Princeton Undergraduates vote down hummus alternatives

With a vote count of 1014 to 699, the Princeton undergraduate student body voted down a referendum asking for the University to provide alternatives to Sabra hummus on campus shelves, Undergraduate Student Government President Mike Yaroshefsky ’12 said in an email this afternoon.

The referendum, introduced last week by the Princeton Committee on Palestine, had faced some stumbling blocks between the initial petition and the official referendum. They sought the referendum due to allegations that the Strauss Group, co-owners of Sabra Hummus, were providing aid to an Israeli defense force that has allegedly committed human rights violations.

This story is developing, so we’ll let you know more as soon as we can.

Dipping in controversy: A look at Princeton’s hummus debate

The troublemakers in the flesh. (image source:

The troublemakers in the flesh. (image source:

It all started with a chickpea.

Harmless, you say? Not so, the Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP) retorts.

And the battle begins. If you haven’t heard about The Great Chickpea Debate that has consumed campus for the past week or so, read on. You might be confused as to what’s really being debated, what you’ll be voting on, or just what this means for your taste buds.

So let’s take a step back and look at what’s actually brought us here.

Round 1: The controversy begins with PCP’s concerns about the Strauss group, partial owner of Sabra, the company that manufactures all the hummus sold on campus. In a petition to ban Sabra hummus, PCP President Yoel Bitran ’11 writes,

Sabra is partially owned by the Strauss group, which is an Israeli company that has a history of supporting the Golani Brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces. The Golani brigade is known as a particularly reckless one and has been accused by human rights organizations of numerous human rights violations…The Princeton Committee on Palestine objects to the fact that Sabra is the only hummus brand that is offered in most university stores, and that students who wish to eat this traditional Arab food are forced to buy a product that is connected to human rights abuses against Arab civilians.

PCP creates this “Boycott Sabra Hummus” event on November 14 and things start to heat up.

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Bomb threat leads to evacuation of Palmer Square

Police evacuated Palmer Square this morning in response to a phoned-in bomb threat targeting new residential housing being built in the square, the Star-Ledger reports. David Newton, manager of Palmer Square, said residents and business evacuated around 8 a.m.

The Star-Ledger adds that police and canine units are on the scene and a bomb squad is on its way.

We’ll update this post as we find out more about the ongoing situation.

We Are Perfecter Than You Think

Bearded genius

"... his impish, abstractedly cerebral face and full, free-wheeling beard giving him something of a jolly professor manner."

Biophysics seems like a feel-good field … it’s always telling us how well-made we are. A recent piece in the Times Science section served up a crash course on that discipline, alluding to the work of William Bialek, who is a professor of physics, an architect of the Integrated Science curriculum, and apparently the happy owner of an “impish, abstractedly cerebral face and full, free-wheeling beard.”

In the article, Bialek explains why the photoreceptors in our eyes are so ideally constructed: they are designed to respond to even single photons, which are the smallest discrete units of light. “Light is quantized, and you can’t count half a photon,” he says. “This is as far as it goes.” So, at the risk of inane analogy, it’s kind of like a perfect gumball machine that would accept even pennies, accommodating the smallest extreme of currency.

That’s the basic idea behind optimization. Evolution has made some biological systems really, really, unsurpassably good at what they do, as good as the laws of physics will allow. According to the article, biophysicists have spotted such systems throughout the living world — in bacteria, in fruit fly embryos, in sharks, in us. Also,”tenets of optimization may even help explain phenomena on a larger scale, like the rubberiness of our reflexes and the basic architecture of our brain.” (Personally, I would be interested in the basic architecture of Bialek’s beard — build some sophisticated mathematical models for that puppy. You’re welcome, Biophysics Student Still Looking For A Thesis.)

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Let’s Kill Those Cancer Cells!

Spreading cancer. Courtesy of

Spreading cancer. Courtesy of

Enter any molecular biology department and you’re bound to find someone working on cancer. Various treatments exist and many cancers are no longer considered fatal, but there are still plenty of questions.

