Johns Hopkins Magazine
Johns Hopkins Magazine Current Issue Past Issues Search Get In Touch
   
Wholly Hopkins
 
Matters of note from around Johns Hopkins

 

Medicine: A Time of Tragedy and Turmoil

Solar Science: Fair forecast for APL

University: WJHU-FM on the sales block

Nursing: Hill takes the helm--for now

Politics: The language of capitalism

Music: Showtime in Baltimore

Health: "Safe sex" no longer chic?

Technology: Fetch me my book

Lacrosse: Jays fall to the Irish

Books: Doom and gloom on the culture front

In Memoriam: Astronomy loses a pioneer

Space: The great comet chase

Wholly Hopkins Departments: Bottom Line | Here & Abroad | Datebook | Reading List | Academese | Vital Signs | Forever Altered | Findings | JHUniverse | Backlist | Up & Comer


Medicine
A Time of Tragedy and Turmoil

Three days after Johns Hopkins Medicine officials accepted "full institutional responsibility" for the death of a 24-year-old research volunteer, a federal office on July 19 stunned the university--and made national headlines--by halting virtually all federally funded Hopkins research involving human subjects.

Calling the action taken by the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) "unwarranted, unnecessary, paralyzing and precipitous," Hopkins officials worked feverishly over the ensuing weekend to put together a corrective action plan. By Tuesday, July 24, the federal office appeared at least partially appeased; the OHRP rescinded its suspension but issued restrictions limiting how quickly many projects involving human subjects at Hopkins could resume.

The ramifications for Johns Hopkins researchers and patients involved in clinical trials are far-reaching. At press time, Hopkins officials estimated that it may take until Thanksgiving to get all the affected studies reinstated. Some new trials will be delayed.

The chain of events started with the June 2 death of Ellen Roche, a healthy lab technician at Hopkins's Asthma and Allergy Center who had volunteered for an asthma study led by Hopkins immunologist Alkis Togias. Roche became ill the day after inhaling hexamethonium, a drug that had been used to treat hypertension but was pulled from the market in 1972 after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deemed it ineffective. Togias had plans to use the drug with 10 healthy volunteers in a study of lung function.

After inhaling the drug, the study's first volunteer developed an eight-day cough, which Togias attributed to a bug going around campus. Roche, the study's third volunteer, developed a dry cough on May 5. Her condition worsened and she was soon hospitalized; despite weeks of efforts to save her life, she died from what doctors later determined to be "adult respiratory distress syndrome."

A School of Medicine internal review committee concluded that Roche most likely died from inhaling the test drug. The committee's report faulted both Togias and the Hopkins Institutional Review Board (IRB) that had oversight of his work for serious safety lapses. The IRB should not have approved the study, the report stated, because "an adequate evidence base did not exist for [it] to be confident that inhaled hexamethonium was safe for use in research subjects."

The report, submitted to the OHRP on July 16, also found the consent form Togias used to be "inadequate" because it did not disclose that the drug lacked FDA approval and could cause severe side effects, even death. (This interpretation has been challenged by Togias, in a letter sent by his lawyer to the FDA.)

The report concluded that Togias should have notified Hopkins officials after the first healthy volunteer developed a cough and should have run further tests on hexamethonium's toxicity before administering it to any additional volunteers.

"I am the father of a 25-year-old daughter and I can imagine what the family is going through," said Hopkins Medicine CEO and medical school dean Edward D. Miller at a July 16 news conference announcing the findings of the internal review.

"There has got to be a cultural change here," Hopkins Medicine CEO Edward D. Miller told researchers. "We need to raise the bar even higher" in ensuring the safety of human subjects. Hopkins officials took immediate steps to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future. These measures include using a third Institutional Review Board to help ease the workload being handled by two existing IRBs (one at Bayview, the other at the hospital), and increasing random inspections of experiments already under way. The university also halted 10 additional experiments under Togias's direction and 16 other Hopkins experiments involving drugs not approved for use by the FDA.

But the OHRP, an office created within the last 18 months that reports directly to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, conducted an on-site review of Hopkins IRB procedures in mid-July and found "systemic problems throughout the institution" that required an immediate and severe response, according to OHRP spokesperson Bill Hall. The OHRP immediately halted federally funded projects involving human subjects at Hopkins Bayview, Medicine, Nursing, and the Applied Physics Lab. Hopkins voluntarily halted its human studies trials funded through non-federal sources. The net result: Some 2,800 clinical trials were affected. Hopkins's Bloomberg School of Public Health, which has a separate IRB process, was exempted.

