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From Big Questions to Small Epiphanies, for 10 Years Pitt Magazine Has Celebrated the Life of the University.


Light itself. Brightness of being. The scintillating glow of optic fiber. That was the cover of Pitt Magazine, Volume 1, Number 1, back in 1986. The University of Pittsburgh was about to turn 200, poised on the cusp of a bicentennial celebration. With grandeur, panache, and just plain fun, Pitt would honor its past and envision its future. Fireworks, intellectual as well as pyrotechnic, would illuminate the landscape. And so it was, out of a spirit of exuberance, out of a faith in this University's purpose, that a new magazine was born.

Pitt is well into century number three now. But a celebratory mien still seems to characterize Pitt Magazine. We still hope to convey the life and strength and story of this University. And so, within the ambient light of this place, we tap the rigor of ideas, the character of people, and the lasting power of teaching. We have found much that is good to celebrate.

One of the joys of writing for a university magazine is the freedom to explore, the temerity to probe anywhere within the universe of ideas. Pitt Magazine has always allowed space for the Big Questions, ancient wonderings lent a new sense of urgency by contemporary technology. "What is the meaning of life?" Yes, we tackled such a query straight-faced (with maybe a tincture of irony). Our philosophers and ethicists and other modern-day oracles revealed astute insights and conundrums galore. "What is the history and destiny of the universe?" We also took a shot at that one after gazing at the heavens perhaps a tad too long. Our physicists and cosmologists and other modern-day seers rhapsodized about time and distances beyond imagination. This magazine has explored the changing sense of beauty in the twentieth century; the nature of comedy; the comedy of nature; the risks we are willing to take and those we choose to ignore; the glory of mistakes; the future of cities; the enigma of hate crimes; the quandaries of childhood; the relationships between men and women, between one ethnic group and another, and between humans and machines. Despite the eminence and acumen of our sources, we have pinned down no definitive answers on the Big Questions. No pretense at certainty or even proximity to certainty. But we have, in some infinitesimal way, like scribes with their scrolls, nudged forward fundamental human conversations that have been going on since the dawn of civilization. Or so we believe. It is an act of faith.

For centuries, universities have attracted men and women who wrestle profoundly with the Big Questions. Pitt is home to more than a few of such spirits--here on campus and among our alumni. We have tried to bring their wisdom to light.

Wisdom's lessons often took us into the messy world. We have sat overnight in medical emergency rooms as physicians attended to the hurt and the dying. We have tried to understand why alcohol and drugs are such powerful lures for teenagers--the science of it, the sociology of it. We have confronted the growing numbers of young, lost souls: children committing suicide. We have seen, too, the agony of those who did not choose to die.

The great pioneer of human organ transplants, Thomas Starzl, wrote in these pages of the death of a patient, a young girl from Texas named Stormie Jones whose capacity for joy was extraordinary. And though he had provided her almost superhuman care, her death struck him as "more cruel than a stake through the heart."

Yet another perspective from a feature titled "A Song of the Heart." A heart transplant surgeon comments: "One of the reasons I am a heart doctor is that...I see amazing things happening. There is sometimes an unexplained resiliency that overcomes death." Pitt Magazine is sometimes about human pain and loss, but it is overwhelmingly about human hope and triumph.

We do admit to a penchant for the quiet epiphanies of life. In the section called Commons Room, writers and illustrators attempt to touch, often obliquely, upon the wonderful human connections that occur within our community. We've observed students in their whimsy and play: serenading on a Valentine's Day odyssey, or attempting the steps of an esoteric craze known as ballroom dancing. We've also covered students at times of emotion and confusion: as they protested on the eve of the Gulf War, or as a young Vietnamese woman spoke softly of her father's heroism in guiding her family to America as "boat people."

We hope that tableaus such as these create within our pages a commons room of grace and dignity, a room alive in light and the brightness of being.
--Tommy Ehrbar

January 1989

When [Bill Cassidy first went] to the Antarctic, he found two meteorites during his first 25 minutes in the field. "It was an immediate success. Of course, we didn't find any more for six weeks." He laughs. "I was getting a little discouraged. Then, in the waning days of the season, we found a major concentration of meteorites and picked up 30-some specimens at one site."

Since his first visit in 1976, Cassidy, professor of geology and planetary science, traveled to Antarctica 15 times in search of meteorites. "Between our team and the Japanese team, we increased the world's supply of meteorites for research by a factor of three," he reports. "That's a source of great satisfaction."

Meteorites from space--preserved in near-pristine condition in the Antarctic cold--provide a glimpse for scientists of what the young universe may have looked like--the "primordial building blocks," Cassidy says. He made his last journey to Antarctica in 1992, and recently retired from the project after three decades of trekking to the southern hemisphere.

January 1988

[Diving coach Julian] Krug describes the process with a simple declaration: "I don't particularly like the word 'caution.' I teach kids to throw caution out the window. I want them to attack."

