New Forward Thinker video series captures paradigm-shifting ideas and approaches
Got Questions? See problems? Want answers? A new nine-part video series produced by Princeton University’s Office of Communications caps off A Year of Forward Thinking through an exploration of bleeding edge ideas that are inspiring faculty across a variety of fields.
Visit Princeton's YouTube channel and subscribe to view a new video each week throughout the summer.
Featured Forward Thinkers include: Jesse Jenkins (mechanical engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment); Jessica Metcalf (ecology and evolutionary biology); Dan-el Padilla Peralta (classics); Olga Russakovsky (computer science); Cliff Brangwynne (bioengineering); Jo Dunkley (astrophysics); Chika Okeke-Agulu (art and archaeology); and Andrew Houck (electrical engineering).
Forward Thinkers: Bringing Themes Together
Over the course of A Year of Forward Thinking, Princeton researchers and alumni alike have shared the ideas that are driving innovation, challenging conventional wisdom and transforming their respective fields. The diversity of expertise among faculty, staff, alumni and students, unfettered by artificial departmental barriers, leads to creative and collaborative problem-solving. How has the 2020 election and subsequent change in administration impacted the nation’s public health response? What does humanistic inquiry bring to our understanding of environmental policy? Princeton’s approach to teaching and research brings together scientists and humanists, engineers and social scientists, in a multitude of ways to answer these questions and serve humanity.
Professor of American Studies and the High Meadows Environmental Institute
Forward Thinking Idea: Allison Carruth is an author and multimedia storyteller who cultivates narratives that illuminate urgent environmental crises, re-imagining the boundaries between the arts, humanities and sciences. She recently established the Princeton Environmental Media Lab, a space that will apply new and established media to science communication and storytelling experiments. Carruth is currently completing “Novel Ecologies,” a book that argues that a new environmental imagination has developed out of confrontations between engineering, ecology and sustainability in the United States.
Céline Gounder ’97
Internist, Infectious Disease Specialist, Epidemiologist
Forward Thinking Idea: Céline Gounder ’97 served on the Biden-Harris Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board and works as an infectious disease specialist at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue and a clinical assistant professor of medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. An epidemiologist, journalist, filmmaker and medical analyst for CNN, she’s written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Washington Post and many other publications. Gounder founded Just Human Productions in 2017, using storytelling to build community and collaboration around issues of health disparity. She hosts and produces two podcasts about public health: “Epidemic” and “American Diagnosis.”
Professor of Religion; Chair, Humanities Council; Director, Program in Humanistic Studies; Director, Stewart Seminars in Religion
Forward Thinking Idea: Eric Gregory's interests include religious and philosophical ethics, theology, political theory, law and religion and the role of religion in public life. He is the author of “Politics and the Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship,” and a forthcoming book tentatively titled, “The In-Gathering of Strangers: Global Justice and Political Theology,” which examines secular and religious perspectives on global justice.
Professor of Anthropology; Co-Director, Center on Transnational Policing
Forward Thinking Idea: Laurence Ralph is an anthropologist who writes about police abuse, mass incarceration, the criminalization of the drug trade, disability and premature death for urban residents of color. The Center on Transnational Policing (CTP), a collaborative research hub that he co-founded with Aisha Beliso-De Jesús, professor of American studies, brings scholars together to understand policing in the U.S. and internationally. Ralph received a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship and his latest book, “The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence” — which became an animated short film he directed — explores a decades-long scandal in which 125 African Americans were brutally tortured while in Chicago police custody.
Forward Thinkers: The Environment
For more than half a century, forward thinkers have looked across the spectrum of environmental issues and have been making pivotal contributions to solving some of humanity’s toughest problems related to climate, food and water, biodiversity and energy.
Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment
Forward Thinking Idea: Jesse Jenkins is a macro-scale energy systems engineer with a focus on the rapidly evolving electricity sector, including the transition to zero-carbon resources, the proliferation of distributed energy resources, and the role of electricity in economy-wide decarbonization. Jenkins also serves as one of the lead researchers of the Princeton Net-Zero America study, which outlines five distinct technological pathways for the United States to decarbonize its entire economy by 2050.
