Why I Sent My Kids to a Jewish School


Purim at the Gratz Jewish Community High School.

— by Shelley Szwalbenest

A first grader’s major school project is a leprechaun trap, while the hallways in his school are a sea of St. Patrick green. Meanwhile, his kindergartner sibling is learning that St. Patrick cured Ireland of its snakes, their second-grade sibling is receiving only Christmas homework, and the only seventh-grade trip of their other sibling is to see A Christmas Carol, which the principal defends as part of the school’s “culture,” and the Superintendent of Schools insists is not Christian.  

All of these happened to my children in the Bucks County public school system.

We are proud to be Americans. We thrive in our multicultural society. Our challenge is raising caring, committed and connected Jews.

More after the jump.
Now my children are all teens. Their bar and bat mitzvahs have passed. All of the memorizing and necessary, though not necessarily inspiring, learning of religious school is over.

Now, their education at the Gratz Jewish Community High School provides them with the gift of discussion, arguing a point, tackling the thorny moral issues of the day, and learning how to think.

Recently, one of my children received applause from his classmates while discussing a point in The Pit and the Pendulum. He has honed this skill not in a public school, which is busy getting through the curriculum preparing for standardized tests, but through his experiences at Gratz, where spirited discussion is encouraged and nurtured.

Though youth group activities are fine, is it not better to have your children meet other Jewish kids in a learning environment, that both expands their skills and is fun?

Yes, I hope that colleges will look upon my children’s Gratz experience favorably, but that is not the reason I have sent them there.

We are Jewish parents, raising children in a world where they may experience being the only Jew in their class or camp group, or at a social event. It is our job to empower them, to make them feel good about themselves, and to give them the tools to navigate the world. For me, their Gratz experience is doing just that.  

Remember to Vote in the Primary Election

Pennsylvania’s primary election day is Tuesday, May 20, and the polls will be open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

You understand the importance of turnout if you have seen the “ground game” that candidates run in elections these days.  

The vote that is assured, including people tied to the government and other reliable votes, are “pulled” by a team working for a particular candidate. Independents, and centrists in general, are not urged to come out. And so when turnout drops too low, a lazy electorate can result in an unwanted result.

According to statistics assembled in the election project at the George Mason University, only about 40% of Pennsylvanians eligible to vote came out for the gubernatorial general election in 2010. The turnout in primaries is usually even lower; in 2012, only 20% of the electorate bothered to vote in the primary.

For a representative government to be truly representative, we all need to vote and to get others to vote.

Information on absentee ballots and the most important races after the jump.

Absentee Ballots

If you cannot be at the polls on election day, you may vote absentee ballot.

The completed application form must be received by your county’s election board by 5 p.m. on May 13; having it postmarked by May 13 does not count. In addition, only an original of your completed application can be submitted; do not submit a copy of your form.

For example, people in Montgomery County can mail their applications to: Election Board, Montgomery County Court House, P.O. Box 311, Norristown, PA 19404-0311.

To file in person or through UPS or FedEx, the address would be: Election Board, One Montgomery Plaza, Suite 602, 425 Swede Street, Norristown, PA 19401.

Completed absentee ballots must be returned to the same office by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, May 16. If the ballot is to be delivered by hand, then it may only be returned by the actual voter. And again, having a completed ballot postmarked by May 16 does not count.

People serving in the military can also vote through absentee ballot. However, different deadlines apply.

Also, certain people may qualify for emergency absentee ballots before or even after May 13.

Among the many contests, four important races to be decided have created real excitement.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is seeking a second term. Seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose him in the Fall general election are four candidates:

  • State Treasurer Rob McCord;
  • Kathleen McGinty, previously state environmental protection secretary;
  • Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz; and
  • Tom Wolfe, previously state revenue secretary.  

Also running are Paul Glover for the Green Party, and Ken Krawchuk for the Libertarian Party.

In the race to be the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 13th District, former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies is battling State Sen. Daylin Leach, State Rep. Brendan Boyle and medical professor Valerie Arkoosh.

