that played classical music. Two monitors stayed in the room to record the subject's responses and provide reassurance should he or she become frightened or anxious. The methylphenidate was used as the control drug because it is safe, the onset and duration of its subjective effects are similar to those of psilocybin, and it has not been found to induce mystical experiences. The volunteers knew they had been administered something but could not discern which drug.

Each session, conducted about eight weeks apart, lasted seven or eight hours. The subjects filled out several questionnaires and discussed with the monitors what they had experienced. Two months later, each volunteer submitted to detailed interviews again, and a one-year review is underway.

Rigorous scientific study of hallucinogens has been rare, after the excesses, bad science, and legal difficulties of the 1960s, says Griffith. "If you think about it, from a standpoint of science it's pretty shocking. For purely cultural and societal reasons, we took this interesting class of compounds and put them on the shelf for 40 years." He says this new work opens intriguing avenues of research. What happens, neurologically, when someone has this sort of profound mystical experience? Could hallucinogens have clinical applications for dealing with the anxiety or depression that can accompany mortal conditions like cancer? Could carefully controlled application of hallucinogens be beneficial for drug or alcohol rehab?

Griffith stresses that psychotropic agents like psilocybin are dangerous. If people already have psychiatric problems, hallucinogens can tip them into psychotic conditions. People also can panic and hurt themselves in response to these drugs. Even in the study's safe environment, 30 percent of the volunteers reported moments of significant fear. Says Griffith, "It would be tragic in my view if this work led to an increase in the unsupervised recreational abuse of these compounds." —DK

Environment: Greening a campus takes ideas both major and mundane

Davis Bookhart has some big ideas. And some little ones. And they're all about the greening of Johns Hopkins' Homewood, Eastern, Mt. Washington, Peabody, and Washington, D.C. area campuses.

Bookhart was hired in the spring as Hopkins' first-ever manager of energy management and environmental stewardship, and he is charged with finding ways to reduce costs, conserve energy and water, and encourage recycling. "There are so many things that could be done here," he says. "I'm trying to identify as many opportunities as possible and see how we can move them forward."

Illustration by
William L. Brown
First the big. Bookhart would like to see the Homewood campus running on wind power. The campus uses some 85 million kilowatts of electricity a year. All of that could eventually come from several new wind farms, and the $6 million or so in electricity payments could be going to an alternative energy source. "We're a big organization, and we can throw our weight around to support important technology," he says.

He'd also like to take on the university's athletic facilities, where he thinks energy efficiencies could save as much as $50,000 a year. For example, solar panels installed on the building's large, flat roof could heat the pool and the hundreds of showers taken each day. The building could also rely on more natural illumination, as well as tubular skylights that focus the sun's rays into the building. "Even if there were no savings in costs, we would reduce a range of harmful emissions," he says. "Changing the lighting and water heating would eliminate the release of 50,000 pounds of CO2 annually."

As for the little, Bookhart can quickly calculate the incremental savings from the more mundane. Moving some cleaning crews to a daytime shift would mean that lights could be used half as much; switching to compact fluorescent bulbs in the bathrooms would reduce usage from 75 watts per light to 18 watts; modifying soda machine compressors so they run hardest only during heavy-use periods would mean more efficient cooling. "I'm looking at things that offer a good payback — and there are plenty of those — but also good projects that are the right things to do," Bookhart says. "We want to conserve energy and costs, but also improve our environmental footprint." —Jim Paterson, SPSBE '04 (MS)

Africana Studies: New director, new faculty, and new undergraduate major

For its first three years, the Johns Hopkins Center for Africana Studies served primarily as a clearinghouse for classes already being taught. Now it's about to come into its own. This summer, the center welcomed Ben Vinson III as its first permanent director and added new faculty members. This fall, it will begin to offer an undergraduate major in addition to its existing minor.

Director Ben Vinson: "If you want to learn about the black experience, think about the Center for Africana Studies."
Photo by Will Kirk
Vinson comes to Hopkins from Penn State, where he was an associate professor of history specializing in the study of colonial Mexico. He says he is excited about expanding Hopkins' existing expertise in African studies to include the entire African diaspora. "The university has a long- standing history of really important scholarly involvement in Africa and a tradition of involvement in many issues that are important to the black experience in African and African-American communities," he says.

