Cancer connection

Combining therapeutics with dietarychanges could prove effective against some forms of cancer. Continue Reading →

Climate in crisis

Advances in reclaiming carbon from wastewater, lithium-ion-battery recycling, innovative building materials and new approaches to urban infrastructures are active areas of research at Princeton. Continue Reading →

A NOBEL YEAR – Princeton scholars and alumni received an unprecedented five Nobel Prizes

Nobel medal
David MacMillan

NOBEL PRIZE IN CHEMISTRY

‘This idea took off’

By Liz Fuller-Wright

David MacMillan, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry, received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his role in inventing the field of organocatalysis, which finds revolutionary ways to design and build small organic molecules to drive chemical reactions.

Organocatalysts, which are greener than traditional metal catalysts, are used to construct new drugs and materials, and their impact ranges from industrial applications to pharmaceuticals to everyday products like clothing, shampoo, carpet fibers and more.

“All scientists have so many ideas along the way,” MacMillan said. “We have way more ideas than ever succeed — but this one took off, and it took off like gangbusters.”

Princeton University senior meteorologist Syukuro “Suki” Manabe

NOBEL PRIZE IN PHYSICS

‘Following my curiosity’

By Liz Fuller-Wright

Princeton University senior meteorologist Syukuro “Suki” Manabe received the Nobel Prize in physics for his climate science research, which laid the foundation for the development of current climate models.

Manabe has been on the Princeton faculty since 1968. During a press conference on the day of the announcement, Manabe repeatedly cited the “great fun” to be had in modeling Earth’s climate and urged students to follow their curiosity and their joy, rather than trying to predict what research may prove impactful in future decades. “I never imagined that this thing I was beginning to study [would have] such huge consequences,” he said. “I was doing it just because of my curiosity.”

Maria Ressa, Joshua Angrist and David Card

NOBEL PRIZES FOR PEACE, ECONOMICS

Safeguarding freedom, insights on the labor market

By Denise Valenti

The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Princeton graduate Maria Ressa of the Class of 1986 for her efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” Ressa has been a journalist in Asia for more than 30 years, serving as CNN’s bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta and founding the online news site Rappler.com.

Princeton alumni David Card and Joshua Angrist were awarded the 2021 Nobel Memorial Prize in economic sciences for providing new insights about the labor market. Card (Ph.D. ’83) taught at Princeton from 1983-96 and is now at the University of California-Berkeley. Angrist (Ph.D. ’89) is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Public-private partnerships propel fusion research

The quest to develop a safe, clean and virtually limitless source of energy for the future has brought the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) into partnership with private companies. PPPL has teamed with five technology companies in the United States, Canada and Great Britain to unlock the potential of fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars, to meet humanity’s ever-growing electricity needs. Continue Reading →

Princeton pivots toward COVID-19

People walking with masks on

By Catherine Zandonella

Within days of shutting down their laboratories in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Princeton researchers were asking how they could help.

“Many members of the Princeton faculty reached out with requests for opportunities to use their knowledge, ideas and skills to assist in combating the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science and a professor of chemical and biological engineering.

In response, the University created a fund of over half a million dollars to support research on COVID-19. The projects, which are still ongoing, range from vaccines and treatments to policy, social and economic topics.

The manual of physical distancing

In the early months of 2020, professors of architecture Paul Lewis and Guy Nordenson realized that the COVID-19 pandemic would make a significant and long-lived impact on cities. New strategies would be needed to rework the design of cities during peak infection and after restrictions are eased.

“The city’s density, historically its greatest asset, is now perceived to be at odds with the realities of the pandemic, and is now a crippling vulnerability,” Lewis said.

Lewis and Nordenson teamed with David Lewis of the Parsons School of Design, Marc Tsurumaki of Columbia University, and a team of architects and designers to create the Manual of Physical Distancing, an online visual tour of how the virus affects the areas where we live, learn, play and work. The manual distills information from universities, institutes and governments into easily understandable graphical explanations.

“We sought to negotiate the incompatibility between the functional density of urban spaces and the protection of health,” Nordenson said.

Domestic violence and the pandemic

As unemployment rose and large numbers of people began working from home, Maria Micaela Sviatschi, assistant professor of economics and public affairs in Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs, recognized the potential for an increase in domestic violence. Roughly 12 million people in America report experiencing domestic violence annually and 35% of the worldwide population has reported at least one incident.

Sviatschi and collaborators quickly assembled a survey of 8,000 women to assess their attitudes and access to information about domestic partner violence, including interventions such as hotlines and counseling. The research team included economist Sofia Amaral of the ifo Institute at the University of Munich, as well as graduate student Lindsey Buck and Associate Professor of Economics Nishith Prakash of the University of Connecticut.

Although the study is not yet complete, some women reported abusive behaviors such as having their phone constantly checked, being isolated from their friends and family, and being told what they can or cannot wear. A small number of women reported physical abuse, and a high proportion of the women reported self-blaming.

COVID-19’s economic impact

To study the effect of business shutdowns and government stimulus on consumer behavior, assistant professors of economics Natalie Cox and Arlene Wong, with coauthors at the University of Chicago, examined credit card and bank account data from millions of customers. They found that household spending plunged similarly across all income levels in March and April, and that government payments appear to have benefited low-income households, which despite job losses, showed faster rebounds in spending than higher-income households.

The uniform spending cuts across all income levels suggest that the economic shutdown, rather than job losses, were likely the primary driver of spending declines.

