Midday Melodies

By Derek Simon

What makes great art? This is a question that thinkers have been pondering ever since civilization’s infancy and I dare not attempt to answer it in less than a page. Instead, I’ll posit what makes a great artist by using, in my opinion, the classical music world’s finest champion: Ludwig van Beethoven.

Of all composers, Beethoven is probably the most well-known. Haydn wrote 104 symphonies but almost none are recognizable to the casual listener. Mozart wrote 41, but the first 20 or so are completely forgettable. Beethoven wrote only nine symphonies but at least two are so famous that even people that have never listened to a piece of classical music have likely heard them: the first movement of the Fifth Symphony (duh-duh-duh-DUH) and the last movement of the Ninth, the Ode to Joy. Beyond that, numerous other pieces of his music are easily recognizable (the Turkish March, Für Elise, and the Moonlight Sonata are examples.) But why is this? Clearly, there’s something universal about Beethoven’s musical idiom, something in the sound he produces that appeals to most humans. Therefore, universality is the first characteristic that I believe defines a truly great artist.

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Ten Years of Natural Selections

By Daniel Briskin

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 19.33.28This month’s issue marks the tenth anniversary of Natural Selections; issue one was published in February of 2004. In these past ten years, much has happened, on-campus and off. For all that has happened, however, much has stayed the same, including the humor. This year we are republishing the best and most timeless pieces from the corresponding month in 2004.

Midday Melodies

By Derek Simon

A friend of mine, who despises classical music, once sniped to me that “the background of movies” is the only fit place for “that kind of music.” Ironically, she hit upon a truth about music, but not in the way that she initially intended. It is true that you often hear classical-esque music during movies but why is that? Perhaps instrumental music is a natural partner to visual storytelling? Classical music takes this interpretation to an abstract level: a story without words or pictures, a story entirely comprised of sounds.

No composer in history ever set about writing a piece of music “at random.” Beethoven didn’t just start scribbling notes to the Ninth Symphony (after all, there are thousands of them). He had ideas in his head that he wanted to express through music, or, in other words, he wanted to tell a story. And just like any other story, virtually every piece of classical music has a beginning, middle, and end. And there are also main characters and minor characters: primary themes and secondary themes. There’s depth and complexity to the characters, as depicted by harmonies and various types of melodic modulations. The plot itself is how the melodies transform, interweave, and reform throughout the piece, usually leading to some kind of climax and ending in some sort of resolution. Part of the fun is trying to decipher how these disparate elements combine to create the whole piece, the complete tale.

Or one can simply listen to and enjoy the music. Classical music, like every other genre of music, is simply sound that makes us feel after all. A universal theme of every culture is the creation and love of music. Classical music is the Western world’s historic contribution to this anthology. So sit back and analyze away or close your eyes and let the music tell its own story.

As of this writing, the Tri-I Concerts for December and January have not been finalized, but I present here what has been confirmed.

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New York State of Mind

Olof Dallner, Post-doctoral Associate in the Friedman Lab

by May Dobosiewicz


From: Stockholm, Sweden

Been in New York: 4 years

Lives in: Upper East Side

What was the first thing you did when you moved here?

Went to IKEA. I thought, this is kind of sad—first day and I go to a Swedish store. But then I took the boat back to Wall Street and walked into a film shoot with the Rock and Samuel L Jackson. I was standing in front of them and thought, no, this does not feel like Sweden anymore. This is different.

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Classic Classifieds

The classifieds are a great place to borrow, buy, sell, and make announcements. Additionally, they can be a means to infuse humor into the doldrums of campus life. In this column, with the permission of the author, we publish classifieds we have found to be espe- cially entertaining. If you think a classified is worthy of publishing, submit yours to Natural Selections by emailing nseditors at mail.rockefeller.edu.