Assistant Professor of Architecture and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment; Co-Director, Program in Architecture and Engineering
Forward Thinking Idea: Forrest Meggers is an engineer and architect who studies building systems, radiant heating and cooling systems, geothermal and heat source/sink optimization, and ultra-efficient air conditioning. Meggers founded and directs Princeton’s CHAOS (Cooling and Heating for Architecturally Optimized Systems) Lab, where he and his research team investigate thermal models to equip buildings for maximum performance. He has several patents and founded the spinoff Hearth Labs to measure the missing half of thermal comfort using a smart sensor technology to improve thermostats.
Shana S. Weber
Director, Office of Sustainability; Lecturer in the High Meadows Environmental Institute
Forward Thinking Idea: Shana S. Weber is an environmental scientist who advances strategic actions across campus toward realizing an ethos of sustainability in service to local and global communities. As the founding director of Princeton University’s Office of Sustainability, she has cultivated organizational change via repeatable and scalable sustainability initiatives since 2006. Through the High Meadows Environmental Institute, she’s brought her campus-as-lab approach to research and solutions into the classroom. Her office spearheaded Princeton’s 2019 Sustainability Action Plan, which strives to develop best practices and innovation in sustainability to accelerate action at all scales, from personal to global.
Claire E. White
Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment
Forward Thinking Idea: Claire E. White is an engineer whose research focuses on optimizing engineering and environmental materials, including sustainable cements and materials for carbon capture, utilization and storage. White is the Andlinger Center's acting associate director for research and also runs Princeton’s Sustainable Cements Group, a multidisciplinary research group addressing the sustainability challenge facing cementitious materials and related systems. White’s research has advanced the understanding of the chemistries and properties of the alkali-activated materials, including their durability and resistance to carbonation.
Forward Thinkers: Bioengineering
At the intersection of engineering and the life sciences, bioengineers are on the forefront of many of the advances in research, education and innovation that will have a positive impact on health, medicine and quality of life.
Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment
Forward Thinking Idea: José Avalos is researching ways that microorganisms can be infused with desirable traits to address challenging problems in sustainable energy, human health, sustainable manufacturing and the environment, integrating principles from microbiology, cellular biology, genetics, biochemistry, biophysics and engineering. His team uses a technology called optogenetics — involving light to control cellular processes — to turn genes on and off at specific times to enhance the production of biofuels, drugs and commercial chemicals in bioreactors.
June K. Wu '92 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Director, Princeton Bioengineering Initiative
Forward Thinking Idea: Cliff Brangwynne is an engineer whose primary research interests are the biology of intracellular organization, particularly in the role of intracellular liquid-liquid phase separation, a field that his discoveries pioneered. In 2009, he was the first to observe the liquid-like behavior of structures within roundworm cells. Since then, his research has uncovered clues for potential treatments for cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
Wilke Family Professor in Bioengineering, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Director, Program in Engineering Biology
Forward Thinking Idea: Celeste Nelson studies how groups of cells physically position or turn themselves into tissues and organs. Combining expertise from the cell biology, developmental biology and engineering communities, Nelson leads a group that develops tools and models that mimic tissue development, enabling rigorous quantitative analysis and computational predictions of the dynamics of morphogenesis — the developmental process that builds the lungs, kidneys and mammary glands.
Professor of Computer Science
Forward Thinking Idea: Ben Raphael develops algorithms and mathematical models to study cancer biology by identifying and interpreting alterations in genomes, reconstructing tumor evolution, and discovering novel therapeutic interventions. Using sophisticated algorithms to explore regions of the genome whose roles in cancer have been largely uncharted, Raphael and an international team of researchers opened the door to a new understanding of the disease’s genetic origins and how to track it throughout the body.