He would like to see more classes offered as part of the program in additional Krieger School departments, as well as the Sheridan Libraries, the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. He also wants to see the center launch joint research projects and invite faculty from other Hopkins divisions to teach there. In addition, Vinson, who will also serve as a professor in the history department, plans to host workshops and conferences at the center and invite outside speakers to campus.

"I am a diasporean scholar at heart," he says. "My vision is integrated and seeks to understand African studies, African-American studies, and looking at the black experience more fully."

Twenty-three faculty members from four departments are currently associated with the center's work. That includes two new hires. Michael Hanchard, professor of political science and African-American studies, comes from Northwestern University, where he was director of the school's Institute for Diasporic Studies. Lester Spence, an assistant professor of political science, held joint appointments in political science and in the African and African-American Studies Program at Washington University prior to coming to Hopkins in summer 2005.

Vinson has big plans for the future. "Five years from now I'd like to see the center have a national profile," he says. "I'd also like to see the center be a hub of activities on campus for people interested in Africana studies. I'm hoping we can be a one-stop affair. If you want to learn about the black experience, think about the Center for Africana Studies." —Maria Blackburn

Biomedical Engineering: Undergrads' plastic ties could revolutionize certain surgeries

Saw open the chest. Fix the heart. Reattach the two halves of the breastbone. Cardiothoracic surgery in three steps. The last of those steps sounds routine but involves an extra-sharp needle that can puncture other organs or the surgeon's hand, and stiff wire tightened by pliers. If the surgeon twists the ends too tightly, the wire might cut the bone. Too loosely, and the bone may not knit. Even if there are no complications, the wire stays in the patient's body forever. "You can't send them through metal detectors," says Johns Hopkins biomedical engineering major Neha Malhotra. "And after a while, the wires can cause bone damage."

Malhotra, a junior, is co-leader, with senior Chris Weier, of a team of 11 undergraduates who spent the last academic year mending split cadaveric sternums with a material that may revolutionize the 700,000 open-chest surgeries done worldwide each year: dissolvable plastic cable ties. The invention won the students first prize in the university's Biomedical Engineering Design Day competition in May. "It basically looks like a stapler," says Malhotra. But instead of staples, the $1,500 prototype shoots out a sturdy plastic cable. "It threads the cable ties through the ribs and tissue," she explains, "and then ratchets to fasten the ends together tightly on top."

The students' invention uses polymer cable ties to close the chest after heart surgery.
Photo by Will Kirk

The idea began when Malcolm Lloyd, A&S '94, founder of a company called Surgical Transformation LLC, introduced the students to the current technology's shortcomings. "My company talks to surgeons that use medical devices every day," he says. Those surgeons complained about the needle- and-wire chest closing, so Lloyd took the idea to a Hopkins class called Biomedical Engineering Design Teams. Malhotra's team chose his project because the procedure is so common, and, she says, "most cardiac surgeons don't pay attention to improving it because they just care about getting the heart to work."

The students consulted with Hopkins cardiothoracic surgeons and watched a handful of heart surgeries, which allowed them to see for themselves some of the drawbacks of the traditional wire method, which hasn't changed in 50 years. The budding engineers' solution? Plastic zip ties. The ties tighten easily around both strong and weak bones. And, Malhotra says, "they're biodegradable, so after a couple of years when the bone has healed, they start degrading." The students tested the strength of the ties on cadaveric sternums in the biomechanics lab of the Bayview Medical Campus. "We twisted a bunch of wires and compared them to cable ties," Malhotra says. "We wanted to see which could sustain the most force, and the ties won."

As much as 5 percent to 10 percent of all cardiothoracic surgeries, Lloyd estimates, must be redone because of faults in the needle-and-wire method. Surgical Transformations LLC and five of the student team members have a provisional patent for the device, giving them one year to file for an actual patent. The company plans to give the current prototype to surgeons for a thorough evaluation, then develop a version that can be tested on patients. —Virginia Hughes, A&S '06 (MA)

Sports: New take on lacrosse classic

Thirty years ago, former Hopkins men's lacrosse coach and athletic director Bob Scott, A&S '52, published the classic book on coaching men's lacrosse: Lacrosse: Technique and Tradition. Three years ago, when Johns Hopkins University Press approached current men's coach Dave Pietramala, A&S '90, and asked him to write a second edition, Pietramala was both pleased and intimidated. "I have such great respect for Mr. Scott, my first thought was, 'I can't do that, that's Bob Scott's book,'" says Pietramala. "My second reaction was to be very flattered. The reaction after that was anxiety because I'd never done anything like this."