“Overall declines in spending were much larger than what could be explained by the rise in unemployment,” the authors wrote in a paper published in the summer 2020 special edition of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.

The team also concluded that stimulus programs likely played a sizable role in helping to stabilize spending and savings, especially for low-income households.

Therapeutics and vaccines

To make SARS-CoV-2 safer for handling in the laboratory, Alexander Ploss, associate professor of molecular biology, and his team are developing a less virulent version of the virus. The strain, developed by reverse engineering the virus, lacks components needed to infect cells. Researchers can use this non-infectious version to test new therapies.

To search for treatments for SARS-CoV-2 acute respiratory distress syndrome, the team collaborated with scientists at Boston University to develop new mouse models that contain human lung tissue. The Ploss lab and their collaborators in Boston are working on a vaccine against the virus modeled on a successful vaccine against yellow fever.

“In addition to these lines of experiments, we have been able to establish very productive collaborations with others at Princeton to identify components that are essential for SARS-CoV-2 entry and replication,” Ploss said.

Closing the door on COVID-19

When the virus SARS-CoV-2 attacks the body, the virus’s spike proteins must latch onto the human protein ACE2 on the surface of cells to open the door for the virus to enter. Clifford Brangwynne, the June K. Wu ’92 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and colleagues are testing small molecules to see if they can block this process.

The researchers’ first step was to develop a way to identify small molecules that thwart the fusion of the virus spike protein with ACE2. The test involves labeling the proteins with colorful fluorescent markers that light up when a molecule successfully stymies spike-ACE2 fusion.

The team is collaborating with colleagues on campus, and around the country, to understand the biophysics of how ACE2 and spike proteins interact, and to study promising small-molecule candidates as treatments for COVID-19. “We are also excited about the potential broader application of this drug-screening approach for other types of common viral infections, particularly those that affect children,” Brangwynne said.





Tempest in a laptop

Ning Lin, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and her research group use computers to whip up virtual hurricanes that help policymakers evaluate the risks of severe storms in regions such as New York City, where such storms are rare but potentially devastating. Continue Reading →

Of lava lamps and living cells

Professor Clifford Brangwynne sees similarities between living cells and salad dressing, in which oil and vinegar separate according to the laws of physics. The idea has caught on. Continue Reading →

Forecasting the next COVID-19

Princeton disease ecologist C. Jessica Metcalf and Harvard physician and epidemiologist Michael Mina say that predicting disease could become as commonplace as predicting the weather. Continue Reading →

Cascade sets the stage for superconductivity in magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene

Princeton researchers used scanning tunneling microscopy to observe what happens when they add electrons to magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene. They observed a cascade of transitions in the electronic properties, patterns that could help unlock how superconductivity emerge in these materials. Continue Reading →

Princeton researcher bringing single-cell gene expression studies to a benchtop near you

: Princeton researcher Britt Adamson, together with collaborators, developed improvements to high-throughput technologies that can be used to explore how cells respond to experimentally-induced changes in gene expression. Continue Reading →

Researchers identify factors essential for chronic hepatitis B infection

A study published in the journal Nature Microbiology identified factors that the hepatitis B virus uses when establishing long-term infection in the liver. The findings could help lead to treatment strategies for chronic HBV infection, a condition that increases the risk of developing liver cancer and is responsible for almost 900,000 deaths worldwide each year. Continue Reading →

Motion-capture technology assists in neuroscience studies

A new technology can automatically track animals’ body parts in video to measure the behavior of animals. Continue Reading →

Neuroscientists develop models to identify internal states of the brain

Researchers studied the courtship behaviors of fruit flies to gain insight into how the brain creates “internal states” which culminate from mood, past experiences and other variables. Continue Reading →

Princeton scientists discover surprising quantum effect in an exotic superconductor

Superconductors are already in use in various capacities, but newer iron-based superconductors are an active area of investigation. Researchers led by a Princeton team have studied what happens to the superconducting nature of these materials when impurities are added. The results shed light on how superconductivity behaves in these materials Continue Reading →

Princeton researchers explore how a carbon-fixing organelle forms via phase separation

A new study yields insights into how an organelle called the pyrenoid, which helps algae remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, forms inside the cell via a process similar to how oil separates from water. Continue Reading →

How hepatitis B and delta viruses establish infection of liver cells

Princeton University researchers have developed a new, scalable cell culture system that allows for detailed investigation of how host cells respond to infection with hepatitis B (HBV) and delta virus (HDV). The paper describing their Continue Reading →

Danger avoidance can be genetically encoded for four generations

Princeton University researchers have discovered that learned behaviors in worms of the species C. elegans can be inherited for multiple generations, transmitted from parent to progeny via eggs and sperm cells. The paper detailing this Continue Reading →

New progress in developing an animal model of hepatitis C

Small differences in a liver cell protein have significant impacts on hepatitis C virus replication in mice and humans, findings that could facilitate the development of a mouse model of the infection. The report, led Continue Reading →

For infection-fighting cells, a guideline for expanding the troops

T cells are like the special ops forces of the immune system, detecting and killing infected cells. When a new threat is detected, the cells ramp up from just a few sentry cells to a Continue Reading →

A quantum magnet with a topological twist

Taking their name from an intricate Japanese basket pattern, kagome magnets are thought to have electronic properties that could be valuable for future quantum devices and applications. Theories predict that some electrons in these materials Continue Reading →