Lining up to oppose incumbent Republican Mike Fitzpatrick in the 8th District are two Democrats: publisher Shaughnessy Naughton, and Afghanistan and Iraq war veteran Kevin Strouse.

Long-time Democratic State Senator LeAnna Washington represents the 4th District, spanning portions of Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County. Challengers in this race are nonprofit social services officer Brian Gralnick, and Cheltenham Township Commissioner Art Haywood. The race is considered competitive because the incumbent is under indictment for misuse of public funds and staff.

Other congressional races will be decided, along with local races for state legislature that add to the interest and importance of this primary.  

Immigrants From Around The World Join The IDF

— by Rebecca Modell

Thirty new newcomers to Israel from North America arrived last week at Ben Gurion Airport, and 60 others already in Israel became new citizens through Nefesh B’Nefesh, in conjunction with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA.

At the same time, at the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Tel Hashomer base in the country’s central region, 104 “lone soldiers” — those who immigrate to Israel without family and enlist — officially became IDF soldiers as part of the Friends of the IDF/Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program.

More after the jump.
Among those who became citizens was London native Josh Steele, a finalist from Israel’s “Master Chef” TV cooking competition, who was the show’s first Anglo participant. He and the other 59 new Israeli citizens made Aliyah as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Guided Aliyah program.

The 104 lone soldiers that enlisted came from more than 20 countries, including Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Ethiopia, France, Georgia, Italy, India, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan, the U.S., U.K., Ukraine and Venezuela.

Nefesh B’Nefesh’s founder and executive director, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, said, “The fulfillment of the Zionistic aspirations of these 194 Olim while Israel gears up for its 66th Independence Day highlights the integral role of Aliyah in strengthening the State of Israel.”

With 90 new olim, and 104 new young IDF Lone Soldier olim coming from over 20 countries from around the world, I couldn’t think of a better gift the State of Israel can receive for its 66th birthday.

The Guided Aliyah program allows citizens of the U.S., Canada, and the UK currently residing in Israel the opportunity to make Aliyah through Israel’s Ministry of the Interior, while receiving the full array of Nefesh B’Nefesh services. These services include assisted government processing, financial aid and post Aliyah assistance.

Not Alone – Protecting Students From Sexual Assault

by The White House Press Office

One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. Most often, it happens her freshman or sophomore year. In the great majority of cases, it’s by someone she knows – and also most often, she does not report what happened. And though fewer, men, too, are victimized.

The administration is committed to putting an end to this violence. That’s why the President established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on January 22, 2014, with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses.  
Today, the Task Force is announcing a series of actions to: (1) identify the scope of the problem on college campuses, (2) help prevent campus sexual assault, (3) help schools respond effectively when a student is assaulted, and (4) improve, and make more transparent, the federal government’s enforcement efforts. It will continue to pursue additional executive or legislative actions in the future.

These steps build on the Administration’s previous work to combat sexual assault. The Task Force formulated its recommendations after a 90-day review period during which it heard from thousands of people from across the country — via 27 online and in-person listening sessions and written comments from a wide variety of stakeholders.

Helping Schools Identify the Problem: Climate Surveys

Campus sexual assault is chronically underreported – so victim reports don’t provide a fair measure of the problem. A campus climate survey, however, can. So, today:

The Task Force will provide schools with a toolkit for developing and conducting a climate survey. This survey has evidence-based sample questions that schools can use to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, test students’ attitudes and awareness about the issue, and craft solutions. The administration will call on schools to voluntarily conduct the climate survey next year and, based on what it learns, it will further refine the survey methodology. This process will culminate in a survey for all schools to use.

The Task Force will explore legislative or administrative options to require colleges and universities to conduct an evidence-based survey in 2016. A mandate for schools to periodically conduct a climate survey will change the national dynamic: with a better picture of what’s really happening on campus, schools will be able to more effectively tackle the problem and measure the success of their efforts.  

