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.”

Savor The Exodus: Roasted Lamb From The Sinai Desert

— by Ronit Treatman

The Egyptian Jewish Community has a tradition of serving roasted meat during the Passover Seder.  This is their way of remembering what the Ancient Israelites ate during their wanderings in the Sinai desert after leaving Egypt.  This year, you can emulate the Egyptian Jews and bring this experience to your table by preparing roasted lamb flavored with desert spices.

How can we know what the Ancient Israelites ate in the desert?  The Bedouin have preserved those timeless traditions.  The oases of the Sinai yield edible delicacies such as olives, dates, coffee berries, grapes, wild rosemary, almonds, watermelons, and sugar cane.  From the Bedouin, we learn how to build an earth oven by digging a hole in the ground.

More after the jump.
This type of oven is called a Zaarp.  Pieces of wood, plant roots, or dry camel dung are burned in the hole for a couple of hours until they turn into hot coals.  A freshly slaughtered lamb is placed in a jidda, or large copper pot.  It is seasoned with salt and wild thyme.  The pot is sealed tightly with its lid, and placed in the hole on top of the embers.  A goat’s hair blanket is spread over the zaarp.  A large mound of sand is piled over the blanket to seal the oven.  The lamb is left to cook in this subterranean oven for several hours.  View the clip below to see how the Bedouin open the zaarp, and bring out the roasted lamb.


The celebratory lamb dish prepared by the Bedouin is called Mansaf.  It is made with meat, yogurt, and rice.  “Mansaf” means “explosion, ” as in, “an explosion of food. ”  This lamb is seasoned with a special spice mixture called baharat (Arabic for “spices”).  You may purchase baharat from http://www.amazon.com/Baharat-…  Alternatively, you can mix your own baharat for this recipe.

Baharat
Adapted from Clifford A. Wright

  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons ground allspice

In order to respect the laws of kashrut, I am solely providing the roasted meat portion of the Mansaf recipe to prepare for the Seder.

Mansaf: Bedouin Roasted Lamb
Adapted from Fati’s Recipes

  • 1 (2 lbs.) lamb shoulder
  • 1 tablespoon baharat
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 1 head of garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Mix the baharat and salt in a bowl.  Rub the lamb with this spice mix.  Make a few incisions in the lamb, and stick the cloves of garlic into them.  Place the lamb in a roasting pan.  Scatter the sprigs of rosemary over it and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Place in the oven.  Lower the heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Cook the lamb for 4 hours.  

Just before serving, heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a pan.  Sauté the almonds and pine nuts until they turn golden-brown.

Serve the lamb on a platter with almonds and pine nuts sprinkled over it.

To eat like an Ancient Israelite in the Sinai, savor the Bedouin roasted lamb with matza.  When you remove the foil, your home will be filled with the delicious aroma of slow-cooked lamb.  After cooking for so long, the Mansaf will be very tender.  The meat will be infused with the flavor of the baharat, rosemary, and garlic.  The almonds and pine nuts will add a delightful crunch to every bite.  When you taste the Mansaf paired with matza, you will almost be able to hear the music of the desert flutes and drums, and the stories told around the fire. As you enjoy the company of your family and friends this Passover, remember the Bedouin proverb:

“He who shares my bread and salt is not my enemy.”

Theater Chat: Travelling Light

— by Hannah Lee

If you’ve ever wanted a theater vacation in London, as I have, you may find consolation in the telecast offerings at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.  Yesterday, I watched a broadcast of a current production, Travelling Light, now playing at the National Theatre on the South Bank of London.  The show was followed by a talkback with the playwright Nicholas Wright, the director Nicholas Hytner, and the film critic Jason Solomons.

More after the jump.
In an Academy Award season dominated by films that honor cinema’s glorious past such as Martin Scorcese’s Hugo (winning five technical awards) and Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist (winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Score, and Best Costume Design), Travelling Light may seem redundant, but Nicholas Hytner said that themes come in cycles, and neither he nor Nicholas Wright knew that his colleagues were working on Hugo and The Artist.  The novelty is that Travelling Light imagines the backstory for a Hollywood mogul, named Maurice Montgomery, who’d shed his Jewish upbringing as Motl Mendl of the shtetl.  Film critic Jason Solomons noted that the real Hollywood titans- Samuel Goldwyn (born Schmuel Gelbfisz) and Louis B. Mayer (born Lazar Meir) – were born within a 100 miles of Vilnius, Lithuania.  [Other Jews influential in early cinema were Cecil B. de Mille, Jack Warner, and David O. Selznick.  More information could be obtained in Neil Gabler’s 1989 book, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood.]  The marvel was that the non-Jewish playwright was able to capture the tone and atmosphere of a mythical Jewish village in 1900, but Wright declared himself “an assimilated Gentile.”  (The one tone-deaf touch was when a character touched the side of the doorpost and missed where a real mezuzah would be placed.)