A four-time Olympic trials qualifier himself ('64, '68, '72, '76), Krug has two possible Olympic candidates on his current team: junior John Soulakis and senior Sunday Lewandowski. "If you're focusing on being defensive, you're focusing on what can go wrong," Krug notes, describing how he has coached these exceptional divers. "It's better--it's safer--to concentrate on a positive outcome. Caution, fear, anxiety, tension--they're all the enemy. It's like art: No great artist ever painted out of fear."

September 1994

The big question now, of course, is whether Ildstad's discoveries in the laboratory will work in people. The results with larger animals in "preclinical" trials have been promising enough for them to begin clinical--i.e., human--trials on a broad front of diseases.

Suzanne Ildstad, director of Pitt's Division of Cellular Therapeutics, has been working to perfect bone marrow transplantation that could ultimately revolutionize the treatment of a remarkable array of diseases--from diabetes to sickle cell anemia to AIDS. In less than two years, her research has become world news, and her results are more than promising. On December 14, 1995, a California AIDS patient received a bone marrow transplant from an Olive baboon, a species whose bone marrow cells are resistant to the HIV virus. The transplanted baboon marrow, initially removed from the animal by Ildstad and her team of doctors at Pitt, will hopefully enable the AIDS patient to rebuild his immune system and then produce immune cells to fight the virus.

January 1992

In a typical city's solid waste, all six types [of plastic] are haphazardly mixed together.The trick to turning old plastic bottles into new is to carefully separate out each type. Today's separation technique is time consuming and labor intensive.... Because demand for recycled plastic exceeds supply, plastics manufacturers are looking to researchers like [Eric] Beckman to come up with faster, more efficient processes.

In 1992, Eric Beckman, assistant professor in Pitt's chemical engineering department, succeeded in creating an efficient method for sorting plastic by immersing the plastic in baths of carbon dioxide and other inert materials. Four years later, with that process patented, the NSF-named National Young Investigator is focusing his attention on the flip side--on safer ways of making plastic in the first place. "At first people looked at waste, they looked at recycling," says Beckman. "But recycling took a bit of a dive in the past couple of years. We've expanded our world view, broadened our view on the environmental issue in regard to polymers. People have started to wonder if there is a more environmental way to generate plastics, a way to avoid the waste that is made during manufacturing. We've created a process that uses carbon dioxide to make polycarbonate--more environmentally benign than using phosgene, which is extremely toxic and generates a lot of waste. This is a good thing, a very good thing."

September 1992

[When Kristin Nitowski began studies] in the Fessenden Honors Program, there were two women out of 16 students. She felt uncomfortable at first. "But that only lasted a week or two," she says. "I made some really great friends. I think guys are a great resource."

In an article discussing the small but growing number of women in engineering, Kristin Nitowski, then a junior, described her educational experiences at Pitt. An April 1995 graduate in chemical engineering, Nitowski now works in product development for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio. "Procter & Gamble pays a lot of attention to minority concerns and makes it a point to hire women into its engineering department," Nitowski says. "No one here has ever treated me any differently because I'm a woman. I guess I'm not a very dramatic story--I liked engineering, I did well in it, and I got a job I love. I consider myself very lucky."

January 1989

What makes snowflakes so attractive to chaos researchers is that they offer a slice of simplicity in a field where even the most elementary problems are already dizzyingly difficult. "Rather than talk about the complete chaos you have in, say, a hurricane, we can instead talk of the simple kind of pattern you get when a snowflake grows," [James] Maher says. "It's not really fully developed chaos we're looking at; we're more on the road to chaos than at chaos."

When physics and astronomy professor James Maher discussed his research in disorderly systems six years ago, he had no idea he would become provost of the University. While some might argue that studying "chaos theory" is appropriate training for running a major research institution, Maher seems to have it all under control--though a few more hours in the day might help. "I'm still following up on snowflakes, trying to understand regularities of disorderly systems," he says. "The work is not going as fast as it used to. I still work with PhD students in lab; we meet on Saturday mornings to discuss work. It's a little hard on the body because being provost is more than a full-time job."

March 1992

The zoo's NOAHS (New Opportunities in Animal Health Sciences) Center has begun a massive cheetah salvage project. The cheetah's gene pool is alarmingly small. DNA maps show that most animals in the species have genetic makeups so close they are like identical twins, or at best, cousins. With intensive effort, what remains of the species' variability may be preserved, and new adaptive mutations may become "fixed" in the population's gene pool.

