To Dubrovnik, with love

By Qiong Wang

Photos: Qiong Wang

IMG_3095 If you are not very familiar with the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, you must have heard of “Game of Thrones.” Yes, the HBO series was filmed there. Dubrovnik is located on the very southern tip of Croatia by the east coast of the Adriatic Sea. The entire city is built on sea cliffs, encircled by 3-to-5-meters-thick, 25-meters-high and 1950-meters-long brick walls, constructed mostly from the 13th to the 17th centuries. These city walls rise up and down along the cliff rocks, having protected the city for nearly 1000 years from both the sea and the land, are still standing strong and admirable. Five fortresses of different sizes, altitudes and styles are niched in between the walls. The sight of this marvelous city and its geographic setting reminded me immediately of the legendary city of Constantine during the Byzantine Empire, even though I have never been there.

The Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andric said that the city roofs alone could be a subject of an entire study. If you look at any city in the world from the air, Dubrovnik is probably one of the most easily identifiable cities. Climbing onto the top of the city wall, a sea of red slanted tile roofs of various sizes and orientation flashed in front of my eyes, making me fascinated with their texture and structure immediately. IMG_3181They snuggled so nicely together, without any clay in between it seemed. At some places on the city wall, they are within reach. Under the sun, the roof shadow brought out great contrast for different shades of red, crimson, and maple, random yet harmonious. The 50-shades-of-red on the roof tiles are vibrant but not flirty, because their high spirits are brought securely to the ground by the unanimously clay-colored solid stone houses, a great background color to address the roof tiles.

As a beautiful medieval city on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik went through great prosperity during the golden era of Mediterranean trading, and became the business and trading center of the south Dalmatian region, rivaling against Venice at the time. IMG_3302Because of its geographic and business significance, Dubrovnik had always been under the protection of different cross-continental empire powers. Dubrovnik was pretty lucky in this way. Its geographic location is a gift from god, making it far from the most turbulent regions. However in 1667, on a morning just before Easter, a major earthquake hit Dubrovnik, killing about half the inhabitants. Many buildings were damaged, including my favorite construction in the city, the Onofrio’s Fountain. This 15th century rotunda-shaped monstrous structure was used to supply water to the city habitants in the past via 16 masked animal faces, when drinking water was scarce. This fountain is like no other fountain I have ever seen, cute, over-sized and down-to-earth, just like the Baymax of Dubrovnik.

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For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 1 Edition

By Jim Keller

This month we begin our four-part series that will take us all the way up to Oscar nominations in January 2016 by discussing the leading ladies of the Best Actress race. While it was slim pickings for last year’s crop, this year’s appears to feature some strong, bona fide leads out of the gate, but still pales in comparison to the Best Actor race. Last year’s narrative was a tale of three actresses overdue for a win (Amy Adams, Julianne Moore and Jessica Chastain). The category was so underrepresented in Hollywood that a supporting actress (not a lead) took one of the top spots. What will this year’s story be? Will our top five be true leads? These are the questions we will be looking to answer in the next couple of months. So let’s first examine last year’s Best Actress nomination results and see who won over Oscar.

Although Reese Witherspoon and Rosamund Pike received Best Actress nominations for Wild and Gone Girl, the Best Actress Oscar went to a very deserving Julianne Moore for Still Alice. Meanwhile, Oscar queen, Meryl Streep, originally discussed in the lead category, earned a Supporting Actress nomination for Into the Woods. Among those performances snubbed by the Academy were Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), Amy Adams (Big Eyes), and Hilary Swank (The Homesman). Rounding out the top five were Felicity Jones for a supporting role in The Theory of Everything and Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night). Both Streep and Cotillard are discussed again this year.

THE QUEEN BEE: Meryl Streep – Ricki and the Flash (director: Jonathan Demme):

FYC: This comedic drama focuses on a rock-and-roller who gave up everything to reach for stardom and who returns home to make things right with her family.

Streep has been discussed every year in this column. As of last January the actress has 16 Oscar nominations under her belt and three Oscar wins—two in lead (Sophie’s Choice in 1983 and The Iron Lady in 2011), and one in supporting (Kramer vs. Kramer in 1980). Whether the film ends up being nothing more than summer fun fodder, omitting Streep from consideration is a fool’s errand.

THE ACTIVIST: Carey Mulligan – Suffragette (director: Sarah Gavron):

FYC: The drama centers on early members of the British feminist movement of the late 19th and 20th centuries—a time when such women were forced underground to pursue a dangerous cat and mouse game with an increasingly brutal State. It is the first film in history to be shot at the Houses of Parliament in the UK and was done with full permission of members of parliament (MPs). Mulligan earned Best Actress nominations from the Academy, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) for 2009’s An Education. The same role won her the Best Actress award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), which also nominated her for its Rising Star award that year. 2011 yielded two supporting nominations from the BFCA (Shame) and BAFTA (Drive). The film’s trailer suggests a strong performance from Mulligan and showcases her range. This film is one of my most anticipated of the year.

THE DARK LADY: Marion Cotillard – Macbeth (director: Justin Kurzel):

FYC: The latest adaptation of Shakespeare’s play wowed audiences at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it competed for the Palme d’Or. For those living under a rock, the story unfolds when an ill-fated Scottish duke receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become King. Consumed by ambition and goaded by his wife, Macbeth murders the king and takes the throne. Cotillard (Lady Macbeth) continues her hunt for a second Oscar after a Best Actress win in 2008 for La Vie en Rose and her aforementioned nomination this year. It’s worth mentioning that in 2013 she narrowly missed her first opportunity for a second nomination with Rust and Bone—a role that netted her a slew of pre-cursor Best Actress nominations including SAG, BAFTA, BFCA, and France’s answer to the Academy Awards, César. Judging on her performance’s reception from Cannes, it would be surprising not to see Cotillard in the top five this year.

