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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Culture Corner

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

image1

Biophysics as studied at The Rockefeller University (photo courtesy of Mario Morgado – see morgadophotography.com 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.

Continue reading

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 nseditors@rockefeller.edu.
Quotes can be philosophical, funny, clever, anecdotal – but NOT too salacious or outright unpublishable – and short enough not to need copyright permission.

Technophilia

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 http://tinyurl.com/technoNSpuz. More Barany and Friends crosswords are at http://tinyurl.com/gbpuzzle.

Across
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

Continue reading

Life on a Roll

By Elodie Pauwels

http://elodiepphoto.wordpress.com

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.

image2

 

image3

 

image4

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.

Continue reading

Biography of an Amazing Artist

By Susan Russo

Based on a personal story from his granddaughter and the website www.luisada.com

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.

Continue reading

Culture Corner

Visiting Hemingway’s House in Key West

By Bernie Langs

viewViews of the Key West home of Ernest Hemingway (photos by BL)

After shopping on Duval Street in Key West, Florida on a hot and beautiful day in late April, my wife and I were guided by our closest friends through back roads to The Hemingway Home and Museum to visit the house where the famed author spent most of the 1930s producing some of his best written works. This was my first visit to Key West and the anticipated imaginings of how it would look had missed the mark. The closely placed houses on the streets leading to “Papa’s” abode all had beautifully manicured small yards boasting fabulous and unique trees. The local vegetation had a scintillating quality to it and the leaves of the palm trees swayed slowly, dancing to the beat of the occasional wind. The serene atmosphere primed us for the grounds where Ernest Hemingway had lived.

We entered the house and set out for a tour of the property. Our guide was a colorful character who had probably given the same prepared speech from room to room hundreds of times over the years. She had a peculiar, yet engaging, Southern drawl and although she was restrained, she exuded a continuous enthusiasm for her subject. I found her dry jokes about Hemingway and his antics truly engaging as our group learned about Hemingway’s life, his four wives, his children, and about his many passions for drinking, deep-sea fishing, travel, and general debauchery. I had learned a bit of this, as many of us do, in school, but the sense of the man as an individual was enhanced by being surrounded by the things he’d actually lived with and experienced.

A highlight of the visit was the up-close look at the beautiful swimming pool on the grounds, which is surrounded by various trees and shrubs. It was the first pool built in Key West and the largest at the time for many miles. Our guide told the story of Hemingway’s wife, Pauline, who had put the swimming pool in, to his distress, the costs ran up to $20,000 ($330,000 today adjusted by inflation). It is said he tossed a penny at her, angrily declaring that she’d take his very last penny. She retaliated by imbedding the penny in the still wet cement of the patio and it’s there to this day for tourists like myself to gaze at in amusement.

Continue reading

The Union Forever!

Dedicated to the memory of Bruce Voeller

 By George Barany, Michael Hanko, and Paul Luftig

This puzzle is modified and updated from versions that went on-line in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election. We dedicate the puzzle to the memory of Bruce Voeller (1934-1994), a Rockefeller alum (1961) who later served on the Rockefeller faculty and raised some eyebrows when he asked for his office to be painted pink. As our modern society has shifted toward accepting same-sex marriages, the puzzle’s theme remains just as relevant today, and we note with sadness that Dr. Voeller was never able to experience this basic right with the man his New York Times obituary listed as “his companion.”

GB is a Rockefeller alum (1977) currently on the faculty at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities; MH is a NYC voice teacher, writer, and performer; PL lives in Larchmont and is retired from a remarkable career in the world of finance. For more about this specific puzzle, including a link to the answer, visit http://tinyurl.com/WE WILL PROVIDE IT. More Barany and Friends crosswords are at http://tinyurl.com/gbpuzzle.