Soon after the July 19 announcement from the OHRP became public, Johns Hopkins was besieged by calls from anxious patients, many of them anguished at the prospect of being summarily cut off from potentially life-saving treatment or prevented from enrolling in a new clinical trial.

The OHRP's partial reinstatement, announced on July 23, allowed investigators to continue protocols considered to be in the "best interests" of their patients--experimental therapies that are palliative or life-sustaining. The OHRP also reinstated trials involving only minimally invasive procedures, such as blood or urine samples, ultrasound tests, or psychological survey questions. The remaining clinical trials at Hopkins--some 1,700 in all--remain suspended until the Hopkins IRBs can take a new look and reassess each study.

At a town meeting in Medicine's Turner Auditorium on July 27, researchers learned that three additional IRBs will be created--and a School of Public Health IRB enlisted--so that seven IRBs will be working to handle the heavy load over the next several months.

Why would a healthy person volunteer to participate in a medical study? What steps does a researcher take to design a study using human subjects? Who serves on Hopkins's Institutional Review Boards and what challenges do they face? Look for a discussion of these and other questions in an upcoming issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine. In the longer term, said Chi Van Dang, vice dean for research at the School of Medicine, Hopkins will work to create a "new and improved" IRB process that affords "increased scrutiny" of every proposed trial. The university will also increase individual audits of studies in progress and improve training on issues relating to human subject safety and government regulation.

"This is a girl who sacrificed her life. There has got to be a cultural change here," CEO Miller told the assembled researchers. "We need to raise the bar even higher" in ensuring the safety of human subjects. "There can't be any slippage. None." The goal, said Miller, is to create the "prototype" for an IRB that will become a model for research institutions across the nation, and the world.

Said Miller, "I personally think that the greatest memorial for Ellen would be a process so perfect that it lives forever." --Sue De Pasquale

Medicine
Modernizing Medicare

"Medicare is stuck in the past. It won't change, because it's too bureaucratic. ...Even though a lot of people think the 1965 Mustang was the best car ever made, it wasn't very modern. And even though Medicare may be the best invention of man, it's not very modern today," said President George W. Bush, in remarks given July 13 at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Medicine
In Memoriam

Robert M. Heyssel, former president of Johns Hopkins Hospital and the founder and first CEO of the Johns Hopkins Health System, died of lung cancer on June 13 at the age of 72. Heyssel's tenure at Johns Hopkins, from 1968 to 1992, came during a turbulent period for academic medicine, marked by soaring health care costs and demands for reform. He served as a national leader on such issues and is widely credited with helping to support and save the nation's teaching hospitals, particularly those based in inner cities.

Medicine
Nation's Best ... Again

Staff members at Hopkins Hospital have a new keepsake to add to a collection that grows bigger each year: a metal keychain emblazoned with "Johns Hopkins Hospital--Best of the Best." For the 11th year in a row, Hopkins was named top hospital in the nation in the annual survey conducted by U.S. News and World Report. Hospital administrators and faculty celebrated the good news on July 13 by greeting staff with a "thank you" and the commemorative keychain. The Mayo Clinic earned the second spot in the ranking, while Massachusetts General came in third.


Solar Science
Forecast Is Fair for APL

It's a sunny day on the campus of Johns Hopkins's Applied Physics Lab.

APL's Space Department has landed a $600 million federal contract to develop a new generation of space missions to better understand the astronomical center of our universe: O golden orb, the sun.

A grant to APL will allow scientists to look at the sun's effect on Earth's climate and on "weather" in the solar system. The contract, awarded by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center during the summer, is a major boon to the lab's Space Department. "It's a very nice number," says APL scientist Kenneth Potocki. Over the next 12 years, APL will put together proposals to design, develop, and operate missions for NASA's solar study programs.

The missions will fall under two NASA programs, Living With a Star and Solar Terrestrial Probes. NASA and APL scientists hope to learn more about the sun's effects on the environment and on humans--both here on Earth and in near space. Among the scientific unknowns to probe: how the sun's electromagnetic radiation and electrically charged solar storms sometimes influence the Earth's climate, disrupt the global network of space satellites, and threaten the safety of airline and spacecraft personnel. The phenomenon, known as "space weather," could become a big factor in human missions to explore space in the future.