Pietramala overcame his hesitation and worked with writer Neil Grauer, A&S '69, to produce the new Lacrosse: Technique + Tradition (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), with updated photographs, history, and instruction. The book draws heavily on the original volume's contents, with significant revisions that reflect new rules, new lacrosse equipment, new coaching ideas, and 30 more years of history.

Over the course of many months during the off-season, Grauer, a third-generation Hopkins alum and currently assistant director of editorial services for Johns Hopkins Medicine's Office of Marketing and Communications, would sit down with Pietramala early in the morning in the coach's office. They would go sentence by sentence through Scott's book, revising as need be, but often leaving whole sections intact. "You'd be surprised how much is still applicable," says the current coach. Nevertheless, the game has evolved. "There have been big changes in rules, and big changes in goalie play, things like technique. The area of biggest change was in the types of defense being used. The clearing game is a little bit different now. What is expected of players has changed. Lacrosse is more of a full-time job; kids are playing at an earlier age, and they are bigger, faster, and stronger now."

Pietramala impressed Grauer with the depth and detail of his knowledge. "He has it all in his head," the writer says of the coach. "He'd just rattle off stats for things like extra-man opportunities in 2002 or 2003. He'd always say to me 'your book,' as in 'how's your book coming along?' It's his book."

"The book was great for me," Pietramala says. "It forced me to look at what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. We had to break the game down to its simplest form, and that was a reminder of how important the fundamentals of the game are. It was helpful for thinking about how we teach things." —DK

Sports: Tierney heads to Hofstra

Close observers of Hopkins men's lacrosse knew it was only a matter of time before associate head coach Seth Tierney, A&S '91, got the opportunity to run a major program. In August, Tierney accepted the head coaching job at Hofstra University, where he served as an assistant coach from 1995 to 2000. Days later, Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala, A&S '90, announced that assistant Bill Dwan, A&S '91, had been promoted to associate head coach, and former Blue Jays All-American Bobby Benson had been hired as assistant coach. Benson, a 2003 graduate, will move down Charles Street from his job as an assistant at Loyola University. He will take over Tierney's responsibilities as offensive coordinator. —DK

Medicine: 25 years on the frontline, fighting HIV/AIDS

In the quarter-century since AIDS was first discovered, the disease has infected more than 65 million people worldwide. Some 38.6 million people are estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS today.

Photo by Hatami John Bartlett came to Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1980 as chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases. When AIDS burst on the scene a year later, he was integral in setting up the hospital's first AIDS clinic, pioneering the practice of dedicated inpatient and outpatient care. He was also on the forefront of the medical school's worldwide efforts to prevent and treat the disease.

The book that came out of that work — The Guide to Living With HIV Infection, which Bartlett co-wrote in 1991 with Ann K. Finkbeiner, a visiting associate professor in the Krieger School's Writing Seminars — became a sort of bible for people who had the disease. Covering everything from preventing transmission, to treatment, to coping with associated mental health problems, the book encompasses myriad issues in a straightforward, consumer-friendly fashion. The sixth edition, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, is due out in October.

This summer, Bartlett — who also studies bioterrorism and influenza — talked with Johns Hopkins Magazine about some of the changes in HIV and AIDS over the last 25 years.

Johns Hopkins Magazine: How has The Guide to Living With HIV Infection changed since it was first published?
John Bartlett: Until 1996, the book was written for people to prepare them to die. And if you looked at the old book, you would see that it's all about how to deal with having an inevitably lethal disease. It's about how to get hospice care, how to deal with dying — all of those things.
   If you look at the disease after 1996, it was all about how you prepare people to live. The change was in fact absolutely remarkable. [The development of drugs to treat HIV infection] was close to a miracle. It happened overnight. People had sold their [life] insurance [to get cash for their expenses], and all of a sudden they had a new lease on life. There's been a lot of new progress in management of the disease, so we had to change the tone of the book. AIDS is not a good disease to have, but if you have to get it, now is a good time.

JHM: You talk about great treatments for AIDS, such as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) that kills 99 percent of all HIV in the body in one month. But how do you respond to criticism that AIDS treatment is only available for some people in limited locales?
JB: Why blame it on AIDS? It's true for every part of medicine. You can't get care in other parts of the world for any of the diseases we care for successfully in the United States. I mean, how many coronary bypasses do they do in Africa?
   Actually, one of the great historic notes in AIDS is that it got us to Africa and now — as a result of being in Africa and India and China and other places — we can deliver a package of care that goes way beyond AIDS. For small amounts of money we can give people in these countries things like clean water, mosquito nets, HIV testing, possibly preventive tuberculosis care, and eventually vaccines, and save an awful lot of kids. It will build an infrastructure, and you can't do AIDS care without a pretty well-established infrastructure. You just can't. It's too complicated.