There’s one less question as of last Tuesday (well, ignoring the fact that this answer brings lots of new questions with it).  A new discovery by Princeton molecular biologists and chemists may pave the way for revolutionary new cancer treatments.

So what did they figure out? Quiescent or dormant cells have long been considered inactive. But according to the team’s paper, published in the latest edition of the journal PloS Biology, this isn’t actually true.

The team focused on fibroblasts, structural cells that connect cells and help heal wounds. Among other activities, they found that quiescent fibroblasts use the pentose phosphate pathway, which is necessary for creating DNA and RNA.

“The thing that’s really exciting is that if you inhibit the pentose phosphate pathway in quiescent cells, they die. And this is a big deal because they’re like little supermen,” MOL professor and coauthor Hilary Coller told

Why does this matter? Cancer uses quiescent cells. Details after the jump.

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Aging like worms

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A hotbed of research exists around aging in the world of molecular biology. Researchers focusing on cancer, fertility and general mortality look at everything from individual cells to sea urchins, trying to understand how aging works. Princeton MOL professor Colleen Murphy is no exception.

In an article published yesterday in Cell, Murphy and colleagues found aging and fertility connections between the worm C. elegans and humans. That’s right: women age like worms.

Well, to be more specific, reproductive aging occurs far before other aging in both female humans and C. elegans. And in both species, this decrease in fertility is due to a decrease in the quality, not quantity, of their eggs.

Murphy found that the protein TGF-beta (transforming growth factor beta), which is also found in humans, causes eggs to degrade in C. elegans.

For those female students planning to have both a career and families, this may be good news. Murphy foresees further research on C. elegans leading to fertility treatments:

“The dream would be that you could give a woman in her early 30s a supplement or a drug to keep her oocytes healthy as long as possible,” she said. “We have treatments now that extend life span, but nothing extends our reproductive span,” she told the New York Times.

However, don’t get too excited yet. Murphy also looked at mutant worms with low TGF-beta levels. Reproduction in these worms did continue into old age, but there was an unforeseen consequence — death. Worms were still reproducing at 13 days — which is old for an organism that lives 2-3 weeks — but their bodies were no longer healthy enough to lay the fertilized eggs.

“It’s like an 80-year-old woman trying to have a baby,” Murphy said in a press release.

Princeton second-best at investing in Ivy League

If Goldman Sachs released tables of the best Ivy League universities at making money, Princeton would come second. (This is based on absolutely no analysis of the following figures.)

PRINCO, the Princeton University Investment Co., announced annual returns of 14.7 percent for the fiscal year of 2010 today. After last year’s return of -23.5 percent and this year’s big turnaround, Princeton’s endowment currently stands at $14.4 billion. Annualized returns for the past decade amount to 7.9 percent.

Yeah, cool, a nice chunk of change, whatever. But what bugs me is that Columbia posted returns of 17.3 percent (albeit on a $6.5 billion sum). At least we beat Harvard (11.4 percent increase to $27.4 billion) and Yale (8.9 percent increase to $16.7 billion).

Does that mean we can start getting more free stuff/study breaks/Lawnparties?

Sexy health Princeton style

Apparently our campus has become a lot more sexually healthy over the past year. The Trojan Sexual Health Report Card, created by Trojan® condoms, Sperling’s BestPlaces and Rock the Vote, is an annual ranking of sexual health at American colleges and universities. Last year Princeton ranked 61st. This year we rocketed up to 8th.

So what makes a school sexually healthy? A recent Prince column suggested that there is sexual harassment on the Street. And fellow New Jersey school Rutgers is ranked as the 9th most sexually healthy university — but a gay Rutgers student recently committed suicide after his roommate streamed a video of him having sex. It appears that sexual harassment and homophobia are not considered in the rankings.  What is?

Sperling’s BestPlaces assigned each college or university a GPA based on scoring from 12 categories. See the categories after the jump:

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And the Nobel Prize goes to…

[caption id="attachment_7308" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="See? Doesn't he just look like a literary titan?"]See? Doesn't he just look like a literary titan?[/caption]

Sorry, Spencer…you put your money on the wrong Princetonian.