UnionForeverGrid_new

Across

  1. Sailors do it on deck
  2. Disciplines
  3. Prepares leftovers for a quick bite
  4. South American monkey
  5. ___ Lama
  6. Institution with its med. sch. named after David Geffen
  7. Non-traditional marriage of the gay pop icon who wrote “Candle in the Wind” to a war hero who ran for President
  8. Pen, in Montpellier
  9. Tenets of Flat-Earthers or Evolution Deniers, e.g.
  10. Epiphanies
  11. Valley where David slew Goliath
  12. Amenity at a high-end spa
  13. Like Napoleon while in Elba
  14. Suffix added to “Mercedes-Benz” in a joke told by a professor of organic chemistry
  15. “Then Again, Maybe ___” (Judy Blume young adult novel)
  16. Ex-Veep Agnew’s plea
  17. Non-traditional marriage of an ex-Veep/Nobel Peace laureate to a novelist who believed in the pan-sexuality of men and women
  18. When doubled, a Jim Carrey movie
  19. One who was more shocked than awed in March 2003
  20. “Yadda, yadda, yadda”
  21. ___ -laced (excessively strict)
  22. “Hamilton,” for one
  23. “___ I” from Gershwin’s “Lady, Be Good!”
  24. One of a papal dozen
  25. Exemplars of loveliness
  26. Too, in Toulouse
  27. Non-traditional marriage of “Atlas Shrugged” novelist to a pair of politicians, one a current Presidential candiate, the other who ran for Veep under Romney
  28. Manitoba native
  29. Traffic trouble
  30. Dope
  31. What a lumberjack does behind the woodshed
  32. Pink-slips
  33. Ball handler?

Continue reading

Quotable quote

“Loblolly – A lout; a stupid, rude or awkward person

Blatherskite – A person who talks foolishly at length

Poltroon – A spiritless coward

Cacafuego – A swaggering braggart or boaster

Crepehanger – A killjoy; someone who takes a pessimistic view

Slubberdegullion – A dirty rascal; scoundrel….”

In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved 4/15/15, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hacker

Life on a Roll

By Qiong Wang

Segovia, a small town an hour away from Madrid, presents people with a magnificent Roman aqueduct that was well kept for almost two thousand years. It is said that no cement-like agent was ever used in between the giant stones that hold up this masterpiece. How did they do it? No matter from what angle you look at it, you will be awed by its majesty and mystery. Not too far from it is a fairytale-like castle standing on top of a hill. About six-hundreds years ago, the charming and ambitious Queen Isabella of Castile ensued her crown here, in the Alcazar of Segovia. Nowadays, life is rather simple here, like killing a random afternoon alone with a saxophone player.

aquaduct 2 aquaduct 1 castle saxphone

Zeena Nackerdien: From Rockefeller to Novelist

By Aileen Marshall

Not all Rockefeller University (RU) scientists have a traditional career path. Some go on to teach or continue research. But some expand their horizons while still keeping science in their life. One such Rockefeller alum is Zeena Nackerdien, a research associate in Joshua Lederberg’s lab from 2000 to 2008, who went on to a diverse career in medical writing and who has recently published a novel, The Heroine Next Door, with a science theme.

ZNHeadshot

Nackerdien is originally from South Africa. She got her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Cape Town. She then earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Stellenbosch, in South Africa, studying chromatin structure.

In 1989 she was offered the position of guest researcher at The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and decided to take the opportunity. At NIST she helped to identify indicators in DNA associated with free radical damage, and learned to perform capillary electrophoresis of nucleic acids. She then worked as a post-doc at Memorial Sloan Kettering for a year. Nackerdien moved to RU in 2000, where she began her eight-year stint.   “Like many post-docs, I had a series of stop-and-go experimental projects that ended in frustration,” Nackerdien remembers. While in the lab she published a hypothesis with Professor David Thaler on the rearrangements of chromosomes in cancer and evolution. She also worked on bacterial growth. She described the experience as “tearing my hair out over an inability to explain the bursts of fast growth observed in rich media of a Gram-negative pathogen, Vibrio parahaemolyticus.” Vibrios are a genus of bacteria that often cause infection from eating undercooked seafood. Some strains give off light. “We showed that the growth rates of the light-emitting Vibrios could be impacted by bioluminescence-dependent- and independent-components. However, the buried headline is that some bacterial strains can double very quickly in a manner that cannot easily be attributed to artifacts,” Nackerdien said. She published a paper on this with Dr. Lederberg and Dr. Bonnie Bassler of Princeton University, an expert in quorum sensing. Nackerdien was working on cultivating other bacterial species of the microbiome not easily done by standard plating techniques. Sadly, Dr. Lederberg died in 2008. It was then that she decided to start a writing career, “I have always been a poet at heart. However, it has taken me many years, first as a medical writer, then a patient advocate, and now an author to come up with a blended style that articulates my unique spirit.”