"As man starts to move away from this planet, on longer missions to Mars and elsewhere, our understanding of space weather will affect when we do things," says Potocki, APL's Living With a Star program manager. "Just like when you plan a trip on Earth, if it is going to be raining tomorrow, you might wait to sail your boat. It is the same thing in space."

APL, which has collaborated with NASA for three decades, is already managing the first mission of the Solar Terrestrial Probes program. The TIMED spacecraft--designed, built and operated by APL--is set to be launched this fall. Partly to shed light on the effects of solar energy on global climate changes, the spacecraft's instruments will measure and analyze temperature, density, winds, and other factors in the least-understood regions of Earth's atmosphere--the ionosphere, mesosphere, and lower thermosphere. --Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson


University
WJHU-FM Sale Under Negotiation

Fifteen years after establishing WJHU-FM, Johns Hopkins University has signed a letter of intent to sell the public radio station to a Baltimore non-profit organization, Maryland Public Radio Corp. The recently created group is led by WJHU on-air personality Marc Steiner and includes other station staff and supporters.

Says Dennis O'Shea, acting general manager of the station, "WJHU provides a very important service to the community, and the university has done a lot over the past 15 years to make that possible. But the university is not, at its core, a broadcaster. And, while WJHU needs some important capital investments to preserve and improve its service, the university has a lot of capital needs that are much more closely related to its core missions of teaching and research and patient care."

Last March, Hopkins announced that it had been approached by parties interested in either acquiring the station, which broadcasts out of Baltimore at 88.1 FM, or working in partnership with Hopkins to operate it. Those parties were Minnesota Public Radio and Maryland Public Television. The university then decided to entertain inquiries from other potential buyers, and a trio of public radio stations entered the process: WBUR in Boston, and WAMU and WETA in Washington.

When Steiner, host of the WJHU-produced talk show "The Marc Steiner Show," learned of the possible sale, he organized a group to bid for the station. Says Steiner, "When an opportunity like this knocks, you don't just turn your head and walk away and let something happen to you. You have to be proactive and make it happen."

Maryland Public Radio's intent is to keep the station locally owned and focused. "Our goal is to make this in the next five years one of NPR's flagship stations, where people salivate to come to work in the morning," says Steiner.

Estimates of the purchase price have ranged from $5 million to $10 million. (At press time, neither the university nor Maryland Public Radio would comment on the price tag.) If a final agreement is signed, it must be submitted to the Federal Communications Commission. --Dale Keiger

University
Vignette: A Piece of Hopkins

Lavishly decorated with images inspired by Milton's Paradise Lost, the Milton Shield gracing the entrance hall of Hopkins's Evergreen House was a marriage of the classic and the newfangled. The 35-by-25 1/2- inch ornament is an early--and fine--example of silver "electroformed" on copper, a technique employed to reproduce, in this case, a treasure fit for a queen's museum.

Photo by Chris Hartlove Cindy Kelly, director of Historic Houses for Hopkins, says the shield was originally displayed in a prominent position in the entrance hall of Evergreen during the tenure of T. Harrison Garrett, who acquired the Italianate residence in 1878. The objets d'art in the front hall "announced to the world that T. Harrison Garrett knew what was fashionable" for a Gilded Age industrialist, says Kelly, noting that the grand hall also contained an exotic Thebes chair, an elaborate bronze censer, and the requisite potted palms of the era.

The Milton Shield, designed by Elkington & Co. of Birmingham, England, was an achievement of the Industrial Age. Elkington's electroplate process revolutionized the manufacture of plated silver, making luxury items affordable to the middle class. The firm placed great emphasis on design; one of its leading artists was Leonard Morel-Ladeuil, who designed the Milton Shield in 1866 in silver repousseĢ. Displayed at the Paris Exposition, the shield received a gold medal and was purchased for the collection of what is now the Victoria & Albert Museum. Copies were made by Elkington for other museums and for wealthy patrons such as Garrett.

The shield now hangs in Evergreen's reception room, placed with the Thebes chair and other pieces from T. Harrison Garrett's time. For museum hours, call 410-516-0341. --MM


Nursing
Hill Takes Helm at the School of Nursing--For Now

School of Nursing veteran Martha Hill (pictured at right) has received a request she "couldn't possibly refuse": to serve as interim dean of the school until a successor is named for Sue Donaldson, who stepped down in May to return to teaching and research.