THE PERENNIAL: Jennifer Lawrence – Joy (director: David O. Russell):

FYC: This biopic chronicles the life of Joy Mangano (Lawrence) the struggling Long Island single mom who invented the Miracle Mop and became one of the most successful American entrepreneurs. In 2012, Lawrence won the Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook (also directed by O. Russell) after earning her first Best Actress nomination in 2011 for Winter’s Bone. Last year, she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for American Hustle.

With this kind of track record we can expect that Lawrence will feature prominently in this year’s race. Whether or not she’s due for a second win is another question.

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Where have all the bees gone?

By Aileen Marshall


Photo: Böhringer Friedrich

Perhaps you’ve heard in the news about the mystery of the disappearing bees. It seems no one knows exactly why, but we do know that it’s serious. While bees may be an annoyance that can mar your outdoor activities, they are very important for pollinating crops. Some estimates say the drop in the bee population has cost as much as $200 billion in increased costs of produce, according to a United Nations study in 2005. The USDA has found an average cost per year to farmers to have bees pollinate their crops around $15 billion. One blueberry farmer claimed that his pollination cost used to be about $250,000 a year, now it’s about $750,000. Almonds are particularly dependent on bee pollination, and many nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables are also reliant on pollination. This increased cost gets passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices.

There has been a growing business in beekeepers providing pollination services for farmers, since there has been a decrease in wild honey bees. These businesses are mostly migrant, moving with the seasons. Some have speculated that the constant moving has also put a stress on bees. This also makes it difficult to study this disorder.

The current phenomenon of disappearing bees is called colony collapse disorder (CCD). It is characterized by a hive where there are no live adult bees except for the queen and larvae, and there is plenty of food. With few dead bees found, it is difficult to find a definitive cause. It seems the bees don’t come back to their hives. Normally when a hive is abandoned, nearby bees will loot their food, but in CCD, the food remains untouched.

While there have been episodes of bees disappearing in the past, this one is notable in that there has been a sharp decrease of an average of 33% per year since 2006, primarily in the Americas. While it is normal to have attrition in colonies over the winter, CCD has been notable in the sharp decrease that occurs in the summer.

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Twenty-four visits to Stockholm: a concise history of the Rockefeller Nobel Prizes

Part X: H. Keffer Hartline, 1967 Prize in Physiology or Medicine

By Joseph Luna

While strolling along a beach one day in the summer of 1926, a young physiologist named Haldan Keffer Hartline came across a living fossil. Before him was a horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus, with its domed carapace shell, spiked rudder tail and pedipalp legs. Barely changed after over 450 million years of evolution, this mysterious ancient mariner must’ve been a startling and alien sight. We don’t know what Hartline thought of the creature’s primitive book gills, its belly filled with shellfish or its eerie blue blood. But something did enthrall him: the crab’s large compound eyes.

Though he was a medical student, Hartline had no interest in practicing medicine, but was fascinated by research, particularly the physiology of vision. How does seeing work? This question first riveted Hartline while an undergraduate, where he worked on the light-sensing abilities of pill bugs. Moving on to medical school at Johns Hopkins, Hartline attempted to study vision in frogs by using neurophysiological instruments to record activity from their optic nerves, but it proved more difficult and complex than he imagined. What he needed was a simpler model organism, if there was one. He made his way to the Marine Biological Laboratory on the southern coast of Massachusetts, frustrated by past failures, but on a mission to find the right organism to study.


It was a conceptual leap to propose that studying vision in a weird creature like Limulus would yield insight on how animals, including humans, see generally, but the idea wasn’t out of place among biologists in the 1920s. By decade’s end, the Nobel Prize winning Danish physiologist August Krogh laid the case for studying diverse organisms for general biological insight, predicting for the field in 1929: “for such a large number of problems there will be some animal of choice or a few such animals on which it can be most conveniently studied.”

The year before, Hartline published a descriptive study of arthropod compound eyes, where he succeeded in recording nerve impulses after light stimulation in Limulus along with grasshoppers and two species of butterfly. This comparative work revealed that light stimulation could induce characteristic minute electrical spikes that could be measured among arthropods. And whereas the grasshopper and butterfly were difficult to handle and gave complex recordings, those of Limulus were simple waves and could be studied for extended periods of time when bathed in seawater. But what really set Limulus apart was the size of its compound eye as it opened the possibility of studying its single facets.

As the name suggests, a compound eye can be thought of as a closely spaced array of simpler eyes. Each “eye”, called an ommatidium, individually acts as a receptor for light directly above it and is composed of a cornea that directs light to a bundle of photoreceptor cells that are in turn connected to a single optic nerve. In small insect eyes, individual ommatidia number in the thousands and can really only be seen under a microscope; the same is true for analogous rods and cones in vertebrate retinas. The ommatidia of Limulus by comparison are fewer in number but comparatively gargantuan: each is about 1mm across, making them among the largest light receptors in the animal kingdom. Based on their large size, Hartline reasoned that it might be possible to take neurophysiological measurements from single optic nerve fibers in the horseshoe crab. Working with Clarence Graham in the summer of 1931, Hartline succeeded in doing just that. Graham and Hartline dissected single ommatidia, and devised methods to illuminate their photoreceptive cells while recording from the optic nerve. In went light they could control, out went neural signals to the brain that they could measure. These were some of the first measurements of the most fundamental unit of vision.