Preventing Sexual Assault – and Bringing in the Bystander

The college years are formative for many students. If the task force implements effective prevention programs, today’s students will leave college knowing that sexual assault is simply unacceptable. And that, in itself, can create a sea change.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a systematic review of primary prevention strategies for reducing sexual violence, and is releasing an advance summary of its findings. This review summarizes some of the best available research in the area, and highlights evidence-based prevention strategies that work, some that are promising, and those that don’t work. The report points to steps colleges can take now to prevent sexual assault on their campuses.

The CDC and the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women will pilot and evaluate prevention strategies on college campuses. This work will build on the CDC’s systematic review, and will identify and fill gaps in the research on sexual violence prevention.

Getting Bystanders to Step In and Help Is a Promising Practice.  Bystander intervention programs work to change social norms, and teach everyone to speak out and intervene if someone is at risk of being assaulted. These programs are among those the CDC found most promising.

Helping Schools Respond Effectively When A Student is Sexually Assaulted: Confidentiality, Training, Better Investigations, and Community Partnerships

By law, schools that receive federal funds are obliged to protect students from sexual assault. It is the Task Force’s mission to help schools meet not only the letter, but the spirit, of that obligation. And that can mean a number of things – from giving a victim a confidential place to turn for advice and support, to providing specialized training for school officials, to effectively investigating and finding out what happened, to sanctioning the perpetrator, to doing everything it can to help a survivor recover.

Many survivors need someone to talk to in confidence. While many survivors of sexual assault are ready to press forward with a formal complaint right away, others aren’t so sure. For some, having a confidential place to go can mean the difference between getting help and staying silent. Today, the Department of Education is releasing new guidance clarifying that on-campus counselors and advocates can talk to a survivor in confidence.  This support can help victims come forward, get help, and make a formal report if they choose to.

The Task Force is providing a sample confidentiality and reporting policy. Even victims who make a formal report may still request that the information be held in confidence, and that the school not investigate or take action against the perpetrator.  Schools, however, also have an obligation to keep the larger community safe. To help them strike this balance, the Task Force is providing schools with a sample reporting and confidentiality policy, which recommends factors a school should consider in making this decision.

The Task Force is providing specialized training for school officials. School officials and first responders need to understand how sexual assault occurs, the tactics used by perpetrators, and the common reactions of victims. The Justice Department will help by developing new training programs for campus officials involved in investigating and adjudicating sexual assault cases and by launching a technical assistance project for campus officials. The Department of Education will develop training materials for campus health center staff to improve services to victims.

The Task Force will give schools guidance on how to improve their investigative and adjudicative protocols. It needs to know more about what investigative and adjudicative systems work best on campus. The Justice Department will undertake this work, and will begin evaluating different models this year with the goal of identifying the most promising practices. The Department of Education’s new guidance also urges some important improvements to the disciplinary process.

The Task Force is helping schools forge partnerships with community resources. Community partnerships are critical to getting survivors the help they need: while some schools can provide comprehensive services on campus, others may need to partner with community-based organizations. Rape crisis centers in particular can help schools better serve their students. The Task Force is releasing a sample agreement between schools and rape crisis centers, so survivors have a full network of services in place.

Improving and Making More Transparent Federal Enforcement Efforts

To better address sexual assault at our nation’s schools, the federal government needs to both strengthen its enforcement efforts and increase coordination among responsible agencies.  Importantly, it also needs to improve communication with survivors, parents, school administrators, faculty, and the public, by making its efforts more transparent.

On Tuesday, the Task Force is launching a dedicated website – www.NotAlone.gov – to make enforcement data public and to make other resources accessible to students and schools. On the website, students can learn about their rights, search enforcement data, and read about how to file a complaint. The website will also help schools and advocates: it will make available federal guidance on legal obligations, best available evidence and research, and relevant legislation. Finally, the website will have trustworthy resources from outside the federal government, such as hotline numbers and mental health services locatable by simply typing in a zip code.

The Department of Education is providing more clarity on schools’ legal obligations. The Department of Education is releasing answers to frequently asked questions about schools’ legal obligations to prevent and respond to sexual assault.  Among many other topics, the new guidance makes clear that federal law protects all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, immigration status, or whether they have a disability. It also makes clear questions about a survivor’s sexual history with anyone other than the alleged perpetrator shouldn’t be permitted during a judicial hearing, and also that a previous sexual relationship doesn’t imply consent or preclude a finding of sexual violence. And that schools should take steps to protect and assist a survivor pending an investigation.

