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Spring 2004
  A Sense of Place
Tufts commissions ten–year master plan for the Medford/Somerville
  New dean of Sackler School Named
Dr. Naomi Rosenberg has been appointed
  Bound for Mars
Chemistry professor Samuel Kounaves builds a “robotic geochemist”
  The Simpsons
A popular animated series finds its place in the hearts and minds of students
A Sense of Place

How does Tufts define its physical identity when the most distinctive campus sits at the top of a hill? How does the university define its sense of place as its academic and research needs evolve?
These are among the questions an award-winning architectural firm will strive to help Tufts answer as it creates a ten-year master plan for the Medford/Somerville campus.

William Rawn Associates Architects, Inc. (WRA) of Boston has been commissioned to replace a plan developed more than 15 years ago, said John Roberto, vice president for operations.

“We are thrilled to be working with William Rawn Associates,” said Roberto. “Early on, Bill and his colleagues demonstrated a keen understanding of Tufts. They’re creative designers and planners whose project approach is very well aligned with the university’s culture.”

The plan’s overall goal is to translate academic and research priorities into a physical plan, said Roberto. As such, it will consider both the renovation and reuse of existing space and construction of new facilities. The plan will be developed over the next year and as the individual components of the academic plan move forward, the physical master plan will be in lockstep with it.

He added that the plan will encourage and strengthen a sense of community. “Not just the Tufts community, but the cities of Medford and Somerville as well. The needs and concerns of our host communities will be considered as we deal with context, form, open space, and landscape,” he said. “Bill Rawn has worked closely on many of these issues over the years, on both academic and residential housing projects, and his experience will prove invaluable as we stay mindful of our neighbors.”

Rawn, who is well known for his award-winning campus buildings, civic buildings, and music and theater centers, said he saw in the Tufts project two fascinating challenges.

“At the top of the hill and then moving down onto the President’s Lawn, there’s a distinctive Tufts landscape and architecture,” he said. “It’s our job to make certain this level of quality can be achieved in all sectors of the campus and bring about a unified sense of place for Tufts.”

Rawn said he was also attracted to the issue of university character. “Tufts’ second challenge is maintaining the intimate scale of a liberal arts college campus while also meeting the needs, priorities, and intensity of a major national research university,” he said. “We look forward to celebrating these two characters simultaneously.”

The firm brings exceptional credentials to the task in both design and planning. One of its signature buildings is Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood. Winner of seven national American Institute of Architects Honor Awards, the firm has an impressive track record in planning that includes a ten-year master plan for Northeastern University, planning and architectural work for Amherst, Williams, and Swarthmore colleges, and the conceptual design for the Arts Precinct at the University of Virginia.


Sackler School names new dean

Dr. Naomi Rosenberg has been appointed dean of the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. She will report to Dr. Michael Rosenblatt, dean of the School of Medicine.

Rosenberg, who joined Tufts in 1977, is professor of pathology and former director of the Genetics Graduate Program.

“I’m privileged to have the opportunity to work with Dean Rosenblatt and strengthen the graduate programs that we have and work to develop new ones,” said Rosenberg. She succeeds Dr. David Stollar, who has served in an interim capacity since July 2002. “We are immensely grateful to Dr. Stollar for his leadership during this time,” Rosenblatt said, adding that Stollar is returning to his laboratory to pursue important research in DNA antibodies and autoimmune diseases such as lupus.

In 1975, Dr. Rosenberg developed the first model to study the way leukemia developed in a tissue culture dish. “If you can study the disease in a controlled laboratory condition, you can identify which genes are changed when the cancer develops and you can actually manipulate those genes to try to understand how they contribute to the cancer,” she said.

Her research led the way for identification of a gene called abl, which causes chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). These discoveries were central to the development of imantinib, a drug used to treat the disease.

Over the years she has also mentored 23 Ph.D. students and seven postdoctoral fellows.

A native of Vermont, the new dean is married to another Tufts faculty member, Dr. Mort Rosenberg, who holds appointments at Tufts School of Dental Medicine and School of Medicine. She has a daughter in college and a son who will enter Tufts in September as a member of the Class of 2008.

Samuel Kounaves

Bound for Mars
Chemistry professor Samuel Kounaves builds a “robotic geochemist”

While NASA’s pair of rovers search for answers about the history of water on the red planet, their story is only one chapter of the much larger Mars Exploration Program. At Tufts, chemistry professor Samuel Kounaves and colleagues will be continuing the inquiry with research on the “Phoenix,” a new Mars lander set to launch in 2007. Kounaves is also working on developing a 2009 NASA Mars rover mission involving a robotic chemistry lab.

Q What is the mission of the “Phoenix”?
A The “Phoenix” will study the geologic history of water and search for evidence that Mars may have sustained life, or might still. It will “follow the water” by landing at high northern latitudes where the current “Odyssey” orbiter has reported near-surface ice. Whereas the current rovers are “robotic geologists” and are probing the surface, the “Phoenix” is a robotic geochemist with the ability to dig down one meter and perform a variety of chemical analyses on the retrieved soil samples.