Continue reading

Tuning Attention and Focusing on the Moment

By Peng Kate Gao

A few years ago, my friend and I took a road trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a typical mid-fall afternoon, when warm autumn colors began to paint the pastoral landscape of the Appalachian Highlands. The drive was not a difficult one; we had little fear of tumbling over the few cliffs we encountered. Nevertheless, the road was often winding and tortuous with plenty of unexpected curves. As the drive and the scenery captured our full attention, all our worries and work issues faded away. Suddenly, the vibrant foliage became much more lively, the afternoon sun shone more brightly than usual, and the air was sweet with the smell of fall. Years later, the colors, sounds and smells of this experience still play vividly in our minds.

Looking back, my memory of that distant afternoon seems so much clearer to me than many more recent Saturday afternoons I’ve spent aimlessly roaming the streets or watching TV. Recent psychology and neuroscience research helps to explain why this is so: our experience and memory is shaped by what we attend to. It is thus tempting to think that if we can consciously tune our attention and focus on the right things, life will feel less like a series of random acts but more like a work of art that we create.

Unfortunately, tuning attention is not always easy. Do you remember a time when you knew you were supposed to be working on a project or assignment, but somehow your mind started to wander and you felt the urge to check e-mail or Facebook? Focus slips, time melts away, and work is left undone. If this lack of focus becomes a habit, we face the real danger of drifting along in life—passively reacting to circumstances or whatever happens to us. This is certainly a life that most of us try to avoid.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his widely influential book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience argued, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” He named this fully engaged state as flow, during which the person feels “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.” We usually associate flow with creative endeavors of scientists and artists, but Csikszentmihalyi argued that in fact it could be achieved in everyday life too, such as reading a book or tending a garden. Those moments lift our spirits and make us feel that life is worth living. The key to living an engaged life, then, is to find a way to maximize our time in flow and minimize drifting.

Continue reading

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

Part VII: Edward Lawrie Tatum, 1958 Prize in Physiology or Medicine

By Joseph Luna

It started, on paper at least, with butter. The chemical microbiology of dairy products was “certainly getting hot” as one professor dryly wrote to George Beadle, who in 1937 was starting his lab at Stanford University. Beadle, a plant geneticist who had recently switched to the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism, was looking for a good biochemist to join him with genetics research. He offered the job to 28-year-old Edward Tatum, a University of Wisconsin-Madison Ph.D. who had just spent a year in Utrecht, Netherlands, to study the odd mix of genetics in flies and the chemistry of butter. Tatum had come from a science family (his father was a chemistry professor) and was interested in genetics, but both father and son were concerned with the hybrid role of Beadle’s offer: amongst microbiology, biochemistry and genetics, Tatum stood a good chance of ending up an academic orphan, disowned by each discipline. But with jobs scarce in 1937, there were few options, and Tatum, his wife June, and their toddler, Margaret, headed to California.

What we would now call classical genetics was in full flower at the time. Pioneered at the turn of the century by Thomas Hunt Morgan, the fruit fly was (and still is) a powerful model organism to study inheritance, a concept just rediscovered through the long lost works of Gregor Mendel and his famous pea plants. Fly researchers at the time were interested in uncovering mutants, either natural or induced, that were different from normal flies, just as Mendel had done with peas. By crossing mutants with normal flies, or mutants with other mutants, early geneticists were able to track how a trait was transmitted from one generation to the next. In this manner, they figured out that inherited traits corresponded to physical entities on chromosomes, which they called “genes.” But what exactly a gene did was anyone’s guess. Things that could be readily observed or phenotypes such as changes in eye-color were clearly controlled by genes in the sense that they were inherited in predictable ways, they had genotypes. But for other, absolutely necessary things, like proper metabolism, there was really no path forward, since mutations were usually lethal. As a result, geneticists were thought of as having only uncovered how a subset of trivial phenotypes, like pea shape and fly eye color, were linked to a genotype. Whether critical traits like metabolism played by the same rules was an open and very contentious question.

Into this world, Tatum and Beadle (“Beets” to his friends) set up shop. They set their sights on Drosophila eye color, where they aimed to extract the pigment found in normal flies to characterize it biochemically. Using mutant flies that lacked the pigment, they wanted to perform what we would now call the rescue experiment, where the pigment could be restored in genetically deficient flies. It would have been a powerful demonstration of phenotype correction, were it not for problems encountered seemingly at the get-go. Tatum found that correcting the pigment defect could only work when cultures carried a bacterial contaminant, which presumably made a hormone or small molecule to get things going. They spent four years trying to isolate this hormone, only to be scooped by the competition. It was a major blow for such arduous work, but more importantly, it startled the young researchers as to how complex biochemical genetics would be with flies.