The Departments of Justice and Education have entered into an agreement clarifying each agency’s role. Both agencies have a critical role to play in enforcing the laws that require schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault on their campuses. The agencies have entered into a formal agreement to increase coordination and strengthen enforcement.

Next Steps

The action steps highlighted in this report are the initial phase of an ongoing plan and commitment to putting an end to this violence on campuses. The Task Force will continue to work toward solutions, clarity, and better coordination. It will review the legal frameworks surrounding sexual assault for possible regulatory or statutory improvements, and seek new resources to enhance enforcement. Campus law enforcement agencies have special expertise- and they, too, should be tapped to play a more central role. And it will also consider how its recommendations apply to public elementary and secondary schools – and what more we can do to help there.

Who Will Be The Modern Marco Polo?

Legendary Italian traveller Marco Polo, one of the first westerners to visit Hangzhou back in 13th century, described it as: “The City of Heaven, the most beautiful and magnificent in the world.” One lucky recruit is poised to follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo by landing their dream job and becoming the first foreign ambassador for Chinese tourism via a global recruitment campaign.
Hangzhou in south-eastern China is the destination for the Modern Marco Polo, who will enjoy a free 15-day journey into Chinese culture and secure a $67252.00 annual salary while promoting the city internationally for a year. Today, Hangzhou is one of China’s biggest cities but retains its beautiful scenery and attractions such as West Lake – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and the Grand Canal, which is bidding to be grated the same status. The success of the Modern Marco Polo campaign led to Hangzhou being the most Googled destination in China in 2013.

Once recruited, the Modern Marco Polo will be treated to a 15-day trip to Hangzhou, including a four day tour along the Grand Canal. He or she will follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo before taking up the role of spokesperson to promote Hangzhou via social media. A shortlist of five candidates has been drawn from among nearly 26,000 worldwide entries and the Hangzhou Tourism Commission is now preparing to appoint one of them to the unique role. Mr Zhao Hongzhong, spokesperson for the Hangzhou Tourism Commission, said: “We’re looking for someone who possesses the qualities of the original Marco Polo – they should be an energetic and adventurous person who loves the challenge of the unknown. It’s vital that they enjoy exploring new things and sharing their stories from a different point of view. Zhao Hongzhong added: “The ultimate goal is to highlight Hangzhou’s many qualities as an ideal destination for tourists and a place where visitors have the chance to enjoy all that Chinese culture has to offer.”

The five shortlisted candidates are:

Brad Florescu https://www.youtube.com/watch?… (Romania) – Brad is a travel journalist who currently lives in Thailand. A travel blogger since 2006, he has received many local and international awards for blogging and photography. He is fan of storytelling and believes a good story makes a better world.

Benny Lance https://www.youtube.com/watch?… (France) – A keen cyclist, blogger and amateur video producer, Benny is originally from Eastern France and now lives in Paris. He has travelled extensively, having visited more than 30 different countries and believes the best thing about travelling is meeting new friends.

Kristie Hang https://www.youtube.com/watch?… (USA) – A TV host and social media enthusiast from Los Angeles, Kristie has travelled around China but hasn’t visited Hangzhou so far. She’s therefore keen to visit the city and is looking forward to experiencing authentic local life.

Dean Vowles https://www.youtube.com/watch?… (Australia) – Dean works for an advertising agency, specialising in social media. He is passionate about travel, adventure and exploring the folklore of a city and is looking to become a “living travel brochure” for Hangzhou.

Liam Bates https://www.youtube.com/watch?… (Switzerland) – A TV host, travel writer and university lecturer, Liam comes from a multinational background and grew up in Switzerland. Like Marco Polo, he first visited China when he was 17 years old and has had a love of Chinese Culture ever since. He speaks French, English and Mandarin.

