January 2003

The Science of Conserving Culture

The Gateway Hypothesis of Substance Abuse

Combining the Liberal Arts, Medicine and Business

Confronting Famine Abroad and Obesity at Home

Integrating Teaching and Research in Mathematics

Challenging a Prominent Hypothesis

S&T Briefs

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Al Dorof, Editor

© 2003


Bryn Mawr College
A newsletter on research, teaching, management, policy making and leadership in Science and Technology

S&T Briefs

High Honor

Michele Barry ’74, professor of medicine and global public health and director of the office of international health, Yale University School of Medicine, was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences on Oct. 14. Members are chosen for their major contributions to health and medicine, and election to the Institute is both an honor and an obligation to work on behalf of the organization in its studies and governance.

Barry co-founded the Yale International Health Program in 1981, which sends U.S. physicians-in-training to countries in the developing world to provide needed medical services, and developed the first U.S. certification examination in tropical medicine and travelers’ health. Barry also serves as president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. She received her M.D. from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Stem Cell Debate

Shirley M. Tilghman, president of Princeton University, presented the College’s 2002 Bernard Rothenberg Lecture in Biology and Public Policy on Nov. 12. Her lecture was titled "Perspectives on the Stem Cell Debate."

Tilghman was a founding member of the National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project Initiative for the National Institutes of Health. A world-renowned molecular biologist, Tilghman has conducted pioneering research in mammalian genetics, focusing on the roles that genes play in the development of the mammalian embryo. As a postdoctoral fellow at NIH, she participated in cloning the first mammalian gene. Tilghman is also a national leader in the efforts to promote women in science and to encourage the early careers of young scientists.

Role Model

The College’s Department of Physics was selected by the National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics as one of 18 college and university physics departments nationwide to be a case study to highlight the "best practices" of thriving undergraduate physics education.

The task force is a joint project of the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers. One of its goals is to document and analyze "what works" in making successful undergraduate physics programs. The case-study analysis will lead to the development of guidelines to advance the task force’s mission to revitalize physics education in the United States.

In addition to the qualitative aspects the task force will focus on, the College has posted impressive quantitative results. According to the AIP, over the five-year period 1996-2000, Bryn Mawr ranked second among all U.S. colleges and universities in the total number of women who receive a bachelor’s degree in physics, fifth in the percentage of physics bachelor’s degrees awarded to women, and eleventh in the percentage of physics bachelor’s degrees to students of either sex. Data from the National Science Foundation show that, over the 15-year period 1986-2000, the College ranked tenth of all U.S. colleges and universities, second among liberal arts colleges, and first among women’s colleges in the total number of women undergraduates who go on to receive a doctorate in physics.

Hail Fellow

Mina Jihan Bissell ’63, director of the life sciences division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California at Berkeley, was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on April 29. Fellows are chosen for their preeminent contributions to all scholarly fields and professions; Bissell was honored for her lifetime achievements in the medical sciences.

Bissell’s research on how cells within a tissue express genes selectively posed a radical hypothesis that is now mainstream — that the unit of function in higher organisms in not the genome or the cell alone, but the three-dimensional tissue complex. That is, cells need to be studied within the context of their tissue structure in order to understand how and why cells proliferate, express genes selectively or die.

Bissell is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, president of the International Society of Differentiation, and past president of the American Society for Cell Biology. In her junior year at Bryn Mawr, she transferred to Radcliffe College to be near her fiancé. Bissell earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. at Harvard University.

Lifetime Achievement

Ruth Rogan Benerito, graduate scholar in chemistry at Bryn Mawr College (1935-36), was honored with the 2002 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award for invention and innovation in recognition of her many contributions that revolutionized the textile, wood and paper industries. Her seminal research on cross-linking cellulose chains in cotton led to the development of wrinkle-, stain- and flame-resistant fabrics, precursors to what is now known as "wash-and-wear." The process was patented in 1969, the first of 55 patents Benerito holds.

At a time when women in science were virtually nonexistent, Benerito earned a B.S. in chemistry at Newcomb College (1935) at age 19, pursued graduate studies in chemistry at Bryn Mawr, completed a master’s degree in physics at Tulane University (1938), and earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University of Chicago (1948).

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