Matters of Scale

This issue’s cover story on Penn’s research in the field of nanotechnology offers a glimpse of a world unimaginably tiny—and with equivalently enormous potential to lead to advances in everything from manufacturing to computers to health care. But as freelancer Samuel K. Moore points out, in this world “everything is different” and science still has a long way to go to figure out the rules.

Last year Penn was one of six institutions receiving grants from the National Science Foundation to create Nanoscience and Engineering Centers. In all, faculty from 10 departments in schools across the University are participating in research at the new Nano/Bio Interface Center, directed by Dawn Bonnell, professor of materials science in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“Small Technology, Big Promise” vividly details several ongoing research projects at the center. It also describes the involvement of Penn bioethicists in assessing the potential risks and ethical issues surrounding the development and use of nanotechnology.

Back at the level we can perceive with the naked eye, our world is shrinking every day, and large swathes of urban land have been rendered unhealthy or inhospitable by pollution and past industrial use. In “All Things Ornamental,” Virginia Fairweather writes about an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that highlights efforts to reclaim such areas. The show, which runs through May 16, was curated by Penn alumnus Peter Reed G’83 Gr’89 and features work by three landscape architects who are faculty members in the School of Design: James Corner, whose firm designed the Fresh Kills Lifescape to transform the enormous landfill on Staten Island into park and recreation space; Marion Weiss of Weiss/Manfredi, designer of the Olympic Sculpture Park on the site of a former fuel-storage and oil-transfer station in downtown Seattle; and Peter Latz, designer of a plan to convert 700 acres of a former steel plant in Germany to public parkland. Given rising population densities, it is essential that sites like these be restored to productive use, Latz notes. “We can’t discover a new continent as we did in the past.”

The world was a lot larger in 1917 when Penn Law professor and future dean Edwin Keedy traveled to Canada’s far north to attend a trial involving two Inuit men charged with murdering a pair of Catholic priests. Keedy wrote up his observations of the trial in a 1951 Penn Law Review article, and except for fellow scholars of comparative criminal procedure, that might have been the last anyone heard of it. But as Dennis Drabelle G’66 L’69 recounts in “A Remarkable Record,” the article was recently cited in a new book that uses the trial to examine the clash of cultures and its impact on the native people of the Arctic region—an example, Drabelle writes, of “the serendipity of scholarship.”

It only took Beth Kephart C’82 a 10-minute drive to reach the setting of her new book, Ghosts in the Garden, which is excerpted in “What Next?” But the noted memoirist traveled deeply if not widely. The book mixes evocative descriptions of the passing seasons at Chanticleer Gardens in southeastern Pennsylvania, with her thoughts on aging, time, and change—“our need to preserve the things we love, and our need to let them go.”

Few problems loom as large as world hunger, but the key to solving it, according to Bill Shore C’77, is through the combined power of many small efforts. Shore, profiled in this issue, is the founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, which has raised $180 million for the fight.

Though it may take decades, when world hunger is ended, he has written, “it will be because enough of us worked to create both awareness and wealth, because enough of us took the trouble to see, and because we understood that the role each of us played was critical to the final outcome.”

—John Prendergast C’80


©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 05/03/05

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