 

Israeli-American Identity

by Sharona Durry

The estimated 30,000 Israelis in the Greater Philadelphia area are expatriates who are scattered in disparate cultural and geographical communities. PhillyIsrael has aimed for many years to coordinate and streamline these groups, connecting them through a single, central platform that welcomes everyone.

The concept of Israeli-American identity officially emerged in 2012 when the Jewish Agency understood that it has to include the Israelis in the diaspora as part of the Jewish people. The Jewish Agency operates in the spirit of its vision of “guaranteeing the future of the global Jewish people, united and committed with a strong Israel at its center,” by means of developing and devising solutions for the challenges of the younger generation in the Diaspora. The Jewish Agency plans to develop a relationship with the community of Israelis living outside Israel, with an emphasis on strengthening the Jewish-Israeli identity of young Israelis being raised abroad and their connection to Israel and their local Jewish community.
This change represented a major shift in approach. For decades, Israelis living abroad had been viewed as displaced citizens, who for the sake of Israel, must be nudged back home. As the expat community grew in wealth, influence, and numbers (exceeding one million Israelis worldwide) perceptions changed.
The new reality is focusing on the trend of viewing Israeli emigration as an asset. The Israelis in the diaspora are now embraced as “ambassadors.”
If the Israelis do not or will not continue to live in Israel, who are they? What happens to their children’s and grandchildren’s identity? How do their families deal with the “Tridentity” complex (Israeli-American-Jewish)?

Join us on May 13th, 2014 at Congregation Beth Am Israel as we mark PhillyIsrael’s 9th anniversary and Israel’s 66th Independence Day for an evening that brings the Israeli community together to discuss these issues openly.
Community members of all ages will share stories of their life experiences and more.
Our guest speaker is Tova Birnbaum, The Central Shlicha, Director of the North America Region of the World Zionist Organization. Ms. Birnbaum will lead a conversation based on a traditional and modern Jewish and Israeli text about our role as parents in shaping the next generation’s identity.
 

Landing the Right STEM Internship


Interns at Intel.

— by Karen Purcell

Internships are a great way to experience the work environment and explore different options within your discipline of study. Internships provide fantastic on-the-job training and often lead to job offers after graduation.

Many students find themselves stuck when it comes to finding and securing an internship. This is likely their first experience with applying for jobs in this type of environment, and it involves more than filling out an application and talking to a manager in charge.

Tips to find internships aligned with your career goals follow the jump.
To begin your search, you should first look to companies or organizations you are interested in working with. Go to job fairs at your school and see which firms are out there. Are any of the companies that are there recruiting from your campus ideal fits for you? Perhaps you have been reading up on successful groups in your area of specialty and you have decided that Company XYZ is the place you want to work.

However you discovered them, go first to your favored operations and see if they are offering any internship positions. Even if they are not publicly advertising them, there may be opportunities for you. Pick up the phone or visit the office in person and introduce yourself, leave a résumé, and make yourself available to them.

If you don’t have a specific internship in mind, there are many resources available to you online to help you narrow down your choices. Search online for information on available internships, application deadlines, qualifications, and more.

Talk to your professors, advisers and mentors about your search and ask them to point you in the right direction for any resources available on your campus, such as databases or aggregate lists of STEM internships.

You probably won’t be offered the first internship you apply for, so cast a wide net. You may even find that you get to pick your preferred placement if you’ve lined up plenty of options.

Once you get an interview, take time to prepare. You want to put your best foot forward. Show them that you have done your research and understand what they are about. Tell them how an experience with them aligns with your future career goals. Don’t leave it up to them to guess; make it explicit.

Bring a list of questions about the company or the position that demonstrate you understand the company’s purpose and how you might fit into the equation.

Don’t make money the primary conversation piece. If you want to make loads of money over the summer, an internship is probably not for you. Remember that you are giving a great deal of your time and energy in exchange for experience, connections, and references that will better serve you in the long run than a higher wage will serve you now.

Karen Purcell, P.E. is the founder, owner, and president of PK Electrical, an award-winning electrical engineering, design and consulting firm. She is the author of Unlocking Your Brilliance: Smart Strategies for Women to Thrive in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. She has created Stemspire, which aims to help women create meaningful futures in the STEM fields.