Hill, who has chaired the university's Committee for the 21st Century strategic planning committee and co-chaired the Urban Health Council, also launched and continues to direct the School of Nursing's Center for Nursing Research.

Hill says she'll look for ways Nursing can further collaborate with the schools of Medicine and Public Health: "There is a great deal we can do together to create synergy and address issues such as urban health and the nursing shortage." --SD


Politics
Learning the Language of Capitalism

When Sergiy Yevstafyev's native Ukraine emerged out of the dissolution of the former Soviet Union a decade ago, a number of English-born words entered the lexicon of governance: Free trade. Marketization. Globalization.

Over the years, Ukrainian political leaders have talked about joining the European Union and the World Trade Organization and have started selling wheat to the Middle East and metals to France. They've had some success but have also found there's a lot of catching up to do. "In the United States, the democratic, market-based economy was est-ablished hundreds of years ago," says Yevstafyev, who worked in exporting before coming to the United States. "Our market economy is 10 years old. We need knowledge of how it works. What is the meaning of democracy, trade, open borders, or globalization? My studying here will help me understand."

Yevstafyev in the belly of democracy
Photo by Tamara Hoffer
Yevstafyev, 27, has come to learn the new language of capitalist democracies at the Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies (IPS); he is one of 45 students enrolled in the Master of Arts in Policy Studies (MAPS) program. The two-year MAPS program offers students the analytical and policy tools needed to confront daunting societal issues. Yevstafyev is among three students pursuing an international dual-certificate program with Hopkins's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. This summer he interned at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

For Yevstafyev, this is radical stuff.

Through his study of U.S. policy, he has researched such tools as the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, which provides transitional aid to families, with requirements that they seek work. He's found parallels between U.S. welfare reform efforts and Ukraine's shifting ideology. "We have a lot of poor people in our country who need help. They have had subsidies from the government," he says. Yet the Ukrainian economy is pulling away from such a centrally organized system. "I can look at how welfare reform has been effective here in the States," he says.

Yevstafyev is learning to write briefing books and is doing field work through IPS on such issues as the sources of neighborhood revitalization.

Winner of an Edmund S. Muskie graduate fellowship from the U.S. Department of State, Yevstafyev may be-come part of a younger generation of Founding Fathers in Ukraine, a nation that faces the same dangers plaguing any newly independent country--corruption, anarchy, or the potential for a vacuum-filling dictatorship. He has ambitious designs. President of Ukraine, perhaps? "Time will show," he says. "Every soldier wants to be a general. Everyone who works for government wants to be president. I would be a bad government worker if I never wanted to be president."

Yevstafyev hopes to return to Ukraine to work in foreign or economic affairs. He would like his country to look beyond its historic ties to Russia--to also turn to the European Union and beyond. "I want Ukraine to orient itself to developed countries that have democracy, civil justice, and milder levels of corruption," he says. "If we go back to Russia, we will be dependent, we will have, how do you call them?" He puts his fingers around his wrist. "Manacles." --JCS


Music
A Photographic Tribute to Showtime in Baltimore

While doing research in back issues of a local Baltimore paper, The Afro-American, Peabody Institute archivist Elizabeth Schaaf came across story after story documenting Baltimore's rich black musical culture. "It was like finding out that you're adopted and you have this whole other family," Schaaf recalls. "There was this whole world of music that few, at least the white community, knew anything about."

Schaaf began collecting photographs, oral histories, documents, and other material pertaining to Baltimore's African American musicians. Her archival work has borne fruit as "The Storm is Passing Over," an exhibit of pictures and memorabilia that testifies to the vibrancy of black musicians in Baltimore from Reconstruction through the 1960s. Funded by the Maryland Humanities Council, the show has toured Maryland and is on display through the end of the year at Baltimore's Eubie Blake Cultural Center.

Baltimore native "Chick" Webb, big man on the drums in jazz swing
Photo by Brick Fleagle / Luther Henderson Collection, Archives of the Peabody Institute
The pictures are testimony to Baltimore's decades-long status as a capital of black American music. By the 1920s, the city had a reputation as a proving ground for African American performers. It was said that if you could win over the audience at Baltimore's Royal Theater on Pennsylvania Avenue, you could play anywhere, including the Apollo in Harlem.