Classifieds - Dinosaur Egg

Midday Melodies

By Derek Simon

To say that New York is a musically rich city is the equivalent of saying it is a very large city: technically true but completely missing the point. Conveniently, Rockefeller happens to be located in this cultural hub, and as such we all have the opportunity to go listen to this impressive array of world-renowned musicians. But as is so often the case, with great talent comes great ticket prices. One of the rare exceptions to this rule happens to be located in our very own Caspary Auditorium every Friday at 12pm. Continue reading

A Joan Mitchell Painting in The Rockefeller University Collection

By Bernie Langs


© Estate of Joan Mitchell

I hold the opinion that Abstract Expressionism was the last great movement in the history of painting. This school, or style, emerged in America (and centered in New York) after World War II, and its many master artists would include the likes of Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and Helen Frankenthaler. Abstract Expressionism features a bold technique and centers around emotions, sometimes those buried in the unconscious of the artist.

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WISeR (Women In Science at Rockefeller): A New Initiative

By Asma Hatoum, Mariko Kobayashi, and Alessia Deglincerti

WISeR(Logo)This summer, a small group of postdocs came together to launch a new initiative called wiser (Women In Science at Rockefeller) to begin to tackle a persistent problem: the underrepresentation of female leaders in academic and non-academic sectors of science.

While women hold 60% of all bachelor’s degrees and constitute 48% of the overall workforce, females in leadership positions, particularly in the stem (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, remain a minority. In 2009, the National Research Council released a congressionally mandated report on gender differences in science and engineering faculty at key transition points in their careers. One of the most striking findings in the report was that a gender gap is most apparent at the phd to faculty transition—women are simply not applying to tenure-track positions at research-intensive institutions. This gender gap is particularly pronounced in the biological sciences: in the 1999-2003 period, women received 45% of biology phds but represented only 26% of applicants for tenure-track faculty positions.

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Happy Halloween!

By Aileen Marshall


A jack-o’-lantern, made from a pumpkin, lit from within by a candle

Halloween is coming up at the end of this month on October 31st. It has become a very big holiday in this country, for children as well as adults, and it is growing in other countries. How did Halloween get started?

The holiday we know today is actually a combination of a pagan harvest festival and a Christian holy day to honor the dead. It actually started in Ireland in medieval times as a harvest festival called Samhain (pronounced so win). Samhain in Gaelic means “summer’s end.” It was the end of the Celtic calendar, the start of the “dark half of the year.” It coincided with the end of the growing season, with the crops dying off and days getting shorter. The ancient Celts believed it was a day the deads’ spirits could return to earth and visit their relatives or on which evil spirits possess someone. Wearing costumes was a way of fooling ghosts and demons. People would also light bonfires and carve out a turnip and put a candle in it as a means of keeping evils sprits away. There is an ancient Irish folktale of a man named Jack who tricked the devil, and trapped him in one of those carved turnips. The devil eventually got out and cursed Jack to wander the earth every Halloween carrying his lantern. Hence the term “jack o’ lantern” or Jack of the lantern. It was also common to have games of fortune telling. One game was to peel an apple so the skin came off in one piece and throw the peel over one’s shoulder. It was said the peel would form the first letter of the person he or she would marry. In England and Scotland people would go “guising,” visiting friends in costume and asking for food or coins.

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New York State of Mind

This Month Natural Selections interviews Carly Gelfond, Assistant Director of Development. Country of origin: United States.

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

I’ve been living here for seven years, since I graduated from college in central New York State. I’m originally from New Jersey.

2. Where do you live?

I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It takes me an hour to get to and from Rockefeller, but it’s worth it. I love where I am at both ends of the trip.

3. Which is your favorite neighborhood?

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Markus Library Reopens with new Study Areas and New Staff Member

By John Borghi

To walk into the Rita and Frits Markus Library today is to enter both an elegant space for members of the Rockefeller community to research and study and an establishment ready to meet the information needs of a twenty-first century research institution. After passing by the security desk in Founder’s Hall, visitors to the newly renovated library can either proceed down the stairs to the quiet study spaces and collaborative research areas located on levels A and B or up the stairs to the historic second floor reading room. In addition to the significant physical improvements, this latest renovation also marks a development in library services that reflects advancements in scientific inquiry on campus and in the broader research community.