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New York State of Mind

This month Natural Selections interviews Lola Yu, Research Assistant from The Kapoor Lab.
Interview by Melvin White


How long have you been living in the New York area? 

Almost one full year.

Where do you currently live?  Which is your favorite neighborhood?

-I currently live on the Upper East Side but my favorite neighborhood has to be the East Village. You can get amazing Japanese food, hop from thrift shop to thrift shop, and then hang out at my favorite spot- Barcade!

What do you think is the most overrated thing in the city? And underrated? 

Probably black and white cookies. Aren’t they just sugar cookies with black and white frosting on top?

The most underrated thing in my opinion is the street performers. It’s easy to overlook them since they’re always there but when you actually stop to listen or watch, they’re incredibly talented musicians and dancers who you would normally have to pay money to see in any other venue or city.

What do you miss most when you are out of town? 

I miss how spontaneous the weekends can be. There’s always something to do and you never know where you’re going to end up. Sometimes someone will have an extra ticket to a concert or you’ll stumble upon a street festival or a friend will be stopping in town (because why wouldn’t they want to stop in NYC?)

Has anything(negative or positive) changed about you since you became one of us “New Yorkers”?

I feel like I’ve become a much stronger person living alone in the city. Everything from dealing with bed bugs to handing over a ridiculously large check every month for a teeny tiny apartment has taught me that life is always going to be tough. Whether or not these little things keep me down is up to me.

If you could change one thing about NYC, what would that be?

The cleanliness of the streets. There’s always trash piled up sky-high on every street and there’s too much dog poop on the ground to comfortably walk without constantly keeping your head down to check what you’ll be stepping in next. Also, it really wouldn’t hurt to plant a few more trees, bushes, or flowers.

What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?

My favorite weekend activity is probably hanging out at a bar or restaurant with really good live music. There’s no doubt that NYC attracts the best musicians!

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Quotable Quote

“If I have learned anything in my life, it is that bitterness consumes the vessel
that contains it.” – Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, former middleweight boxer
From Grothe, Dr. Mardy, Ifferisms: An Antholog y of Aphorisms….”

Collins Reference, 2009


Alfred Nobel and the Prizes

By Susan Russo

Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1833. He is best remembered for the invention of dynamite and for leaving the major part of his fortune for the establishment of prizes for a person or persons who accomplished discoveries resulting in the “greatest benefit on mankind.” Nobel’s father was an engineer, manufacturer, and inventor. One of his inventions was modern plywood. The family factories were in St. Petersburg, Russia, where Albert was educated by tutors, showing marked interest in chemistry and languages. From 1841 to 1842, Albert was sent to Sweden to the Jacobs Apologistic [sic] School. Albert’s studies in chemistry continued in Russia, then Paris, then four years in the United States. Albert’s interests also included explosives, taught to him by his father. His 355 inventions included a gas meter in 1857, a detonator in 1863, and a blasting cap in 1865.  Nobel’s additional interest in physiological research led to his starting laboratories in France and Italy for experiments in blood transfusions, as well as his making donations to the Pavlov laboratory in Russia.

Nobel died in 1896, but when his brother Ludvig died in 1888, one newspaper mistakenly wrote Albert’s obituary, characterizing him as the “merchant of death.” Before his own death, Albert Nobel wrote a will that set aside most of his fortune to create the Nobel prizes. This will was contested by members of his family, so that the prizes were not legally authorized until 1897. In 1900, the Nobel Foundation was established by order of Sweden’s King Oscar II.

Because of these delays, the initial Nobel Prizes were not awarded until 1901, the first in physics to Wilhelm Roentgen, and also in the will’s stated fields of chemistry, peace, physiology or medicine, and literature.

The Nobel Foundation selects professionals in these fields from around the world to nominate individuals for the prizes (including at least one professor at Rockefeller). The Swedish Academy of Sciences awards the prizes for physics and chemistry; the Karolinska Institute awards prizes for physiology or medicine; and the Academy in Stockholm awards prizes for Literature. The Peace price is awarded by the Norwegian Storting, the legislature of Norway. In 1968, a Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel was established by Sweden’s central bank, Sveriges Riksbank.

The gold Nobel prize medals are minted in Sweden, with a profile of Albert Nobel on one side. On the prizes presented in Sweden there is a Latin verse from Virgil which is translated as “inventions enhance life which is beautified through art.” The original 1901 prize money for the award was 150,782 Swedish kronor, which as of this writing is $19,948. Nobel prizes are not awarded every year, if there are no discoveries deemed to be of significance, nor, frequently, during times of war.

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By George Barany, Charles Flaster, and Brent Hartzell

Introduction: George Barany is a Rockefeller alum (1977) currently on the faculty at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities; Charles Flaster is a retired school teacher now living in Atlantic City; Brent Hartzell holds a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and works in the areas of public policy analysis and government budgeting. GB wishes to note that during his nine years at The Rockefeller University (1971-1980), the remarkable event highlighted in this puzzle occurred three times. Nobody expected a 37 year gap until the next such event!