Scientists Fêted at 190th Annual Franklin Award Ceremony

Previous Franklin Laureates included:
• 1889, 1899, 1915: Thomas Alva Edison. For the telephone, electricity, phonograph and more inventions.
1894: Nikola Tesla. For high-frequency alternating electrical current.
1909: Marie and Pierre Curie. For the discovery of radium.
1912: Alexander Graham Bell: For the electrical transmission of articulate speech.
1914, 1933: Orville Wright. For the arts and science of aviation.
1918: Guglielmo Marconi. For the application of radio waves to communication.
1935: Albert Einstein. For work on relativity and the photo-electric effect.
1939: Edwin Hubble. For studies of extra-galactic nebulae.
• 1953: Frank Lloyd Wright. For contributions to architecture including Philadelphia’s Beth Shalom Congregation.
• 1970: Jacques Cousteau. For placing man in the sea as a free agent.
• 1981: Stephen Hawking. For contributions to the theory of general relativity and black holes.
• 1999: Noam Chomsky. For contributions to linguistics and computer science, and insight into human thought processes.
• 2003: Jane Goodall. For pioneering studies with chimpanzees.
2008: Judea Pearl (father of Daniel Pearl) for work in computers and cognitive science.


UCLA professor Judea Pearl created the first general algorithms for computing and reasoning with uncertain evidence, allowing computers to uncover associations and causal connections hidden within millions of observations.

Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute has been presenting the Benjamin Franklin Medal to leaders in science and engineering since 1824. It is the longest running science award in the United States; its history eclipses the Nobel Prize which was first awarded in 1901. This year’s distinguished laureates join the ranks of some of the most celebrated scientists and engineers in history who have come to Philadelphia to receive the Franklin Institute Award. (See sidebar on the right.)

As master of ceremonies for the fifth consecutive year, Bob Schieffer pointed out past laureates who were in attendance before the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial at the Franklin Institute. Schieffer is the moderator of CBS’s Face the Nation and has interviewed every US President since Richard Nixon. He enjoyed the chance to return to Philadelphia:

I interview people in Washington. Not much happens there anymore. [But] these [scientists]  are people who get things done…. As Franklin said: “An investment is knowledge pays the best dividends.”

Physics Award

Daniel Kleppner is one of the great Jewish minds at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He designed the precision hydrogen maser clocks which made today’s global positioning system (GPS) possible. He invented these clocks for an entirely different reason — to prove that time is slowed down by gravity as predicted by Franklin Award laureate Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Kleppner also devised techniques to create and manipulate Rydberg atoms. In recent years, Kleppner was indispensable in the creation of the long-sought Bose-Einstein condensate predicted by Einstein nearly a century ago. This is a rare and curious state of matter that is possible only at extremely low temperatures and may be instrumental to work in quantum computing.

Mechanical Engineering Award

Ali Hasan Nayfeh (VPI — Univ. Jordan) had a surprising journey to academic acclaim. He was born to illiterate parents in the Arab village of Tulkarm (טולכרם) during the British mandate of Palestine. (10 miles East of Netanya between Tel Aviv and Haifa). He quipped that if his father had listened to the local wise men he “would have been a camel driver” instead of a leading mechanical engineer. However, his mother encouraged him to study in the United States saying “Go ahead, but do not come back without earning the highest degrees.” He started at San Mateo Community College but followed his mother’s advice, earning his BS, MS and Ph.D. from Stanford University in four and a half years. He returned to the Middle East and founded the engineering school at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan.

In a broad sense, Nayfeh’s specialty is about finding some kind of order and predictability in seeming chaos, whether in the form of vibrations and sounds occurring in jet and rocket engines, the movement of water around ships, or the oscillations of huge structures such as cranes and skyscrapers. Unless well modeled, dangerous consequences may result: A bridge may collapse; a ship may break apart; a building may fall; a plane may crash. Nayfeh’s developed new analytic methods  using multiple time scales in perturbation analysis for the solution of the nonlinear differential equations at the heart of these phenomena.

