Sagan, alas, never made it to Mars. (NASA)

Highlights from the latest alumni news columns. Log into the Alumni & Friends Web Community using your CNetID and password to browse all alumni news by class year.

The power of Curiosity

Carl Sagan, AB’54, SB’55, SM’56, PhD’60, would have loved to see the rover Curiosity land on Mars. Better yet, he would have loved to be aboard, exploring the red planet himself. When the rover reached Mars in August, Sagan’s message to future Martian settlers, recorded just months before he died in 1996, resurfaced online. Sagan imagined many reasons explorers might have made the journey, from scientific research to the “deep nomadic impulse built into us.” Whatever the reason, he added, “I wish I was with you.”


Stamp of approval

Katherine Dunham, PhB’36, was one of four “innovative choreographers” commemorated on postage stamps unveiled July 28. Founding Dunham Dance Company in 1938, the first self-supporting African American company, Dunham drew on her undergraduate studies in the West Indies. Her pioneering style blended African and Caribbean influences with ballet. Dunham’s image on the stamp depicts her in a pose from her ballet L’Ag’Ya. In addition to choreographing 90 dances and appearing in films and plays, Dunham was a longtime activist in Haiti, where she lived from the 1950s until her 2006 death.


His brain on drugs

Jonathan Hirsch, AB’07, started conducting his own pharmacology research at age 12. Since then, through his undergraduate biology studies at UChicago, a Stanford neuroscience master’s, and professional stops at Avocet Polymer Technologies and Abbott Laboratories, Hirsch has been frustrated with the quality of information technology available to drug researchers. So he set out to fix the problem, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. Hirsch is now president of a six-employee startup, Syapse, founded to develop cloud-computing software for researchers, doctors, and biotech and pharmaceutical companies.


Behind the curtain

Daniel Aukin’s (AB’93) latest directorial effort, the premiere of Sam Shepard’s play Heartless, opened off Broadway on August 27. Aukin has two other plays opening off Broadway this fall, confirming the New York Times’s description of him as “furiously in-demand.” According to the Times, he’s an understated director who pushes actors to make mistakes in rehearsals. “He allows the actors to set sail,” Shepard said. “Then he finds where it’s necessary to cut back.”


Glass case

Philip Glass, AB’56, one of the 20th century’s most influential composers, turned 75 in January. Among the yearlong series of events marking his birthday, the two-disc set Rework: Philip Glass Remixed is scheduled for an October 23 release with tracks featuring artists such as Beck, Dan Deacon, and Memory Tapes. 


Working memory

Marilu Henner, X’74, remembers everything. Literally. With one of 12 known cases of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, the former Taxi star can recall the events of every day of her life. She also teaches memory classes, instructing people to tap into their “dominant sense that helps them record, retain, and retrieve” memories. In an August article in the Chicago Sun-Times, Henner offered tips for an, ahem, unforgettable summer. She had advice related to all five senses and, to reinforce the memories, encouraged readers to “spend at least five minutes at the end of each day recording your thoughts.”


From shipwreck to safety

The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors forced President Teresa A. Sullivan, AM’72, PhD’75, to resign in June, only to reinstate her 16 days later amid protests. In a surprise move, the board, concerned that the university was not adapting to changing financial and technological conditions, asked for and received Sullivan’s resignation June 10. Two weeks of controversy followed—even the interim president questioned Sullivan’s ouster. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell stepped in, saying he would ask the entire board to resign if it did not resolve the matter quickly. Addressing supporters after her June 26 reinstatement, Sullivan quoted UVa founder Thomas Jefferson after he had been elected president: “It is pleasant for those who have just escaped threatened shipwreck to hail one another when landed in unexpected safety.”