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Football (The American Kind)

By Aileen Marshall

Have you ever wondered what your lab mates are talking about when they discuss Sunday’s football game every Monday morning? Or have you seen a game on television and tried to follow it? Have no fear, football is a very exciting and entertaining sport that can be enjoyed by all. The season just started on Labor Day weekend, so here are some “Cliff’s Notes” to help you enjoy the game.

For those who are not familiar with the game, it is played on a 100-yard-long field, with every 10 yards numbered. At each end of the field is a 10-yard-long “end zone.” The last yard line on each end of the field is called the “goal line.”  Goal posts are at the back of each end zone. Each game is divided into four 15-minute quarters, with a “halftime” period after the second quarter. Each team defends its half of the field. The object of the game is to get the oblong-shaped ball into the opponent’s end zone and score points. Continue reading

New York State of Mind

This month Natural Selections interviews Jim Keller, Grants Management Specialist in the Department of Sponsored Research & Program Development. Country of origin: United States.

1. How long have you been living in New York?

I moved here from Buffalo, NY nine days before 9/11—September 2, 2001.

2. Where do you live?

Crown Heights, Brooklyn, but I’m about to move on up to the East Side! Continue reading

The University is Getting All the Ducks in a Row to Fight Mosquitoes

by Melody Li

(Photograph courtesy of The Rockefeller University)

Although this summer in New York City has proven extremely rainy and stormy, Rockefeller University has declared drought for its fountains this year. A recent petition addressed to the University community (although the University staff did not receive the email) might shed light on the rationale behind the decision. Some parents and professors on campus, are concerned that the fountains might provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which were particularly aggressive last summer and might have spread from the Faculty Club gardens all the way to the children’s playgrounds. Quoted from the petition, “Through the end of summer children were coming back home every day covered in bites, just from being in the playgrounds, despite daily and frequent application of repellents.” In addition to the children, the Plant Operations and Security personnel were being bitten constantly as their jobs require them to work outside most of the time. Due to the fear that mosquitoes might carry West Nile virus and/or other emerging viruses, the parents’ petition urged the University to shut down the fountains for the year.

The Philosopher’s Garden fountains were designed as part of the University landscape master plan in the 1950s by the late, seminal landscape architect Dan Kiley, featured in the May 2010 Natural Selections issue (http://selections.rockefeller.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/ns-05-2010.pdf). The fountains were installed as part of that plan in 1956, to dampen the traffic noise from York Avenue and to create a beautiful visual display in the Continue reading

The Fourth of July

by Aileen Marshall

This month we celebrate the Fourth of July. But do you know what we are really celebrating? It’s not just a day of picnics and fireworks. The holiday is also known as Independence Day. It marks the day the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, signifying America’s independence from the United Kingdom.

On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution recognizing the separation of the thirteen colonies from England. Thomas Jefferson finalized the Declaration of Independence and it was signed on July 4 of that year. The Revolutionary War went on for another seven years, but we celebrate on the day the independence was declared. John Adams wrote that the day “will be the most memorable Epocha in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.  It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews [Shows], Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” Continue reading

New York State of Mind

This month Natural Selections interviews Marisa Cerio, Laboratory Administrator in the Laboratory of Chromatin Biology & Epigenetics. Country of origin: United States.

1. How long have you been living in New York?

My whole life—thirty three years!

2. Where do you live?

Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

3. Which is your favorite neighborhood?

It’s not beautiful, but based on the sheer number of great restaurants, venues, and shops, I’d probably have to say Williamsburg. The Snug Harbor/Randall Manor section of Staten Island is really gorgeous though.

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

Manhattan. It’s great and all, but if you’re living in New York without checking out the outer boroughs, you’re definitely not seeing the full picture. There is such an amazing range in diversity of people, cultures, landscapes, and lifestyles within the outer boroughs. And not just Brooklyn—The Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island have some truly wonderful neighborhoods, museums, trails, and, of course, Italian ices. Continue reading

Infographic: A World Map of Rockefeller University

by Alessia Deglincerti

Ever wondered how international RU is? Take a look at the map below, the countries colored in black are all represented among the RU population (based on country of citizenship; students and employees with an academic appointment only, it does not include guests or visitors to the campus). The table provides the count by country as of June 2013.  Thanks to Maria Lazzaro, Director of Immigration and Academic Appointments, for providing the information!