Alumni Forward Thinkers
Like the University that nurtured them, Princeton alumni know that complexity is challenging. But it is also inspiration to move forward. The first Forward Fest session in February highlights Princetonians who have pursued a wide variety of vocations and activities, faced impediments on their paths, and have mined their resilience (and strengthened that of others) to continue forward. The second session celebrates the inquisitive Princeton spirit, exemplified by tigers who have explored new territory and new ideas—or are in the middle of the hunt—in a variety of fields.
Julia Boorstin ’00
CNBC Senior Media and Entertainment Reporter
Forward Thinking Idea: Julia Boorstin covers media and entertainment for CNBC’s Los Angeles bureau, with a special focus on the intersection of media and technology. In 2013, she created and launched the CNBC Disruptor 50, an annual list highlighting the companies pulling the economy into the future and challenging established blue-chips with new technology and innovation. (Stripe, a digital payments platform, topped the 2020 list.) In 2018, she helped create “Closing the Gap,” a CNBC franchise that spotlights corporate efforts to close the gender and diversity gap.
Josh Brankman ’99
Executive Director, Outward Bound USA
Forward Thinking Idea: Josh Brankman ’99 is the executive director of Outward Bound USA, the national organization governing safety, risk management, national partnerships, strategy and scholarship fundraising for the network of regional Outward Bound schools that serves more than 35,000 students per year. Brankman grew up exploring the outdoors of his native New England, and at Princeton, he worked as a trainer and leader in Outdoor Action, on whose advisory board he still serves. He joined Outward Bound in 2009, as the founding director of Outward Bound California, and he assumed his national role in 2018.
Majka Burhardt ’98
Professional climber; conservation entrepreneur, author and filmmaker
Forward Thinking Idea: As a junior at Princeton, Majka Burhardt crafted her own independent study program in anthropology that enabled her to file field reports while climbing in Nepal. She’s never stopped reaching for adventure. After an expedition to Mount Namuli in Mozambique, she established Legado, a “thriving futures” nonprofit dedicated to protecting the world’s most threatened mountain ecosystems by working hand-in-hand with the people who call them home. Boosted by the Namuli documentary she co-directed, Legado is exporting its blueprint for economic and environmental partnership to other countries with similar needs.
Karen Roter Davis ’94
Director, Early Stage Projects, X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory
Forward Thinking Idea: Karen Roter Davis helps develop and translate experimental technologies into successful products. In a previous stint at Google, she oversaw internal operations for the company’s groundbreaking 2004 IPO and scaled early-stage businesses, such as Google Transit and AdSense. In between, she worked at GE Software and Analytics, kickstarting their Internet-of-Things strategy, and was general manager for Urban Engines, an urban mobility analytics startup. She has built a sterling career in innovative tech, but the experiences have given her appreciation for all aspects of a company.
Heather Gerken ’91
Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law, Yale Law School
Forward Thinking Idea: Heather Gerken is one of the country’s leading experts on constitutional law and election law. After graduating from the University of Michigan law school, Gerken clerked for Justice David Souter of the United States Supreme Court and then served as an appellate lawyer in Washington, D.C. At Yale, she founded and runs the country’s most innovative clinic in local government law, the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP). A trustee for Princeton University, she returns to her alma mater frequently for events such as the 2018 She Roars conference, at which she moderated a conversation with associate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor ’76 and Elena Kagan ’81.
Elizabeth R. Henry MD ’88 (Dr. Liz)
Pediatrician, parent coach, speaker, author and workshop facilitator
Forward Thinking Idea: Elizabeth R. Henry ’88 is the founder of Dr. Liz Consulting, which provides one-on-one virtual coaching sessions, webinars and courses that provide parents with tools and resources to communicate with their children. She can be heard on her podcast, “Ten Going on Twenty: Parenting Preteens to Young Adults with Dr. Liz,” and her book, “You Are Not a Bad Parent: A Pediatrician’s Guide for Reducing Conflict and Connecting with Your Teen,” will be published in 2021.