For more about this specific puzzle, including a link to the answer, visit More Barany and Friends crosswords are at



1. Common ingredient in a chaud-froid
6. Org. that sent Stephen Colbert to Iraq in 2009
9. Trades, or 1955 winner of 20-Across
14. Groucho’s brother
15. Admission requirements, informally
16. They’re famous in Canton and Cooperstown
17. Judaism : kosher :: Islam : ___
18. Réunion, for one
19. Dickens’ Heep
20. First jewel
23. One of “The Addams Family,” informally
24. Check endorser
25. “May ___ why?”
27. Vinegar vessels
29. Yogi’s pal
31. Canada’s arboreal emblem, or jockey Eddie who won 54-Across twice and rode Secretariat in his last race
32. Brady’s measure: Abbr.
35. Ahmadinejad, e.g.
36. Second jewel
39. Pin cushion?
42. It may be definite or genuine
43. Like some keys: Abbr.
46. Kazan who directed “On the Waterfront”
48. Very, to Verdi
49. Actress Kunis
50. Great Dane
52. How some meds are taken54. Third jewel
58. Dance related to a horse’s gait
59. Bigfoot’s shoe width?
60. Cabinet units: Abbr.
62. Twelfth winner of U.S. thoroughbred
racing’s Triple Crown
65. Fastball, in slang
66. One with a lot of hits
67. ___-Puf
68. T or F: Abbr.
69. Ratifies (obsolete)
70. Chairman pro ___

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Free Summertime Fun

By Susan Russo

One of my top picks for a great summer spot in Manhattan is Bryant Park at Sixth Avenue between 42nd and 41st Streets (behind the main New York Public Library) On this website you will find pages and pages of events for all ages, abilities and temperaments – ping pong, arts and crafts including jewelry making (materials provided), petanque (French for bocce ball); free books to read; classes in ballet, fencing, fly fishing, golf, juggling, knitting, modern dance, tai chi, yoga, language classes, “walking meditation”; and pianos for you to play. There are poetry readings, a fitness club, book clubs, poetry readings, “reel talks”, and performances by “Shakespeare in Bryant Park.” In case of rain, events are held under a tent at the “Reading Room” where talks are also given by the likes of “comics superstar” John Romita, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Dr. Ruth Westheimer (the Sorbonne-trained 87-year-old sex therapist and media regular), and many others. Games are there, too, from chess and checkers to Apples to Apples to spelling bees. There’s a “Cowboy Sing-a-Long for Kids” and there are nine “Accordions Around the World” events, where all players are welcome, culminating in the Accordion Band Festival on Friday, August 28. There are vendors for food in the park, and a number of sandwich places on the avenue and adjacent streets. If you’re hot or tired, I’d suggest that you duck into the architectural gem of the Library, a cool spot on a hot day, with special exhibits and tours, restrooms, a café, and a library shop (and a great children’s library with books, DVDs and computers).

The Bryant Park Summer Film Festival on Monday nights is fun, too, but very crowded, so someone has to get there early (best around 4:00pm) to find a chair if you’re alone, or spread out your blanket on the lawn to hold space for late-coming friends. It would help to buy a big helium balloon so they can find you. Also, the movies don’t start until dark, so bringing a game, reading, a snack or supper is a good idea. There are restrooms available there, too.

Central Park is another oasis for a full day of fun or just for quiet relaxation:

Besides playing fields, people watching, statuary, benches by fountains and ponds, and quiet gardens, for the theater fanatics there’s Shakespeare in the Park. Free tickets are available by lottery (for the few), but the rest of us sit, stand, sleep, read, kibitz or snog on line for hours, and listen to “pitches” from vendors (food is delivered by a least two diners to the line) and amateur musicians and an occasional con artist giving golf “lessons”. The park opens at 6:00am officially, and, for a popular play or actors, you usually have to get there no later than 7:30am for the 12 noon distribution of two tickets to each person on line for that evening’s performance. More information is available at–events/shakespeare-in-the-park. While this queuing may seem insane, millions of people have endured it since Joseph Papp started in this theater in 1962 with The Merchant of Venice, starring George C. Scott and James Earl Jones, for the glorious setting in the open-air donor-built Delacorte Theater, with the Belvedere Castle in the background and the skies going from dusk to dark, the amazing quality of the well-known and tyro actors who play in the rain (only downpours postpone the shows, but usually they resume when rain lessens), and the accompanying live wonderful music.

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Twenty-four visits to Stockholm: a concise history of the Rockefeller Nobel Prizes

Part IX: F. Peyton Rous, 1966 Prize in Physiology or Medicine

 By Joseph Luna

Peyton Rous

Portrait of Peyton Rous, then in Welch Hall. August 2010. Photograph by the author.

“Whatever you do, don’t commit yourself to the cancer problem.” These were ominous words for a young pathologist named Peyton Rous to hear from his famed mentor William Welch. In the early 1900s, it seemed accurate. Cancer, then as now, is a terrifying constellation of diseases. This was all the more true in 1909, when few tools to study its deadly forms were available beyond the pathological descriptions afforded by the microscope. Added to this frustrating mix were scientific debates on the origins of cancer: some cancers were clearly inherited from one generation to the next, suggesting a genetic cause. And yet other cancers defied an inheritance rule and were instead closely associated with certain chemically-laden occupations, such as “soot wart” carcinoma among chimney sweepers. What if chemical exposures were the real culprit? In an era when chemical regulation was effectively non-existent for industrial workers, one can only imagine what Gilded Age employers would’ve thought of this theory. As a result, “cancer” was seen as a thorny and complex issue, only likely to become thornier. There seemed little a scientist could do to definitively address causes, let alone suggest treatment for cancer. Welch’s words were not far off the mark.

Yet, others were not as pessimistic. Simon Flexner, the Rockefeller Institute’s first director and also a student of Welch’s, offered Rous a position to take up the cancer problem, and Rous, despite some reluctance, went against his mentor’s advice and accepted the offer. Rous was hired ostensibly to take up studies of an epithelial tumor in rats known as the Flexner-Jobling tumor, notable in that it could be transplanted with some success between animals. The position, however, afforded the 31-year old pathologist considerable freedom to explore other potential models of cancer.