Privacy notice: only the numbers by country of citizenship were collected and no other personal information

July/August 2013

A Spin through the Past: Early Centrifuges and Microtomes in Flexner Hall’s Historic Lab

by Claire Warriner

When learning about the accomplishments of past scientists, it seems natural to focus on their moments of discovery. Less often told are the stories of the arduous processes by which those discoveries were made and the technology that made them possible. Rather than a few, once-in-a-lifetime eureka moments, science’s great legacy is built on innumerable hours spent, for example, sectioning tissue or waiting for a spin to finish.

The Rockefeller University’s Historic Lab, located on the first floor of Flexner Hall, is exhibiting several scientific instruments highlighted in Dr. Carol Moberg’s book, Entering an Unseen World: A Founding Laboratory and Origins of Modern Cell Biology 1910-1974. The exhibit, curated by Dr. Moberg and Olga Nilova, Outreach and Special Collections Librarian, brings to life the birth of modern cell biology at what was then called The Rockefeller Institute. In addition to copies of historical letters, the exhibit features scientific tools, two centrifuges, and two microtomes, all of which played key roles in the development of this nascent science. Three of these four tools were designed at Rockefeller in response to specific research needs and were the prototypes for modern centrifuges and microtomes used in laboratories around the world today. The instruments are arranged in the display in a way that tells a chronological history, beginning with research done in the wake of Peyton Rous and James B. Murphy’s split over the origins of cancer and extending to the use of the electron microscope. Continue reading

Stopping to Smell the Rhododendron

by Jessica Phippard

Stop to admire the azaleas, but don’t take a bite! (Photograph by the author)

A sense of calm overcomes me as I enter campus each morning, the street sounds fading out as the stresses of the morning commute melt away. It is the landscaping on campus that does this to me. Despite any anxieties about what the day may bring, the flowers and trees in sharp contrast to the urban environment put my mind at ease. This concept of plant life improving mood is a popular study in the field of psychology, and I believe this is true regardless of whether or not we actively revere our surroundings. Whether this is a learned association or something more deeply rooted in our evolution, it matters not; my workday is more enjoyable due to the vibrant surroundings.

Winter or summer, it is the tall centenarian London Plane trees lining the main path up from 66th Street that best stand out to me. In the warm months it is their shade which I most readily embrace, but in the cooler months when their branches are bare, I simply admire Continue reading

An RU Graduate Looks Back

by Mayla Hsu

(Photograph courtesy of Nick Acheson)

What was it like to start graduate school at RU during the Kennedy administration? I had a glimpse of the past when I spoke to Nicholas H. Acheson, RU Class of 1969, who is now an Emeritus Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University. In a wide-ranging conversation, Acheson, a tall, erudite gentleman, reminisced about student life in a pioneering scientific university, among path-breaking scientists doing research that would launch entirely new fields of inquiry and earn multiple Nobel Prizes. New York City during the social upheavals of the 1960s formed a backdrop.

Acheson, 71, was at Harvard University doing a senior year project in James Watson’s lab, when he first learned of newly discovered viruses that infect bacteria, known as bacteriophages (or “phages”). The new phages were a curiosity because they use RNA—not DNA—as their genetic material, so understanding them illuminated an entirely new form of life.  As Acheson began thinking about graduate school, RNA phages had been recently isolated from the sewers of New York City and described by Norton Zinder at RU, which prompted Acheson to become interested in RU’s graduate school. During the admissions process, he interviewed with then-President Detlev Bronk, and remembers barely getting a word in edgewise as Dr. Bronk enthused about various subjects like Greek philosophy and the graduate program.  As a driving force behind establishing the graduate school at RU, which saw its first graduating class in 1959, Bronk saw students as instrumental in shaking up the hierarchy of science and research, making it sound like a very appealing place to study. Continue reading