JHM: How has society's perception of HIV/AIDS today changed from the 1980s and 1990s?
JB: Then it was a morbid disease, and it had a big morbid overlay of public attitude. You had people who had a terrible disease that was going to kill them in the way most of us would least like to die. It was sort of the leprosy of the 1980s. People didn't like the people who got AIDS because they were mostly gay men and IV drug users, and people had a morbid fear they would catch it. It was really awful. It's very different now. Most people either have friends or relatives who have been infected with HIV, and I think society is much more forgiving of people who don't necessarily live the way they do.

JHM: Why can't we do more to prevent AIDS?
JB: We've never been very good at prevention, here or elsewhere in the world. There's spotty success in the world, but even [existing] prevention programs have their ups and downs. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control said five years ago that their goal was to reduce the number of transmissions of HIV by 50 percent in five years. Now [it's five years later], and we haven't decreased them at all. That tells me we're not very good at prevention. —MB

Astronomy: A million-dollar discovery

Adam Riess
Photo by Will Kirk
In February, we introduced you to Johns Hopkins astronomy professor Adam Riess in our "Up & Comer" column. Now we look ever so smart because Riess was recently named a 2006 Shaw Laureate and co-recipient of the 2006 Shaw Prize in astronomy. The award is conferred by the Shaw Prize Foundation, established by Hong Kong media mogul and philanthropist Sir Run Run Shaw. It recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to astronomy, life science and medicine, and mathematics. Riess will split the $1 million award in astronomy with his co-winners, Saul Perlmutter of the University of California, Berkeley, and Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University. The three were recognized for discovering that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

Riess had heard of but was not familiar with the prize when he checked his e-mail one morning late last June. He says, "I had a message from a reporter in Hong Kong asking me if I'd do an interview for winning the Shaw Prize." He quickly did a Google search and learned about the foundation and the award. "I was very excited. It's a very prestigious prize and a lot of money as well. My wife finally thought, 'Hey, this astronomy stuff is pretty good.'" Riess will travel to Hong Kong for the award presentation later this month. —DK

History: The Hungarian revolt reconsidered

Early in the morning on November 4, 1956, Soviet troops poured into Budapest. For 13 days, Hungarian insurgents had filled the city streets, demanding independence from Moscow. Now the Red Army had come to crush the revolution.

Over the past half-century, the heroism of the freedom fighters has been celebrated, the brutality of the Soviets condemned. And, because the Russian army's force was so overwhelming, the outcome of events has been viewed as inevitable.

Charles Gati Charles Gati thinks it could have been different. A senior adjunct professor at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Gati reconsiders the failed revolution in his new book, Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt. Though he does not dispute the basic David-versus-Goliath interpretation, he argues that, had Hungary's leaders been smarter, and had the insurgents not demanded so much, there was a chance for negotiation and delay.

"It did not have to happen this way," he says. "This is the most controversial part of the book because what I'm saying is that if the revolution had more limited goals, then it could have been won. But for that, you have to have leadership, and you have to have a measure of wisdom."

Archival evidence shows, Gati says, the Soviet Union was not eager for a military solution. "It didn't like what was happening, and it wanted to regain its authority, but it was prepared to negotiate," he says. In fact, on October 30, the Kremlin released a statement that it would discuss the withdrawal of Soviet forces already stationed in Hungary. But as the insurgents pressed, not for reform of the system but for its overthrow, the Soviets changed their minds and sent in more troops.

According to Gati, Imre Nagy, who had been recently reinstalled as Hungary's prime minister, should have tempered the insurgents' most radical demands. Nagy, who had been prime minister from 1953 to 1955, had been a loyal communist, but he was also very popular among Hungarians. At the time of the revolt, says Gati, he was "the only credible politician on the scene." But he made two major errors. For the first few days, he failed to recognize that a legitimate national revolution was under way, says Gati, and he opposed it. Then, when he did come around, instead of offering measured guidance, he fully embraced even the most radical goals of the revolution. "Nagy, as an adult rather than a hothead revolutionary, should have known better," Gati says.