Suleika Jaouad ’10
Journalist, author and advocate
Forward Thinking Idea: Suleika Jaouad is a writer whose aspiration to become a war correspondent was cut short soon after her graduation, when, at age 22, she was diagnosed with leukemia. She began writing about her experience with cancer from her hospital room at Sloan-Kettering, and her reports became the Emmy Award-winning New York Times series, “Life, Interrupted.” She has since become a fierce advocate for those living with illness and enduring life’s many other interruptions. She is also the creator of The Isolation Journals, a community creativity project founded during the COVID-19 pandemic to help others convert isolation into artistic solitude. Over 100,000 people from around the world have joined. Her debut memoir, “Between Two Kingdoms,” was published by Random House on February 9, 2021.
Richard Preston *83
Author and science/environment communicator
Forward Thinking Idea: Richard Preston is the bestselling author of 10 books, including “The Hot Zone,” “The Wild Trees,” and his most recent, “Crisis in the Red Zone,” a gripping account of the 2013-14 Ebola epidemic that in many ways foreshadowed the current pandemic. His books explore little-known worlds of nature, science and the human experience, and have been published in more than 35 languages. Preston has taught nonfiction writing at Princeton University and the University of Iowa, and he is the only nonphysician to receive the Champion of Prevention Award of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Roy Swan ’86
Director, Mission Investments, Ford Foundation
Forward Thinking Idea: Roy Swan is responsible for the Ford Foundation’s $1.35 billion commitment to impact investments and grants globally. Prior to joining the Ford Foundation in 2018, Swan was managing director and co-head of Global Sustainable Finance at Morgan Stanley. His team committed more than $13 billion of the firm’s capital to community development transactions. Swan was the founding chief investment officer of New York City’s Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, which played a key role in Harlem’s economic rebirth, and he also served as chief financial officer at Carver Bancorp, the nation’s largest African American managed bank at the time.
Forward Thinkers Equity in Education
Princeton’s commitment to equity, access, and opportunity in education is a top strategic priority, and researchers in a variety of disciplines are investigating where K-12 and higher education systems need to improve and what interventions may be effective. Faculty members speak this month about this multidisciplinary work and how they are working inside classrooms and institutions to help us move toward a more equitable future for this generation and those who will follow.
Jennifer L. Jennings ’00
Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs and Director of the Education Research Section
Forward Thinking Idea: As a graduate student in sociology at Columbia University, Jennings published the acclaimed education blog, Eduwonkette, which dissected education data and challenged the assumptions and policies of the New York City school system. Today, her research focuses on how education policies affect inequality in children’s outcomes by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status and gender. Most recently, her team implemented interventions to help more than 50,000 NYC eighth graders choose higher-quality high schools.
Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Affairs
Forward Thinking Idea: Adam Kapor's research investigates the role of information frictions in education and housing and the regulation and design of markets and matching procedures to promote equity and fairness in access to these socially important goods. In work with New Haven Public Schools, he and coauthors measured families’ misperceptions about the school choice process and its impacts on their school assignments. In other work, he and coauthors designed an online “warnings” system and an application simulator to help families discover high-quality schools and submit applications with a high chance of success. This system is now deployed nationwide as part of Chile’s school choice process.
Stacey A. Sinclair
Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs
Forward Thinking Idea: Sinclair's lab examines how interpersonal interactions translate culturally held prejudices into individual thoughts and actions, with special attention on “social tuning” — how an individual subconsciously adjusts personal biases and values to the apparent views of peers or colleagues when they like the other people or feel uncertain. By this theory, prejudice can be contagious, but so can egalitarianism. Sinclair has conducted research on how institutional and individual behaviors stemming from culturally held prejudices can predict race-based achievement disparities. In 2019, she co-led a study that analyzed implicit racial bias in U.S. schools, finding that Black students are subject to disciplinary action at rates significantly higher than white students.
Forward Thinkers: Arts & Humanities
In this time of physical distancing, our need to remain connected to one another is one thing that signals our humanity. Professors in a variety of disciplines talk about how humanistic inquiry provides a useful lens for thinking about our current times and how reflecting on art and visual culture, music and literature helps us uncover connections that help us think forward new ideas in a variety of domains.