Continue reading

Culture Corner

Theater Review: “LOVE” performed by Cirque du Soleil at the Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada, February 16, 2015

By Bernie Langs

image2

A Hofner bass guitar signed by all four Beatles displayed outside the “LOVE” theater at the Mirage Hotel (photo: B.L.)

When I told a musician friend of mine that I would be in Las Vegas for a few days in February, he insisted that while there I check out the Cirque du Soleil troupe’s interpretation of the Beatles’ music entitled “LOVE” that he had found to be an astounding theatrical tour de force. I knew some of the music from the show from the soundtrack released some years back produced by George Martin and his son, Giles. I’d even chanced upon a cable television airing of the film documentary chronicling the making of the show, but had quickly turned it off after witnessing the late John Lennon’s wife making strong suggestions to the show’s director during early rehearsals. Yoko Ono had already made far too many suggestions for Beatles’ affairs, in my opinion. Yet, I knew the music for “LOVE” to be a brilliantly conceived mash-up of Beatles’ tunes, taking a snippet from one song and tagging it to another or several others. In the case of the late George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” they added a lovely string arrangement to his melancholy demo of the song.

But Cirque du Soleil? Wasn’t it just high wire, trapeze tricks by pantomiming performers? I told my friend, whom I’ve known since the time when the Beatles were an active band, that I’d pass on going to the show. Knowing how highly I regarded the Beatles, he replied, “You will love it. If you do not go, I will find you and I will hurt you. You have to go.”

Thus so gently persuaded to attend, I am glad to say I have escaped that threat of bodily harm and even happier to report that “LOVE” as performed by Cirque du Soleil is a beautiful, exciting, musically profound, and dare I say, loving phenomenon. It is more than a show, it truly is an experience to behold in many ways. George and Giles Martin were instrumental in designing the sound system for the Beatles’ amalgamated music and I’ve read that there are over 100 speakers placed around the theater, including three in each of the individual, cushioned, high-back seats. I would sometimes shift in my seat to play the sound in my chair to the best effect. Beyond any studio album recorded by the group, beyond their television performances, or even the ballpark house speakers at their Shea Stadium show in 1965, this is the way Beatles’ music should be heard. The volume was loud, but not too loud. It surrounded one and became all encompassing, but not uncomfortably overwhelming, and for any Beatles’ fan, it could only lead to a state of bliss. It was like receiving wave after wave of pure joy.

How wrong I was about the mechanics of a live show by Cirque de Soleil. The performers are modern dancers, often undertaking straight out dance moves in various styles or doing their tasteful acrobatic feats in incredibly difficult fashions, including the use of high wires and trampolines. They are in complete tune not only to the beats and rhythms of the Beatles, but to their essence and soul, and very much on target with their original spirit. I was seven years old when the Beatles hit US radio and television, and thirteen when they split up. I was witness to their living spirit, which can never be completely captured again by anything produced since 1970. “LOVE” is as close to a witness of their time and unique manner as I have ever experienced.

Continue reading

New York State Of Mind

This Month Natural Selections Interviews Carl Modes, Postdoctoral Associate from the Magnasco Lab.

By Melvin White

CDMpic2

How long have you been living in the New York area? 
Three and a half years. I grew up in the Philadelphia area and have visited NYC many times over the years, so I wasn’t wholly unfamiliar with it before moving here.

Where do you currently live?
220 E. 70th Street. Three cheers for Rockefeller housing!

Which is your favorite neighborhood? Why?
The East Village, with its abundance of interesting restaurants, bars, and markets is probably my favorite neighborhood to hang out in, though I’m happy I live somewhere a bit more laid back.

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

Overrated: The hustle and bustle, which is really only noticeable in Midtown or touristy Underrated: So many great small and medium-sized parks besides Central (and Prospect) Park.

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

Probably the energy and sense of opportunity, like you could do or buy or learn or accomplish almost anything just around the corner.

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

No so much a new change as wishing for the realization of a change already underway: the completion of the 2nd Avenue subway would do so much for Rockefeller’s neck of the woods, both in terms of accessibility and vibrancy. Its existence might even improve the 6 train!

Continue reading