More biographies and videos follow the jump.
Life Science Award

Joachim Frank was born during World War II in Siegen, Germany. He has vivid memories of staying in bomb shelters during allied bombing raids and wonders whether the uncertainty of war creating a need for order in his mind which led to his scientific investigations. According to Karpas Mossman:

As an 8-year-old boy, Frank was fascinated by science and conducted chemistry experiments under the veranda of his family’s house. Frank, like many scientists of a certain age, entered physics through the portal of amateur AM radio. “When I was 12 or 13,” he recalls, “I bought the first stuff for building radios-very small devices. Later I took old radios apart and reassembled them.”

Frank studied earned his Ph.D. in 1970 under the direction of Walter Hoppe, an X-ray crystallographer, in Munich at the Max Planck Institute für Eiweissund Lederforschung.

One of the professors on the examining board, impressed, nominated him for the prestigious Harkness fellowship. Under the terms of the Harkness, Frank was funded for two years’ work in the United States at any laboratory that would have him, plus a generous stipend for traveling. On arrival in the United States, Frank headed for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. The JPL might seem to be an odd destination for a specialist in microscopy, but “at the time,” Frank says, “they were the leading people in the world in image processing.” He was able to adopt the JPL software, to which he made his own electron-microscope-specific improvements.

The Franklin Institute’s award committee cited

Joachim Frank for the development of Cryo-Electron Microscopy [and] for using this technology to investigate the structure of large organic molecules at high resolution, and for discoveries regarding the mechanism of protein synthesis in cells.

Much of biology comes down to studying the smaller pieces of the larger whole: the structure and workings of DNA, RNA, the synthesis and folding of the proteins through which all life’s workings are accomplished. But these intricate processes occur at a level of existence that requires sophisticated techniques to capture, study, and ultimately understand. Joachim Frank has dedicated his career to extending the vision of science to previously unseen layers and depths.

Ever since its invention, electron microscopy (EM) has been one of science’s most powerful tools. Using a beam of electrons to probe matter at infinitesimal scales impossible with light microscopy, it has revolutionized the study of both the living and non-living universe. But it has its limitations, particularly in biology, where the radiation and hard vacuum needed for EM are anathema to living cells. Examining biological samples with EM generally means working with dead cells with a somewhat distorted structure unlike those in their native state. While dead cells are useful, their study doesn’t allow in vivo visualization of living processes. Using the techniques of cryo-electron microscopy and single-particle reconstruction, Frank has overcome these difficulties and accomplished unprecedented feats of structural biology, including some of the most detailed images yet seen of the ribosome and its workings.

The ribosome, the complex molecular machine that translates messenger RNA into functional proteins, has been a central touchstone for most of Frank’s work, both as a testing ground for the development of his microscopy and single-particle imaging techniques and as an object of study in its own right. Because the ribosome lacks the convenient crystallographic symmetry of other biological macro-molecules, it has proven notoriously difficult to fully visualize at high resolution. However, Frank made major strides in overcoming that problem. Devising techniques by which 2-D images from various angles (i.e., “single particles”) could be combined and averaged to create 3-D images, Frank the first three-dimensional images of the ribosome. He went on to develop the SPIDER software suite for the single-particle reconstruction of molecular structures, now used by researchers worldwide. In cryo-electron microscopy, a sample is examined after being frozen in vitreous (uncrystallized) ice, allowing biological macromolecules to be examined in their natural state without staining or other artifacts that can obscure structural detail. Frank used his image processing techniques in conjunction with cryo-EM to visualize the ribosome in action, showing protein synthesis as it happens. Perhaps his most notable achievement along these lines has been his discovery of the “ratcheting” motion that moves tRNA and mRNA through different parts of the ribosome during translocation.

Joachim Frank is a professor of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University in New York City. His lab is located at Columbia University Medical Center. He is married to Carol Saginaw, a Jewish woman from Michigan.