Howard Crosby Butler Professor of the History of Architecture; Professor of Architecture; Co-Director, Program in Media and Modernity
Forward Thinking Idea: Beatriz Colomina writes and curates on questions of design, art, sexuality and media. She has authored nine books, most recently “X-Ray Architecture,” and her work has been published in more than 25 languages. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has published articles and given interviews about the pandemic and its effects on architecture, including the series “Sick Architecture,” which she edited this fall and published online in “e-flux architecture.”
Rachael Z. DeLue
Christopher Binyon Sarofim '86 Professor in American Art; Professor of Art and Archaeology and American Studies; Chair, Department of Art and Archaeology
Forward Thinking Idea: Rachael DeLue studies American art, history and culture with a particular focus on intersections among art, science and the history and theory of knowledge. She partnered with Nathan Arrington ’02, associate professor of art and archaeology, to teach “Battle Lab: The Battle of Princeton,” a course where students used metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar to unearth artifacts from Princeton Battlefield State Park.
Professor of Music; Director, Music Cognition Lab
Forward Thinking Idea: Elizabeth Margulis approaches music from the combined perspectives of music theory/musicology and cognitive science. A pianist and professor of music, she directs the Music Cognition Lab at Princeton, where she uses theoretical, behavioral and neuroimaging methodologies to investigate the dynamic, moment-to-moment experience of listeners.
Assistant Professor of African American Studies and English; Charles G. Osgood University Preceptor
Forward Thinking Idea: Autumn Womack's research focuses on the intersection of Black cultural life and visual technologies, and she is currently at work on two book projects: “Un-discipling Data: Race, Visuality, and the Making of African American Literary Aesthetics, 1880-1930,” which charts the relationship between emergent visual technologies and Black literary and intellectual culture; and “The Reprint Revolution,” which considers the politics and practices that brought many 19th-century African American literary texts into the marketplace in the 1960s.
Forward Thinkers: Data Science and Artificial Intelligence
As the pace of data creation and collection continues to accelerate, professors in a variety of disciplines talk about both the power and potential perils of artificial intelligence and what limitations and safeguards we need to take into account moving forward.
Elad Hazan *06
Professor of Computer Science and Co-founder and Director of Google AI Princeton
Forward-Thinking Idea: Hazan and his team of computer scientists at Google AI Princeton research the automation of the learning mechanism and its efficient algorithmic implementation. In other words, they are developing more efficient methods so that artificial intelligence can learn quicker. Such advances are at the heart of future technologies, including autonomous vehicles, robotics and natural language processing.
Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Information Technology Policy
Forward-Thinking Idea: A sociologist who has pioneered uses of data and digital technologies in social research, Salganik is the author of the 2017 book, “Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age.” His research examines how social media, smartphones and other digital devices can transform our understanding of human activity, while keenly pointing out the complex ethical challenges of collecting massive troves of personal information.
Professor of Computer Science and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics
Forward-Thinking Idea: Working at the intersection of data science and molecular biology, Singh develops algorithms to decode genomes at the level of proteins. She has pioneered interdisciplinary courses in the field of bioinformatics, the method by which computers are used to synthesize vast quantities of raw biological data. Her recent work has identified genes and mutations that play a role in cancer development, an important first step to guiding new treatments.
Anne Case *83 *88 and Sir Angus Deaton
Case is the Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Emeritus
Deaton is the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of International Affairs, Emeritus; Professor of Economics and International Affairs, Emeritus; and a 2015 Nobel Laureate
Forward-Thinking Idea: After having first sounded the alarm about the precipitous rise of deaths of despair from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism in the U.S., Case and Deaton tie the crisis to the weakening position of labor, the growing power of corporations, and a health-care sector no longer serving the working class; their new book “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism” charts a new way forward.