Soon after Rous got to work, at a time when live chickens were not an uncommon sight in Manhattan, one inquisitive poultry breeder brought to the institute a Plymouth Rock hen bearing a large tumor. We neither know what her precise motivations were to approach the new institute for medical research on Avenue A with a diseased chicken, nor do we know what Rous initially made of such a strange curiosity. But it was a chance and a fortuitous encounter. Rous took the chicken and attempted to do what many a would-be cancer researcher had tried but failed. After determining the type of cancer under the microscope, he attempted to transmit the tumor to a healthy bird. To his surprise, it worked. The once healthy bird developed tumors that looked almost exactly like the original. This work, published in 1910, established that a “sarcoma of the common fowl” could be transmitted. Such a model for cancer was an important first step in figuring out what caused it.

Rous next dove head-first into this causation problem. In an extraordinary hypothetical leap, Rous repeated his tumor transmission experiment with a twist. Instead of directly injecting bits of tumor into a bird, Rous first passed the tumor cells through a bacteria-tight filter and then injected a bird with the now cell-free filtrate. Scientific consensus of the day held that cancer, as a distinctly cellular phenomenon of “somatic mutations,” shouldn’t arise with injections of cell-free material. Yet within a few weeks, some of the injected birds developed tumors, though nothing was conclusive for Rous until he plied his trade at the microscope. Coming into focus, the methylene-blue and eosin stained tumor cells of bird number 177 almost shouted their answer: cancer. The spindle-cell sarcoma Rous observed in the new bird was indistinguishable from the tumor in the original hen. Rous had discovered that a filterable agent, in modern parlance a virus, could transmit cancer.

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Nikola Tesla

By Aileen Marshall

Nikola Tesla in his Colorado lab, 1899

Nikola Tesla in his Colorado lab, 1899

Who was Nikola Tesla? Does this name ring a bell somewhere in your brain but you can’t quite place him? Wasn’t he some sort of scientist? The showing of the movie “Tower to the People: Tesla’s Dream at Wardenclyffe” by the Rockefeller Science Communications and Media Group inspired me to find out. It turns out Tesla was quiet a visionary scientist who worked on many aspects of electricity and physics.

Tesla was born on July 10, 1856 to Serbian parents in what is now Croatia. When he was 19 he started at Austrian Polytechnic and did remarkably well there at first. During his third year he developed a gambling problem and did not take his final exams. He did not receive grades for his final semester and never graduated. He worked as a draftsman until 1880 when his family sent him to Charles Ferdinand University in Prague. He arrived too late to enroll but audited courses there for a year.

The next year he moved to Budapest and worked to improve equipment for the Budapest Telephone Exchange. He moved to New York City in 1882 and was hired by Thomas Edison. He worked on redesigning the Edison Company’s direct current generators. When he came up with a more efficient design, he was offered a mere $10 raise over his $18 a week salary. Tesla felt that was an insult and quit.

In 1886 he found investors to finance a company to make lighting systems and electric motors. However they didn’t agree with his idea to develop a new electric system infrastructure and forced him out and he lost his patents. Then he found other backers who built a lab for him at 89 Liberty Street. It is here that Tesla developed his alternating current motor. Alternating current (AC) is now used to send electricity over long distances over power lines. Direct current (DC) is what we have in our households. Tesla gave a demonstration of his AC system at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) in 1888. He later served as the organization’s vice president. His presentation was reported to George Westinghouse. His AC motor was licensed to Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company and he was hired to work in their labs in Pittsburgh, developing AC system to power the city’s streetcars. This was the beginning of the “War of Currents” between Edison’s DC system and Westinghouse’s AC system. By 1892 Edison’s company was purchased by General Electric.

In 1891 Tesla founded a lab on South Fifth Avenue (now LaGuardia Place) and then 46 East Houston Street where he invented his Tesla coil. A Tesla coil is a high-voltage, high-frequency transformer producing AC wireless electricity. Tesla was always an advocate of wireless energy. He held a demonstration of wireless energy at Columbia University. He had two zinc sheets suspended on each end of the room, and when he passed between the two sheets, a light bulb in his hand was turned on. He would often give demonstrations to friends, one of whom was Mark Twain.

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Cancer immunotherapy: how to shoot a target moving faster than a bullet?

By Jun Tang

One out of every two men and one in three women will be affected by cancer in their lifetimes. Cancer devastates the people it afflicts, traumatizes their family and friends, and puzzles scientists and physicians who dedicate their lives to understanding and fighting the disease. When President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act of 1971 and declared an all-out “War on Cancer,” many naively believed that cancer would soon be defeated, just as we celebrated our victories against smallpox and tuberculosis. Half a century later, we are still far from winning the war. As the Pulitzer-winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee dubbed it, and as we have gradually learned from endless battles with the disease, cancer is The Emperor of All Maladies.

Recent news from the front lines of cancer research suggests that we are gaining ground in the war on cancer. The FDA approved the first antibody immunotherapy targeting CTLA-4 (marketed as Yervoy by Bristol-Myers Squibb) in 2011 and the second, more effective antibody neutralizing PD-1 (marketed as Keytruda by Merck) in 2014, both for late-stage melanoma. In 2013, the journal Science named cancer immunotherapy “Breakthrough of the year.” Since then, cancer immunotherapy has dominated the discussion in the field of oncology and is gradually catching public attention. So what is cancer immunotherapy, and why is it inspiring so much optimism? Simply put, cancer immunotherapy aims to use our own immune system to fight cancer. Before expanding on cancer immunotherapy and its distinction from previous cancer therapies, let’s first understand how cancer acts.