Q Are there difficulties associated with landing techniques?
A The most recent successful missions, the “Path-finder” in 1997 and the current rovers, have used air bags, which by bouncing cushion the landing. The problem with this technique is the limitation in the size of the instrument payload that can be carried and the type of terrain on which it can safely land. “The Phoenix” will use a lander with retro rockets, similar to those used in the successful 1976 “Viking” mission.This allows for a larger lander with greater mass and more precise control of where it will touch down.

Q What are you hoping to find?
A The tasks will include searching for the origin of ice found on Mars, and evidence of past water and “habitable zones” to determine whether the soil could support past or present indigenous life.

Q Do you believe in the possibility of life on Mars?
A There are places on Earth that have harsher conditions than are found on Mars, and where living organisms are only now being found alive and prospering. Since Mars and Earth most likely had similar environments during their first billion years, there is no reason to suppose that life could not have developed and evolved on Mars, especially in a protected underground environment.

Q Some say the rovers, or orbiters, offer a richer source of information than the landers. What’s your perspective?
A Current rovers allow us to probe a large surface area, but a large lander such as “Phoenix,” with the ability to dig a meter into the subsurface, will be able to provide a much wider range of science. The craft can do wet chemical analyses to determine inorganic chemistry and the oxidizing properties of the soil, it can identify minerals and their phases, and it can identify organic compounds.This information is vitally important in understanding the geochemistry and the potential of the Martian environment to support life. In addition, this information is critical for ensuring the safety of astronauts who may land there. The distinction between rovers and landers will of course disappear with large rovers such as the MSL 2009, which can do both.
Josh Belkin, A04, and Pam Aghababian, A04, seen here with their club’s namesake, Homer Simpson, are co-teaching “The Simpsons in Society” this semester.

The Simpsons
A popular animated series finds its place in the hearts and minds of students

In an episode of The Simpsons called “Homer the Great,” Homer Simpson is crestfallen when he’s barred from the “No Homers Club.” “Why not?” he whines. “You let in Homer Glumplich.” “It says No Homers Club,” comes the definitive reply. “We’re allowed to have one.”

That exclusivity certainly doesn’t apply to the other No Homers Club, a Tufts student organization open to anyone with a penchant for the “deeper meaning” of the animated series, and considered the first of its kind in the country. Co-founder Josh Belkin, A04, explains the club as an appreciation for The Simpsons as “more than a kid’s cartoon—it’s a biting political satire and social commentary about American culture.”

Belkin and club co-chair and member Pam Aghababian, A04, are now taking that philosophy into the classroom. They’re teaching “The Simpsons and Society” at the Experimental College and the course description neatly sums up their ambition: “We’ll investigate how the show has depicted institutions such as religion, government, education, family, the entertainment industry, big business, and organized sports . . . . [we] will also explore the significance of parodying numerous works of classic literature and famous films on the show. Through readings, discussions, and screenings, we will understand how art is not only imitating life, but mocking it as well.”

Belkin and Aghababian introduced The Simpsons into the realm of pass-fail last year when they went to the Ex College with a proposal for a freshman seminar. “At first I think they were hesitant because they didn’t think there would be anything academic behind it,” says Aghababian. “But then we showed them a full-page bibliography and they said all right!” It went on to be one of the most popular freshman seminars of the semester.

Tufts students crave the quirky originality of The Simpsons in part, say Belkin and Aghababian, because they’ve probably been watching since the age of ten or 12, absorbing endless Simpsonesque details. From there it’s not a stretch to see episodes and characters as critiques on society, for example, Itchy and Scratchy as parodies of cartoon violence, or Mr. Burns as a take on corporate America.
A talented graduate also may explain Tufts’ affinity. Emmy Award–winner Hank Azaria, A88, provides multiple voices on the show, including Moe the bartender, Apu the Kwik-E-Mart owner, Police Chief Wiggum, Professor Frink, Dr. Nick Riviera, and Comic Book Guy. When Azaria indulged students with “Apu-speak” at a recent Light on the Hill ceremony, the response shook Cohen to the rafters. “I missed that by a year,” says Belkin, wistfully.

With an instinct that students would join a club devoted to one of their favorite shows, Belkin and Richard Kalman, A04, co-founded the organization in 2001. “No Homers” quickly proved a hit; it snagged “Runner-up for Best Club” and its first Charity Dodgeball tournament won the “Imagination Award for Best Innovative and Creative Program” from the Office of Student Activities. (The event continued to grow; last year, 32 teams competed, raising hundreds of dollars for a local shelter.) And for Tufts students looking for relief from the academic grind, it’s an easy fix. Students gather on Wednesday nights to watch The Simpsons in Anderson Hall and engage in discussions; even more turn out for the annual Charity Trivia Challenge.

Belkin and Aghababian are graduating this spring, and both have high hopes that one of Tufts’ most unusual clubs will carry on. They point with pride that students paging through the Insiders Guide to the Colleges: 2003 Edition will find the “No Homers Club” mentioned as a key element of life outside of the Tufts classroom. (“Since then, applications and interest to Tufts have allegedly skyrocketed,” according to the No Homers website.) “We’re living in a media-driven culture,” says Aghababian, “and so students bring with them a real visual sense of the world. Who knows how that could change how they learn?”—LF

For more on the club, visit ase.tufts.edu/nohomersclub.