The singers and players pictured constitute an honor roll of Baltimore musicians: Eubie Blake, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday. William Henry "Chick" Webb, the fiercely competitive jazz drummer of the 1920s and '30s who stood only 4 feet tall and overcame disabilities to become what jazz legend Gene Krupa called "the

little giant of the big noise." Soprano Anne Brown, who so impressed George Gershwin that his opera-in-progress Porgy became Porgy and Bess to feature her voice.

Images from the exhibit can be viewed online. To see them and read Schaaf's accompanying essay, go to the site www.peabody.jhu.edu/archives/storm/. --DK


Health
Safe Sex Messages Go Unheeded

When the AIDS epidemic hit in the 1980s, claiming the lives of thousands of gay men, sex grabbed the headlines in a curious intersection of personal, political, and public health. Activists rallied for funding; the condom chic of "safe sex" prevailed. By the late '80s, studies of HIV infection rates among gay men suggested the epidemic had peaked, and the gay community was lauded for its proactive response.

But today, researchers are watching with concern as infection rates among men having sex with men climb toward the high rates found in the mid- to late 1980s, particularly among men under 30. Statistics from seven cities collected between 1994 and 2000 show a higher-than-expected rate of HIV infections and an increase in high-risk behaviors, indicating a continuing--and perhaps growing--epidemic, especially among young minority men.

"In the magazines, you see these buffed, tanned guys standing on the top of the mountain. I think there is potentially harm in the message to younger gay men," says John Hylton. John Hylton, coordinator of the Baltimore part of the survey for the Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, uses the words "shocking" and "alarming" when discussing the data. Says Hylton, "These young guys know what HIV is, know how it's transmitted, know how to prevent transmission." So why are infection rates climbing?

Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Young Men's Survey was conducted in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. In Phase I, 3,492 men 15-22 years old were interviewed and tested for HIV; the national infection rate for that group was 7.2 percent and two times that for African Americans. Phase II of the survey looked at 2,942 men 23-29 years old; in preliminary results, the infection rate was 13 percent nationally, and 32 percent for African American men.

Also sobering to researchers evaluating national data: 41 percent of the study participants had engaged in unprotected anal sex during the past six months. Alarmingly, more than half of that group included men who were HIV positive but unaware of their status, and 29 percent of those who did know they were HIV positive had unprotected sex anyway.

The data seems to confirm fears of public health officials that new, life-prolonging drugs would cause complacency about the risk and erode safe sex behavior, says Hylton, a senior research data analyst in epidemiology and a PhD candidate in health policy and management. "In the magazines, you see these buffed, tan guys standing on the top of a mountain. I think there is potentially harm in the message to younger gay men," says Hylton. "It makes HIV seem more like a chronic, manageable infection than an acute, life-threatening disease."

The monotony of safe-sex messages over the years may also be a factor, Hylton says. "Gay men are tired of hearing 'Use a condom every time.' Constantly thinking about being at risk gives people a sense of inevitability." And, he notes, some gay men may be "serially monogamous": committed to one partner for months at a time and thus less likely to use a condom.

For young men defining their sexual identity for the first time, a hostile political climate may feed a sense of hopelessness. "The fight for acceptance, for equal rights for gays and lesbians, has produced a backlash," says Hylton. "What message does that send to young people? What are their options now and in the future?"

Young African American men are even more vulnerable, he adds, citing less acceptance for gays in the larger African American community, compounded by racial prejudice in the gay community. Psychosocial factors aside, he says, "If you're having sex within your social and racial network, then you are many times more likely to come in contact with HIV."

The survey's Baltimore numbers drive home the risk: Among 15- to 22-year-old African Americans, about 17 percent had HIV, as compared to less than 2 percent of Caucasians. Among 23- to 29-year-olds, preliminary results show a rate of 32 percent for African Americans, 4 percent for Caucasians.

Reversing these trends will mean developing new strategies for reaching marginalized gay men, Hylton says, such as taking testing to the neighborhoods where researchers found the young men they surveyed. "Sex is such powerful human behavior. Trying to figure out how we can influence it is a big challenge." --Mary Mashburn


Technology
Developing Robot Retrievers for Libraries

Need a library book? Just ask the robot.

Future browsing among the stacks at Homewood's Milton S. Eisenhower Library could incorporate a robotic system that pulls books from shelves in library storage off campus, or even scans copies of pages into a vast interlibrary database.