Robert Hoage (Arts and Sciences '78, '73) is chief of the Office of Public Affairs at the National Zoo in Washington, DC--a public institution that has evolved from a classical zoo to a place of significant scientific research, especially with endangered species. "We've just opened the Cheetah Conservation Station," he reports. "It's part of the NOAHS Center's work with assisted artificial reproduction. We have six cheetahs right now but only want to breed two who are distant enough genetically. This is a major thrust as far as research in cheetah conservation goes, but it's really only the tip of the iceberg." <

November 1993

In a small lab on the third floor of Langley Hall, Pitt biology professor Graham Hatfull...stares at the letters on his computer [monitor]: ACGTAGGTACACTGATGAC....What looks like Wheel of Fortune on steroids is really the code letters of "base pairs," the molecules that make up the DNA. These DNA sequences form genes, the hereditary stuff that keeps the species going. For Hatfull, the species in question is the L5 bacteriophage. Hatfull is slowly locating all 88 genes of L5's genetic code--a sequence that's made of 52,000 base pairs (actually 52,297 to be exact, and Hatfull is exact). By carefully extracting and testing different sections of the DNA sequence, Hatfull plots out this incredibly meticulous "gene map" of the L5 bacteriophage.

Graham Hatfull works with bacteriophages--viruses that, among other things, attack mycobacterium, the organism that causes tuberculosis. Hatfull's work concentrates on the genetic makeup of these viruses and how the gene's proteins "express" themselves. "We're beginning to find out how these viruses evolve," he notes. "By taking a look at the order of the genes within the chromosomes, we can begin to figure out how these viruses came to be. We believe these are key questions that may be explored in other viruses, including the Ebola virus and HIV." In 1994, Hatfull was named Eberly Family Professor of Biotechnology at Pitt.

January 1989

Whenever he's done competing in basketball...Sean [Miller] thinks that will probably be it for him and the hoops, for the relationship that's been hot and heavy since he was six.... "I plan to use my scholarship to prepare for a good job after graduation, maybe running my own business. I'll probably pick something else to try to be the best in. Maybe golf....Who knows?"

Sean Miller, former point guard for the Pitt Panthers, became famous as a child prodigy--dribbling an amazing four basketballs at once in front of television cameras on The Tonight Show. Miller still holds the Big East record for hitting more than 90 percent of his free throws.

After graduating in 1991, Miller worked as an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio) and at the University of Wisconsin--two teams that turned losing programs into winning ones. Last year, Miller returned to Pitt as assistant coach under Ralph Willard, which he says gives him almost more satisfaction than being a player.


As [Kevin Ashley] envisions it, the tutorial [part of an artificial intelligence computer program Ashley created] will pose a legal problem and ask students to find the most relevant past cases. Selecting icons from the screen, students will "whittle down" the choices. Do they want cases where the plaintiff won? Cases that share important facts with the one at hand? Which facts? The program will analyze the choices, comparing them with the way [it] makes its own selections, and offer a critique.

As a Presidential Young Investigator in 1990 holding appointments in the School of Law and the Learning Research and Development Center, Kevin Ashley began converting his artificial intelligence computer program, HYPO, into the Case Argument Tutorial (CATO) that would give law students insight into legal reasoning. CATO, the dissertation project of Ashley's student Vincent Aleven, argues cases in trade secrets law. This semester, the tutorial makes its first trial run in the classroom.

March 1992

From a Pitt Magazine dossier: The most pressing social issue my generation faces: "I'd rather not say one is more important. Discrimination, diseases, poverty, violence. Those who came before us didn't think of the future. This society is geared to helping the haves rather than the have-nots. I believe some in my generation are learning to think as a collective." My best college experience: "Having my play, Union Station, produced by Kuntu Repertory Theater."

In 1992, Marta Effinger was a Pitt senior preparing to graduate with a double major in black studies and English writing. After getting her master's in African-American studies at Yale, she is now pursuing a PhD in theater and drama at Northwestern. "As a playwright and researcher, I try to combine the social realities of African-American women with theater. I was raised by African-American women, surrounded by women, and I see how the story of their lives can be included on a theatrical level. This kind of performance isn't easy, it's not always feel-good, wasn't-that-nice kind of theater. I hope that my work will really challenge your mind," she says.

August 1990

In the late 1960s, scientists knew that Parkinson's Disease was caused by a deficiency of a certain brain chemical, dopamine. Then came a breakthrough treatment: inserting a precursor of the chemical (L-Dopa) that would later be transformed into dopamine. Taking off from the work of [Michael Zigmond and Edward Striker, then-chairman of the behavioral neuroscience department] with animal models of Parkinson's, researchers are experimenting with directly transplanting human cells that in turn produce dopamine.

Michael Zigmond is a Pitt neuroscientist who studies brain disorders like Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease. "Now our group of researchers--nearly 30 in all, which is many more than before--is trying to figure out what exactly causes neurons that contain dopamine to degenerate in Parkinson's Disease," explains Zigmond.

"Basically, we're asking the same questions that we were asking five years ago, but now we are using broader techniques like the electron microscope to actually view the brain. We have so much more information than we did before--neuroscience has just exploded as a field."

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