Imagine our bodies as a city, where cell types with specialized functions—melanocytes, neurons, epithelial cells, and many others—work seamlessly together to keep the city functional and thriving. One day, a regular cell decided to join a cult called “cancer,” which mandates its members to trespass every law, regulation, and social order to achieve one single mission—conquer the entire city. Gradually, the cancer cells occupy a block, then a borough, and finally invade all parts of the city. When cancer cells enter a new place, they evict existing cells from their buildings, steal their food, tear down their homes, and decimate their communities. Gradually, cancer cells hijack all major resources while contributing nothing to the city. Starved and dismantled, the city has no defense to keep normal cells safe, no nutrients to feed the hungry, no caretakers to nurture the young, and no energy to keep everyone warm. The city is dying.

To save the city, and indeed the body, we need to fight the cancer cells. Typically, we first identify the weaknesses of cancer cells and use the most effective weapons to attack them. If cancer cells have a base camp in a block, we demolish every building in the neighborhood or even throw in a small-scale nuclear bomb (similar to surgery and radiotherapy for treating local tumors). If cancer cells have spread across the city, we target the cancer cells’ weak spots, killing most cancer cells while inevitably paralyzing many normal ones (similar to chemotherapy for treating metastatic cancer). We might poison or deplete cancer cells’ unique source of nutrients or sabotage their distinct mechanism of growing, eradicating cancer cells at a minimal casualty on normal cells (similar to targeted therapies such as Gleevec that are very effective with negligible side effects). In most cases, these coarse offenses work well initially but slowly become ineffective as cancer cells mutate to fix their weakness and learn to look like normal cells, making them “invisible” in our body. At this point, any weapons would do as much harm to normal cells as to cancer cells, and we are doomed to defeat.

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Culture Corner

The Elegant Movie – Thoughts on the films The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game
By Bernie Langs


Biophysics as studied at The Rockefeller University (photo courtesy of Mario Morgado – see for more of Mario’s work).

[Note: Professor John Nash, featured in this set of reviews, passed away tragically in an auto accident as this article was going to press.] The physicist Brian Greene named his widely successful book, which served as an introduction for many in the general public to the mysteries and wonder of string theory, “The Elegant Universe.” This title gave that sub-specialty of the study of physics a kind of mysterious and glamorous dressing up of sorts. I enjoyed that book immensely, although I did struggle at times with his sometimes less than laymen’s explanations. But I was definitely enamored by the excitement he generated about the study of physics and came away feeling that it was physics itself that was elegant, since the universe and the Biblically-termed “heavens and earth” are more what we make of them ourselves from a “blank canvas” rather than having any inherent, purposeful order or Divine scheme and blueprint. God’s abhorrence of the roll of the dice being, of course, duly noted, Professor Einstein.

The genres of mathematics and physics are difficult to master, with many students peaking in high school or early college in the ability to understand them. To bastardize an amusing observation on the nether world spelled out on the television show “The Sopranos”: Math is hard—that’s never been disputed. Perhaps this is because at some point in its study, the student cannot just throw back extrapolations of dictated, memorized facts as done for other academic courses using cookie-cutter solutions. At some point the mathematicians and physicists have to enter a realm of intuition in tandem with a talent to locate obscure paths on the road to solutions through a maze of often maneuvering electron-like unfixed data. I don’t even know if that is true, but that’s my own hunch on why I was an “A” math student until hitting the harsh roadblock of calculus, the wall on which I came to a dead stop with such studies.

The general consensus that math and science at the highest levels is “really, really hard” has led to several movies in recent years romanticizing the notion of the lone genius mathematician and physicist, and I for one enjoy these kinds of films. The general plot lines of such movies show the trials, tribulations and struggles of the men and women who are at the top of these fields, where the mind can be subject to terrific loneliness amid troubled social situations that are a result of seeing and knowing what most people can’t begin to fathom.

The first movie that I saw that explored the fictional tale of the genius mathematician was Good Will Hunting starring a then very young Matt Damon as a math prodigy from a working-class background in South Boston. Damon’s character, Will Hunting, having grown up as a beaten foster child, is in and out of trouble with the law as he runs around with an amusing group of loose characters (including the actors Ben and Casey Affleck). Hunting is unearthed and discovered by a Fields Medalist professor at MIT (Stellan Skarsgård) where Damon, as a janitor, fairly easily solves near impossible math problems left on a chalkboard in a hallway for the brilliant students of the university to try their hands at solving. The story evolves to include emotional scenes with Damon’s appointed psychiatrist, played beautifully by the late Robin Williams, as Williams tries to free the scarred youth from his stunted emotional growth so he can ease into maturation and grow into the man he is destined to be. There’ a wonderful scene where Will’s girlfriend, a Harvard premedical student played by Minnie Driver, asks with wide-eyed wonder, “How do you do it?” Damon explains with confidence that just as Mozart could simply look at a piano keyboard and solve the puzzle of making music, he can use his intuitions to see mathematical solutions as they open up before him.

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Quotable quote

“The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90. ‘Because I think I’m making progress,’ he replied.”

From The Little Red Book of New York Wisdom. Copyright 2011 by Gregg Stebben and Jason Katzman, Skyhorse Publishing, with an Introduction by Former Mayor Ed Koch.