Known as CAPM, an acronym for Comprehensive Access to Printed Materials, the system is Jetsonian: A patron would use a Web browser to search for a library book shelved miles from campus, and then view the pages within seconds. A robot could retrieve 200 books per day. Other libraries could share holdings as material is scanned, in what some see as a worldwide virtual library.

A Hopkins team is working on the CAPM project, including mechanical engineering associate professor Greg Chirikjian and Benjamin Hobbs, professor of geography and environmental engineering. The Mellon Foundation has put up $376,000, partly to analyze financial feasibility of the system.

As libraries fill up with new materials and run out of space, robotic helpers and other new technology will be in demand, library administrators say. At Hopkins, more than 1 million volumes are now shelved at Moravia Park, a Homewood. Storage is cheaper, and can be better climate-controlled.

It remains to be seen just how delicate robot fingers might be at turning the page. Currently, the Hopkins team is working on designing the best way for a robot to pull a book off a shelf--a space could be left between each book, for example. Of course, browsers who like to hold their books need not worry. Notes project director Sayeed Choudhury, "People will always have the option of physical delivery." --JCS


Lacrosse
"Rebuilding" Year Ends in Quarterfinals

The men's lacrosse team's loss in the NCAA tournament was a surprise, if only because the Jays' victorious opponent was Notre Dame, which had never made it past the second round in previous tournaments. In the quarterfinal match-up, Notre Dame broke a tense 8-8 tie with a 5-1 run that propelled the team to its first appearance in the semifinals, where the Irish lost to Syracuse. The Jays ended the season with an 8-4 record.

Shawn Nadelen was named first team All- American. Dave Pietramala '90 reflected on his first year as head coach: "It was a year of building. We felt like we had to rebuild the foundation, rebuild our work ethic, and recapture the pride and passion that has been Hopkins lacrosse. I believe we have done that."

Pietramala's inaugural season included a record 30th straight trip to the NCAA tournament for Hopkins, victories over powerful squads from Syracuse, Loyola, and Towson, and a heartbreaking loss to Virginia that required four overtimes. Blue Jay players named as All-Americans included defenseman Shawn Nadelen (first team), defenseman Brandon Testa (third team), and attackman Bobby Benson (honorable mention).

The Hopkins women's team concluded its third season in Division I by winning the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship. The Lady Jays finished the year 11-6, ranked 17th in the country. Junior attacker Jamie Larrimore was named third team All-American, only the second Hopkins women's player ever so honored. --DK


Books
On the Verge of a Dark Age?

Morris Berman (PhD '71), an instructor in the Hopkins MLA program, is pessimistic. In The Twilight of American Culture (W.W. Norton, 2000), Berman studies the parallels between the United States of the new millennium and ancient Rome as it began its collapse. He contends the U.S. is headed for its own dark age. Below, an interview with Dale Keiger.

DK: In your book, you described people who will be important as conservators of Enlightenment culture during what you believe is the coming dark age. Could you describe this new "monastic option"?

Berman: I'm really not talking about individuals sitting around in cells, wearing hair shirts. In the revival of Western Europe, the material that the monks in Ireland and on the continent squirreled away in monasteries and libraries got released back into the mainstream. This was probably the single most important factor in what we call the Renaissance. For our own situation, what if we had people who preserve certain ways of life and ideas as exemplars? They would not be monks, but they'd perform an analogous function.

DK: You're not talking about preservation of texts, per se, but of a way of thinking.

Berman: Right. In the Middle Ages, books were just plain disappearing. In our case, the volume of information is drowning knowledge out. It's drowning out critical abilities, the ability to think and analyze and compare and contextualize. We're definitely entering a period of severe dumbing down, and the emergence of an imagistic society, in which people think in terms of video and television and image, rather than intellectual analysis. Typically today's students only learn information. They have no context.

DK: Is American society really about to hit the rocks?

Berman: When I was at Hopkins, I was a graduate student in history because there was no department of prophecy, so I'm probably much better as a historian than as a prophet. There's no way of being sure about today, but the comparisons with Rome strike me as being very significant. All the excitement is about wealth for the rich; the middle class is shrinking. We're in a very accelerated period now.

My prediction is that this is the century of our breakdown. We will run out of money for Medicare in 2015 and Social Security in 2034, and we are spending $300 billion a year on a military budget that we don't need. We're bleeding this country in ways that are very destructive. I think between 2030 and 2040 we can expect a stock market crash. But the real dysfunction, such as hit the Soviet Union, where the thing really starts to break up, that I think we're talking third or fourth quarter of the century.