Senior Research Scholar and Lecturer at the Princeton Environmental Institute; Director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy in Washington, D.C., and a voting member of the U.S. Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antimicrobial Resistance
Forward-Thinking Idea: Laxminarayan believes that by integrating economics and epidemiology, we can improve our understanding of antibiotic resistance as a problem of managing a shared global resource and bring national and global attention to this problem.
C. Jessica Metcalf
Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs; and Co-Director, Program in Global Health and Health Policy
Forward-Thinking Idea: A demographer with broad interests in evolutionary ecology, infectious disease dynamics and public policy, Metcalf bridges the study of pathogen population growth and spread within our bodies with the cross-scale dynamics of infectious disease transmission across and between countries. With greater understanding of these dynamics, we can increase our understanding of infectious disease spread and immunity.
Aisha Beliso-De Jesús
Professor of American Studies and Director, Program in American Studies, Asian American Studies and Latino Studies
Forward-Thinking Idea: Relying on the ethnographic techniques of a social and cultural anthropologist, Beliso-De Jesús believes that a key to understanding how different stakeholders grapple with national debates about community policing, in both a domestic and transnational context, lies at the intersection of religious practice, racialization, and law enforcement practices.
Assistant Professor of Politics and Public Affairs and Arthur H. Scribner Bicentennial Preceptor
Forward-Thinking Idea: Exploiting a range of research designs and data sources in his work on several facets of policing in the U.S., Mummolo recognizes how carefully parsing information from data can help society understand modern police tactics, police-citizen interactions and the path toward beneficial reform.
Professor of Anthropology and Director, Center on Transnational Policing
Forward-Thinking Idea: With the eyes and tools of an anthropologist, Ralph has detailed the social forces that make black urban residents vulnerable to disease and disability and, in some cases, violence at the hands of police. Through scholarship and documentary film, we come to understand potential ways forward not just through analysis of data but through listening and collective storytelling.
Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs
Forward-Thinking Idea: After spending five years gathering national data on why crime in most American cities has declined substantially, Sharkey believes that, while the nature of urban poverty has fundamentally changed, the approaches we have taken to confront violence have come with great costs and new approaches to deliver a variety of social services are necessary. Community investment, not punishment, he says, is the key to reducing crime.
Forward Thinkers: Election 2020
In a year when the American electorate is questioning the legitimacy and efficacy of the very process of selecting the president and other officials, four professors talk about approaches to understanding and addressing some of the nuts and bolts issues about voting in 2020.
Andrew Appel ’81
Eugene Higgins Professor of Computer Science
Forward-Thinking Idea: As a researcher in software verification, computer security, technology policy and election machinery, and as an American citizen who cares deeply about protecting our democracy, Appel believes that a number of practices — from eliminating direct recording electronic voting machines to conducting post-election audits before certification of final results — exist to help secure and inspire confidence in our election system.
Lecturer, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and Director, State Health and Value Strategies
Forward-Thinking Idea: Howard’s program provides technical assistance to support state efforts to enhance the value of health care by improving population health and reforming the delivery of health care services. She points out that, just as governors have been leading the charge to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, state leaders are at the forefront of innovative health policy development to protect consumers in a multitude of ways. To understand how healthcare is poised to change in America, look at the state level.
Kevin M. Kruse
Professor of History
Forward-Thinking Idea: Focusing his research on conflicts over race, rights and religion in America in the last half of the 20th century, Kruse helps us understand how political partisanship and deep social divisions have emerged along lines of race, class, gender and sexuality. Though attuned to how an increasingly fractured media landscape has worked to aggravate divisions in current American politics and society, he is nevertheless acutely aware that today’s media can also be a tool for increasing civic interest and participation; his wildly popular Twitter feed has been called a “mini-course on modern American political history.”
Jacob N. Shapiro
Professor of Politics and International Affairs
Forward-Thinking Idea: An expert in conflict, economic development, and security policy, Shapiro has turned his eye toward online foreign influence efforts — efforts coordinated by one state to affect a specific aspect of politics in another, such as using social media, and including with content intended to appear to be made in the target count