Send in interesting quotes to be included in future issues to
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By Arthur Rothste in and George Barany

George Barany is a Rockefeller alum (1977) currently on the faculty of the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. Arthur Rothstein is a software pathologist and plumber in San Francisco. Some 45 years ago, they were teammates on the Stuyvesant High School Math Team. For more about this specific puzzle, including links to the answer and a “midrash,” visit More Barany and Friends crosswords are at

1. One in Bonn
5. Mil. status after 20 and out
8. Tesla wannabe
12. Baseball writer BusterTechnophilia_grid_June_2015_Natural_Selections
13. With 14-Across, HP HQ
14. See 13-Across
15. YouTube sensation
17. Ratio phrase
18. DDE’s wartime command
19. Internet felony
21. Flying Cloud and Speed Wagon, e.g.
23. Consoled
24. “Hurry up!”
26. Accounted for the container weight
27. Govt. contracting agency
30. Played ten frames
32. Letters from the morgue
33. Wine: Prefix
34. “You’d better believe it”
35. Snappy answer
38. Whistle blower?
39. Monogram of Beat novelist and adding
machine heir
42. “Wild Thing” group
43. Soft & ___ (former Gillette product)
44. Henry VIII’s second and fourth, and
28-Down’s first
46. Companion of Baker and Charlie
47. Flockhart of Ally McBeal
49. Pop style of France Gall and Françoise Hardy
51. Cable type
54. 42 gal., to OPEC
55. Love god
56. Pleasure palace for gadgeteers
59. Purely academic
60. Groupon offer
61. Stand-up
62. Paul who composed Johnny’s theme song
63. Cardinal letters
64. Library ID

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Life on a Roll

By Elodie Pauwels

Spring has arrived early in France this year. I was lucky to spend a few days outdoors with my camera to (re)discover three parks in the suburbs of Paris. While the Parc de Saint-Cloud allows the walker to enjoy a stunning view of Paris, quiet or crowded plots alternate in the Bois de Vincennes. Port-aux-Cerises is a huge recreational area where I however spotted some old photogenic rowing boats.






For Your Consideration – Crystal Ball Edition

By Jim Keller

The early part of the Oscar race is a moving target. There are a few awards stops along the way: Sundance, SXSW, and Cannes, to name a few, but by and large spitballing what may come down the slippery slope of the Oscar pike is tricky. For one, a lot of the films do not have distributors yet or have soft release dates. This makes it easy for films to be pushed to the following year. Second, the films discussed here haven’t screened, so it’s really impossible to know what kind of film they are—all we have to go on is the log line and the talent attached. Sometimes we get lucky and the films stick the Oscar nomination landing (FYC’s Crystal Ball Edition covered four of nine 2014 Best Picture nominees), but out of the eight 2015 Best Picture nominees only one was featured. Here are some films of interest debuting this year that could wind up in this year’s Oscar conversation.

The Danish Girl (director: Tom Hooper):

Why you might like it: Based on David Ebershoff’s novel of the same name, the film depicts the true story of Danish artists Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) whose marriage is tested after Lili becomes one of the first known recipients of sexual reassignment surgery.

Why I’ve got my eye on it: Redmayne is on fire after his Best Actor Oscar win for last year’s The Theory of Everything. What’s more, early pictures of Redmayne as Lili are intriguing and the transgender topic has been gaining steam. After helming 2011’s Best Picture winner The King’s Speech and winning Best Director for it, Hooper is always on the Academy’s radar.

Steve Jobs (director: Danny Boyle):

Why you might like it: This biopic of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs was adapted from Walter Isaacson’s biography of the same name. It explores the modern day genius’s triumphs and tribulations and how they affected his family life and possibly his health. Michael Fassbender plays Jobs and could figure prominently in the Best Actor race.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Like Hooper, Boyle is permanently on the Academy watch list ever since his go for broke Slumdog Millionaire swept the 2009 Oscars and won eight awards including Best Picture and Best Director. Here he is paired with Aaron Sorkin, an Oscar perennial since his 2011 Best Adapted Screenplay win for The Social Network. And of course, there’s the aforementioned Fassbender, who always gives deserving performances and who earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for 2013’s 12 Years a Slave.

Joy (director: David O. Russell):

Why you might like it: The biopic chronicles the life of Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) the struggling Long Island single mom who invented the Miracle Mop and became one of the most successful American entrepreneurs.

Why I’ve got my eye on it: Russell has been after the Oscar since his Best Director nomination for 2010’s The Fighter. Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in almost everything she does (RIP 2014’s Serena) and with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro on-board, the chemistry exhibited between the three since 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, which landed all three Oscar nominations, thrives.

The Witch (director: Robert Eggers):

Why you might like it: It’s a horror film that takes place in a devout, Christian 1630 New England homesteading community. When a series of strange events start happening a family begins to turn on one another. It’s a chilling portrait of family unraveling within their fear and anxiety, leaving them vulnerable to inescapable evil.

Why I’ve got my eye on it: This is one of my most anticipated films of the year. Eggers won the Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic category at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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Biography of an Amazing Artist

By Susan Russo

Based on a personal story from his granddaughter and the website

paintAvigdor Renzo Luisada was born in Florence, Italy, in 1905, third son of a secular Jewish family. His father was a prominent doctor and his older brother became a cardiologist in the United States. Luisada’s grandfather was an Italian painter, musician, and photographer, who told seven-year-old Avigdor, “Don’t be a painter! This is a hard life…” After high school, Avigdor served in the Alpinist unit of the army. On his discharge, at the insistence of his father, he studied engineering at university, but soon left for the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence.