In memoriam
Astronomy Loses a Pioneer

Arthur F. Davidsen, an astronomer whose discoveries were fundamental to human understanding of the structure of the universe and who literally took Johns Hopkins into orbit as the driving force behind the Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope, died on July 19 from complications associated with a lung disorder. He was 57.

Davidsen, professor of physics and astronomy and former interim dean of faculty of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, made a number of pioneering contributions to ultraviolet astronomy and to the study of material in the vast gulfs between galaxies. He was also a key player in the effort to get the Space Telescope Science Institute--the facility that operates the Hubble Space Telescope and is planning for its successor--placed on the Hopkins campus.

Arthur Davidsen was the principal investigator for the Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope, which is now on permanent display at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. HUT made two trips into space. "We were very much the underdog," reminisced Hopkins chair of Physics and Astronomy Paul Feldman. "Winning the institute really put us on the map in astronomy, and Arthur was the single most important person in the successful effort to get the institute here."

Davidsen was the principal investigator for the Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope (HUT), designed to study unexplored regions of ultraviolet light rich with information about distant stars and quasars, star clusters, and even objects in our solar system like Jupiter's moon Io.

On its first mission into space in 1990, HUT was mounted on a platform that was not stable enough to allow it to study the faint ultraviolet light sources central to Davidsen's research. Rather than risk time in space on an effort that might fail, Davidsen let HUT be used for observations of brighter light sources that were important to his junior colleagues.

On HUT's second mission in 1995, he was able to get the observations he needed to characterize the tenuous and elusive gas between galaxies.

At the time of his death, Davidsen was chairman of the advisory council for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, an important new multi-institutional project dedicated to making the first comprehensive digital encyclopedia of a large fraction of the sky. --Michael Purdy


Space
Elbow Deep in the Great Comet Chase

Five young scientists in black aprons, yellow rubber gloves, and plastic goggles gather around a table in the Kossiakoff Auditorium at Hopkins's Applied Physics Lab (APL).

Their mission: to make a comet.

"Scientists often call comets 'dirty snowballs,'" instructor Sallie Smith tells the students at a "Space Academy" at the lab. "How do we know what ingredients are in a comet?"

Instructor Sallie Smith holds aloft a "comet" made by Maryland junior high school students visiting the Applied Physics Lab.
Photo by Louis Rosenstock
After mixing together a few handfuls of sand, a couple dashes of ammonia, a shaken bottle of Coke (a stand-in for carbon dioxide), and 2 1/2 cups of dry ice, the students hold up a dirty ice ball and pass it around the room.

The visitors from central Maryland junior high schools are here to learn about a new NASA Discovery mission: the comet chaser CONTOUR. With a launch window next summer, the CONTOUR spacecraft--designed, built, and managed by APL--is set to fly by at least two different comets starting in 2003, taking the closest-ever images of a comet's nucleus. CONTOUR, budgeted at $155 million, is the sixth mission in NASA's Discovery Program series, a series that included the APL-led NEAR Shoemaker mission that orbited the asteroid Eros last year. Scientists expect CONTOUR, which is being carried out in conjunction with Cornell University, to provide answers about the nature of the comet's coma, or tail, as it approaches the sun, and to shed light on the very origins of the universe. Comets are ancient bodies containing elements found in the solar system's early years- -dust, rock, ice, and gases.

"We are trying to answer questions we have been asking for years," principal investigator Joseph Veverka of Cornell told the students at APL via satellite. "A: What happens to the comet's surface as it approaches the sun, and B: What is its chemical composition? How does a comet's nucleus spin-- does it wobble or spin one way?"

The CONTOUR spacecraft is ex-pected to fly deep within the coma, as close as 60 miles from the comet's nucleus. All the while, the spacecraft's instruments will be analyzing gas and dust samples, and taking images. CONTOUR's targets include Encke, first viewed from Earth in 1786, and SW3, discovered in 1930.

At the end of this mission, the craft will sink into hibernation in outer space. "If the spacecraft is healthy when we put it to sleep, they can wake it up later to do other fly-bys," says scientist Edward Reynolds. -- JCS

Return to September 2001 Table of Contents

  The Johns Hopkins Magazine | The Johns Hopkins University | 3003 North Charles Street |
Suite 100 | Baltimore, Maryland 21218 | Phone 410.516.7645 | Fax 410.516.5251