While I was speaking to him at the Franklin Institute, a guest came by to show him a necklace that she was wearing. The pendant on the necklace was a 3-d model of the ribosome structure which Frank had discovered from thousands of images. Indeed, Frank spoke in the institute’s video of the beauty in nature that can only be appreciated through science. Driving through the forest shortly after his discovery of the “ratcheting” motion of the two components of the ribosome he thought to himself how many trees there were, each with thousands of leaves, each with millions of cells, each with thousands of ribosomes constantly dancing in this “ratcheting” motion as they build new proteins and he felt privileged to have made the discovery which allowed him to be able to appreciate these processes which go on around us and inside us all the time.

Chemistry Award

Harvard Professor Christopher T. Walsh revolutionized “the development of antibiotics for the treatment of disease and provided the foundation for the new field of Chemical Biology.”

Earth and Environmental Science Award

Lisa Tauxe (Scripps, University of California San Deigo) developed “observational techniques and theoretical models providing an improved understanding of the behavior of, and variations in intensity of, the Earth’s magnetic field through geologic time.”


Electrical Engineering Award

Until recently magnetic media stored information “longitudinally” as magnetic signals arranged end-to-end on magnetic disks or tapes. However, technology had already approached the theoretical density limit as nearby magnetic dipoles naturally repel each other making further miniaturization impossible without a new paradigm. Instead, Shunichi Iwaski (Tohoku) and Mark Kryder (Carnegie Mellon) arranged the magnetic signals side-by-side, that is perpendicular to the magnetic media, boosting capacity by orders of magnitude. Seagate commercialized the first PRM hard drive in 2006 and now “virtually all hard disk drives operate with PRM principles”.


Bower Science Awards

Additionally since 1990, the Franklin Institute has bestowed the Bower Science Awards made possible by a bequest by the late Philadelphia chemical manufacturer Henry Bower. The Bower Award for Achievement in Science includes a $250,000 prize, one of the most significant scientific prizes in the U.S.

Edmund M. Clark (Harvard) led in “the conception and development of techniques for automatically verifying the correctness of a broad array of computer systems, including those found in transportation, communications, and medicine.”

William H. George (Carnegie Mellon) was honored for “his visionary leadership of Medtronic Corporation, his promotion and writings on corporate social responsibility and leadership, as well as his extraordinary philanthropic contributions to education and health care through The George Family Foundation.”

PA-13 Congressional Candidates Call for Higher Minimum Wages

Two candidates for Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district, Dr. Val Arkoosh and State Senator Daylin Leach, called for higher minimum wages at the March for Minimum Wage in Philadelphia last Friday.

Arkoosh said, “Low-wage workers are the backbone of this city, this state and this country. They need a raise so they can earn a paycheck that provides for them and for their families.”

Leach said, “The average CEO now makes 500 times more than their average worker. The economic policies give every cent to the top 1%.”

More after the jump.
Arkoosh added, “Low-wage earners need paid sick leave — because no one’s job should be jeopardized when a family member becomes sick. Moms need safe, affordable and quality child care.”

The event began with a teach-in at Rittenhouse Square where Camp Galil and Habonim Dror held an interfaith forum on minimum wage. Meanwhile, Josh Yarden spoke about the biblical and American Revolutionary roots of a “living wage,” Drew Geilebter advocated non-violent actions as a means of social change, and other groups spoke about minimum wage as a women’s issue and the economics of a $15 minimum wage.

The event’s participants marched to Independence Hall from Rittenhouse Square between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. The Jewish Labor Committee were among the event’s organizers advocating “for higher livable wages, preferably to a $15 minimum.”

Distracted Driving: Where do you draw the line?

— by Peter Dissinger

It is no stretch to say that distracted driving is an epidemic in today’s world. Whether texting, fiddling with the radio, calling a friend, or even using the GPS, there are so many easy ways for any driver to become distracted in an instant. This is especially true for teens, including myself. Maybe it’s a notification from our incredibly useful smart phones or even an inclination to be reckless, but research shows that teenagers are especially at risk for these types of behaviors. It may seem shocking to some adults, but from my perspective, this is not radical data; it is the real experience of so many teenagers (and probably adults as well).

The video Distracted Driving: Where do you draw the line? was created for the “Put the Brakes on Distract Driving” campaign of the Coalition for Youth of Lower Merion and Narberth.