In 1929, Luisada moved to Rome, continuing art studies at the Academia di San Luca, where he received a drawing award in 1931. Returning to Florence, he supported himself by illustrating children’s books, but continued his painting. He met his future wife, Paula Malvano, in Florence. After their marriage in 1933, the couple moved to Milan, where Luisada’s paintings were soon exhibited throughout Italy. In 1936 he was first invited to present his work at the Venice Biennale.

During the ominous rise of Hitler in Germany, members of the Northern Italian Jewish community formed an illegal organization, the Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Emigrants, for the difficult move to Israel. Avigdor Luisada was elected as the organization’s secretary, and later became president of the Milan chapter. During this time his daughters Daphna and Dina were born.

In September of 1939, Luisada and his family left for Israel on the last boat out of Trieste. In Israel, the Luisada family joined with other Italians to form a communal village (called a “moshav”), in the Sharon region, naming it Tel-Dan (after a respected Italian Zionist, Dante Lattes.) As farming was a struggle, Avigdor started teaching painting in regional elementary schools, continued illustrating children’s books, and drew images for magic lanterns.

After the war, Luisada and his family visited Italy to see relatives who had stayed there, and to meet with their artist friends. In 1947, they moved to Tel Aviv, where Luisada taught painting and art history at the Art Teachers Seminar and lectured at museums throughout Israel. His first solo exhibition was at the Katz Gallery in Tel Aviv. In 1948, with the assistance of Yossef Zaritsky, Luisada and his fellow artists mounted an Israeli group exhibition at the Venice Biennale. Members of this group created the beginning of a modern art movement called Ofakim Hadashim (“New Horizons”).

In 1955, to be closer to relatives and other friends who had moved from Italy, the family moved to Ramat-Gan. Luisada continued painting and drawing in a studio near their new home. Then, in 1972, Luisada and his wife spent a year in Paris, where he had a solo exhibit in the Espace Gallery.

In 1970, the Italian government awarded Avigdor Renzo Luisada the Chivalry Medal, and the Ministry of Culture and Education in Israel presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1982, he was awarded the Dizengoff Prize for Painting and Sculpture from the Municipality of Tel Aviv.

Avigdor Luisada’s paintings and drawings have been on display in museums and institutions throughout Israel, in the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Torino, Italy, and in exhibits in Montreal, New York, San Paola, Brazil, and Frankfurt, Germany.

In 1972, Luisada suffered a heart attack, which left him partially paralyzed, but he continued to work in his studio. Avigdor Renzo Luisada passed away at the age of 82, leaving a memorable legacy for his family, friends and his life in art.

Twenty-four visits to Stockholm: a concise history of the Rockefeller Nobel Prizes

Part VIII: Joshua Lederberg, 1958 Prize in Physiology or Medicine

 By Joseph Luna

“You say [it was] a wonderful scientific achievement?” said Paul Ehrlich. “My dear colleague, for seven years of misfortune I had one moment of good luck!”

Joshua Lederberg, then only 13 or so, read these final lines of The Microbe Hunters and closed his copy, exhilarated. Paul de Kruif’s semi-non-fictional account of twelve great microbiologists had inspired the young Lederberg and cemented his desire to be one of them. It was an odd life choice to make in 1941, but Lederberg was no ordinary teenager. After graduating high school at age 15, Lederberg headed straight to Columbia University. He graduated three years later with a degree in zoology just shy of his nineteenth birthday and continued on at Columbia for medical school as part of a wartime Navy program.

His precociousness had not gone unnoticed, for Lederberg also sought a scientific mentor as an undergrad, and found one in a young assistant professor named Francis Ryan. Having trained with George Wells Beadle and Edward Tatum for his postdoc, Ryan established his laboratory to study the bread mold Neurospora as a new model for microbial genetics. Within a year, Lederberg all but abandoned his medical studies to work in Ryan’s lab, partly due to a single paper that both stunned and spurred the young men to action.

Across town at Rockefeller in 1944, Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty established that DNA was the molecule of heredity in Pneumococcus bacteria. Suddenly the race was on to characterize the role that DNA played in other micro-organisms; Lederberg and Ryan leaped at the chance to try this out in their favorite fungus. Whereas the Rockefeller group established DNA as the key ingredient for transforming non-virulent bacteria to more deadly forms, Lederberg and Ryan aimed to uncover whether DNA could also be responsible for correcting nutritional mutants in Neurospora. In other words, they sought to confirm that manipulating genes as Beadle and Tatum had done was the same as manipulating DNA.

They started with Neurospora mutants that could not make the amino acid leucine. These bugs could only grow when leucine was present in the media, and would die otherwise. Next, they attempted to transform these mutants using DNA from normal Neurospora to restore leucine production. As they suspected, they were able to recover bugs that could grow in the absence of leucine. Yet there was a catch, they figured out that this was not due to the DNA they were introducing into cells, but instead because the mutant microbes had reverted to their parental, or prototroph, condition. But where they failed to show transformation, they succeeded in showing something else: Lederberg and Ryan had invented a prototrophic recovery method to isolate rare natural revertants (termed “back mutations”) to show that induced mutations could sometimes spontaneously switch back to their ancestral condition. Microbes, they discovered, were ceaselessly tinkering.

Their original hypothesis, to correct a mutation at will with DNA transformation in Nuerospora was a spectacular failure, but it got Lederberg to thinking that maybe transformation wasn’t all there was. Maybe there was a way for microbes to transform each other naturally and exchange genetic information. And maybe this might’ve gone unnoticed because it was such a rare event, just like back-mutations were a rare event.

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