This year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for literature is Peruvian-born author Mario Vargas Llosa, who is currently serving as the 2010 Distinguished Visitor in Princeton’s Program in Latin American Studies.

According to, Vargas Llosa’s selection was based on “his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.”

A talented journalist and critic as well as author, Vargas Llosa’s more famous works include “The Green House” (1968), “Conversation in the Cathedral,” (1969) and “The Feast of the Goat” (2000).

His better-known exploits include running for the Peruvian presidency, being made a member of the Spanish Royal Academy, and punching Gabriel Garcia-Marquez in the face.

Click here for an interview with Vargas Llosa immediately following the news of his win.

Or, alternatively, click here for a New York Times article on the subject and, as an added bonus, another really intense headshot.

Princeton’s F. Scott Fitzgerald Takes the Stage

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Attention, all Princeton literature geeks! Our favorite literary Tiger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, is getting some serious time in the limelight lately, as two separate New York Times articles over the past two days can attest.  The occasion?  The Public Theater in Manhattan just opened a new, eight-hour dramatic reading of The Great Gatsby, called Gatz, and it’s taking the New York theater world by storm. NYTimes theater critic Ben Brantley called the piece “one of the most exciting and improbable accomplishments in theater in recent years,” and tickets are selling like hot cakes.  Today’s NYTimes article talks about Gatz as a theatrical phenomenon; yesterday’s piece focused on how to take a modern-day tour of Gatsby’s Long Island, including the house where Fitzgerald wrote the novel in the Twenties.

Fitzgerald, who entered Princeton in the Class of 1917, enlisted in WWI before graduating, but not before immortalizing his years here in his semi-autobiographical first novel, This Side of Paradise. In it, he famously sketched out flapper-era Princeton in all its misogynistic glory, giving us gems like this:

“I want to go to Princeton,” said Amory. “I don’t know why, but I think of all Harvard men as sissies, like I used to be, and all Yale men as wearing big blue sweaters and smoking pipes.”

Many of  Fitzgerald’s original papers, including skits he wrote for Triangle while he was here, can be found in Princeton’s Firestone archives.  They’re right alongside those of other literary great J.D. Salinger.

Whitman calls someone “Dracula” in first gubernatorial debate

With a little over a month until election day in California, former CEO and President of eBay Meg Whitman ’78 and Democratic nominee Jerry Brown met to swap insults at the first gubernatorial debate. The showdown was held at the University of California at Davis and was the first of three scheduled in the race to succeed Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The NBC KCRA-TV channel in Sacramento, a sponsor of the debate, is calling Brown the winner, with polls showing a 57%-43% preference for the former governor and current California Attorney General.


Well, regardless of whether she actually could win or not, Whitman still threw some punches. Her most memorable zinger? Apparently, putting Brown in charge of the state’s economy when it is in such a wreck would be like “putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank.”

Which is… pretty hilarious. (No offense to Brown or anybody but, really? Dracula? That’s a keeper.)

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Recycling … CO2?

CO2_zoom_RTR1QBSNIs it possible? Could we actually make a carbon neutral fuel from carbon? For the past decade or so, scientists have been working on technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and store the gas underground in order to avoid climate change. But what if we took that captured carbon dioxide and turned it back into a fuel?

Assuming solar energy was used for the conversion, we would have a green energy source with no carbon footprint. And not only would we be reducing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but we would also be reducing our dependence on oil. This is precisely what chemistry professor Andrew Bocarsly has been working on since 2003.

Building on 1990s research from then-Princeton graduate student Lin Chao, Bocarsly and Emily Barton GS have discovered a way to convert carbon dioxide into fuel using solar energy.

“We take CO2, water, sunlight and an appropriate catalyst and generate an alcoholic fuel,” Bocarsly explained to Scientific American.

And voila — an easily transportable alternative fuel that does not require a whole new infrastructure.

If it sounds too good to be true, there is one catch: we don’t yet have the technology to produce such a fuel in massive quantities at a low price. But Liquid Light is a startup dedicated to creating that technology. Perhaps by the time you graduate you’ll be pumping your car full of recycled gasoline.

Watch how it works after the jump.

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