One of the problems was that many revolutionaries likely expected the United States to come to their aid. Radio Free Europe fully encouraged the revolution, attacking Nagy — the only leader in a position to negotiate with the Russians — and even going so far as to instruct Hungarians on how to make Molotov cocktails. Many of the broadcasters were "caught up in the euphoria and forgot how close the Soviet Union was and how far away the United States was," Gati says. "Nor did they know — very importantly — that the United States, despite all the propaganda, had made no preparations whatsoever for an event of this sort."

The lack of preparation by the Central Intelligence Agency was one thing that most surprised Gati during his research. A cub reporter for a Budapest newspaper called Magyar Memzet during the revolution, Gati moved to the United States shortly after. (The paper, which had supported Nagy and the revolution, was closed down by the authorities after the Soviet crackdown.) After the 1989 fall of communism, Gati began researching the topic, using declassified Russian and Hungarian archives and obtaining documents from the United States through Freedom of Information Act requests. He was the first to obtain and write about the CIA's operative files, which, unlike analytical files that had been declassified for decades, lay out what the agency did — and didn't do. Gati learned that the CIA had only one agent in Budapest, and he was tied up at the embassy taking petitions. Funds had been diverted to Asia because of the Korean War. "It was a very low priority," he says. "The gap between ends and means was unbelievable."

Though Gati makes no comparison between the United States' support of the Hungarian revolution and more recent events, it is hard to read the book without considering lessons that could be learned from 1956.

Gati writes, "Americans and Hungarians alike should be ready to take a more realistic and therefore more self- critical look at what they did — how their mistakes contributed to the revolution's downfall — and what else they could have done." —CP

Libraries: Best wishes, Mencken

Friends and foes alike described H. L. Mencken — the prolific and controversial American writer — as acerbic, pompous, and hardheaded (plus some names perhaps better left to the censors). He could also be brilliant, witty, and mischievous. The legendary bad boy of Baltimore was known to hand out forms at parties that read, "I [blank] do hereby bequeath my estate to H. L. Mencken."
Such glimpses into the man behind the billion words can be found in Yet Another One! H. L. Mencken, an exhibition opening this month at the George Peabody Library. The show offers a rare view of one of the 20th century's most influential writers through personal and often humorous notes he inscribed in books, pamphlets, and other items presented to friends, family, and fellow writers. Featured are a number of books inscribed to Paul Patterson, editor of the Baltimore Sun. In total, more than 400 items are on display, including never-before-exhibited letters, photographs, and ephemera.

The exhibition draws from the Robert A. Wilson Collection, an assemblage of Mencken materials that includes nearly all of the author's inscribed publications, original letters, and photographs. Richard Frary, A&S '69, and his wife, Irene, donated the collection, named in honor of fellow Mencken collector and alumnus Robert Wilson, A&S '43, to the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries in 2005.

Frary, an East Coast-based real estate investor and bibliophile, traces his interest in Mencken to contemporaries Sinclair Lewis, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser. (Mencken had a long and often contentious relationship with Dreiser, who once inscribed a book, "To H. L. Mencken, my oldest living enemy.") Frary spent 15 years assembling his collection, receiving immeasurable help from Wilson, an antiquarian bookseller and former owner of the Phoenix Book Shop in New York's Greenwich Village.

The son of German immigrants, Mencken was born on September 12, 1880, in Baltimore, where he lived all his life. An editor, essayist, and critic, Mencken first honed his craft at the Evening Sun and later founded the literary magazine The American Mercury. Mencken's outspokenness on an array of topics still holds people's attention. It's that continued interest, says Frary, that led him to share his collection with the world. "He truly is the great American iconoclast. The issues he talked about in the 1920s and '30s — religion, theater, politics — still continue to be relevant to this day."

Cynthia Requardt, curator of special collections for the Sheridan Libraries, says that Mencken was infamous for his skeptical view of the common man and his knack for launching insults in every direction, especially at those of faith and the "ignorant" middle class he labeled the "booboisie."

Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of University Libraries at Johns Hopkins, says that with the Frarys' gift, Baltimore will rightfully become a hotbed for Mencken scholars who can also seek out the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which houses Mencken's personal library. "We are delighted to join our colleagues at the Enoch Pratt Library in celebrating the legacy of one of Baltimore's greatest journalists, authors, and most influential iconoclasts," says Tabb, praising Richard and Irene Frary for their "extraordinarily generous gift." —Greg Rienzi

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