The narrator of Travelling Light looks back on his youth when he inherited a motion-picture camera from his father (from whom he’s been estranged for 7 years) and learned to make silent movies, bankrolled by the ebullient and illiterate timber merchant, Jacob Bintel, and assisted by the non-Jewish Anna, who also served as his muse and creative collaborator.  The silent footage of the novice director was projected overhead to the theater audience and wrung more emotion than did his fellow actors.  There was a dissonant clash between the genteel citified accents of the young Motl and the heavily accented English of his elder self, Maurice.  (My companion Aviva suggested that it was meant to convey the fluidity of his native tongue and the awkwardness of a new language.)   Finally, it was disturbing that the highly regarded actor, Antony Sher (awarded Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) for “services to theatre” in 2000), played the role of Jacob Bintel so broadly and with such atrocious diction that a member of the telecast audience asked if he was channeling the fictional character Borat as  created by Sacha Baron Cohen.  He could have been warming up to play Tevye of Fiddler on the Roof, although there was a young fiddler in the play, who could have been a young Jascha Heifetz (born in Vilnius in 1901), according to the narrator.

The availability of telecasts is great for theater buffs who cannot be there in person, but it is hampered by intrusion of the camera, which zooms in on actors who’ve train to perform for a larger audience.  Also, it limits the panoramic scope of the viewer who might wish to look at someone other than the subject of the camera’s focus.  I’ve attended live broadcasts of concerts, such as those of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, and that experience was absolutely enhanced by the camera’s ability to follow the conductor on-stage and back-stage.

Travelling Light will be broadcast again this Sunday at 1 pm.  The Bryn Mawr Film Institute is located at 824 W. Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr; its box office phone number is 610-527-9898.  

Separate Fact from Fiction of Obama’s Israel Record


— by Jason Attermann

Pro-Israel activist Steve Sheffey wrote an opinion piece for The Jerusalem Post warning about the false smears likely to be spread by right-wingers against President Barack Obama’s strong pro-Israel record as the presidential campaign heats up.

The campaign to delegitimize President Obama in the eyes of pro-Israel voters will only intensify between now and November 6….

Opponents of territorial compromise and Americans who use concern for Israel to mask concern about paying their fair share of taxes compose most of the 20-25 percent of Jews who vote Republican. But that’s not enough to win an election; hence their efforts to distort President Obama’s record on Israel. Most Jews support the Democratic domestic agenda, so if there is no reason to oppose the president based on Israel, there is no reason to oppose him at all.

Obama has called for the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad, ordered the successful assassination of Osama bin-Laden, done more than any other president to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear program, restored Israel’s qualitative military edge after years of erosion under the previous administration, increased security assistance to Israel to record levels, boycotted Durban II and Durban III, taken US Israel military and intelligence cooperation to unprecedented levels, cast his only veto in the UN against the one-sided anti-Israel Security Council resolution, opposed the Goldstone Report, stood with Israel against the Gaza flotilla, and is mounting a diplomatic crusade against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

More after the jump.
According to Sheffey, Obama’s detractors will attempt to delegitimize his extensive commitment to Israel’s security through the techniques of “repetition of falsehoods,” “baseless speculation,” and “guilt by association”-all of which have been engaged in before. Sheffey simplifies the situation as merely one of separating the facts of Obama’s actions from the fiction perpetuated by his opponents:

President Obama has surrounded himself with pro-Israel advisers, from Hillary Clinton to Dan Shapiro to Joe Biden to Rahm Emanuel. Yet we still hear about alleged influences from Obama’s past. Obama has been president for nearly three years. Evaluate President Obama the way the pro- Israel community has always evaluated our leaders and representatives: by looking at what they’ve done, not by trying to read their minds or via conjectures about influences that are impossible to prove or disprove.

If unprecedented military cooperation between the US and Israel, unambiguous opposition to a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, and unrelenting defense of Israel in international forums is what happens when someone knows Jeremiah Wright, we ought to send all our candidates to his church. President Obama’s record proves that he is one of the best friends of Israel ever to occupy the White House. The only question is whether attempts to manipulate the emotions of pro-Israel voters by distorting the president’s record will succeed. The answer depends on our ability to separate fact from fiction.