PBS Nature doc features Cornell Tree Climbing program

March 30, 2017

Dave Katz
Mark Holton descends a giant sequoia tree in 2010, the first year of a long-term research project recently highlighted in a PBS Nature show, "Yosemite."

A new television show, “Yosemite,” which premiered March 28 on PBS Nature and focuses on climate change, featured the Cornell Tree Climbing program.

The hourlong documentary explored climate change in the Sierra Nevada mountains, specifically inside Yosemite National Park in California. The show offered insight into climate-related issues affecting Yosemite, while also examining the wildlife, ecology and effects of humans on the park.

In a segment that covered the effect of climate change on iconic giant sequoias, Dave Katz, director of international programs at Cornell Tree Climbing, can be seen collecting seed cones in the uppermost reaches of an old-growth giant sequoia.

Katz has led a collaborative research project with the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Forestry each spring for the last eight years. The project aims to better understand the life cycle of giant sequoias as well as collect seed cones for a state-run seed bank at the LA MORAN reforestation center in Davis, California. In addition to the hourlong-show, a six-minute web extra was published by PBS on its website.

Krishna Ramanujan

One-stop shop for local trails

March 30, 2017


A new website,, provides maps and information on all the hiking trails in Tompkins County, thanks in part to the Cornell Botanic Gardens, a partner on the project.

The interactive site is compatible with mobile devices and gives users the option to search for trails according to activity, including hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, biking, running, skiing and snowshoeing. Other search criteria include site, difficulty, trail length and trail owner/steward. 

The mobile app contains GIS technology to explore 28,000 acres of public New York State forest.

The website is a project of the Tompkins County Parks and Trails Network, with project management by the Town of Ulysses, Cornell Botanic Gardens, Bike Walk Tompkins and the Tompkins County Planning Department.

– Krishna Ramanujan

A meeting of medical minds

March 30, 2017


Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, right, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell’s provost for medical affairs, recently met with Cayuga Medical Center President and CEO John Rudd to discuss their collaborative work.

In 2008, Weill Cornell Medicine and physicians affiliated with Cayuga Medical Center established a residency elective and primary care clerkship to expose doctors-in-training to health care in rural areas. This partnership was recognized with a Cornell Town-Gown Award in 2016.

This collaboration will now be further enhanced with a New York state rural training track grant that will provide funding to launch a three-year primary care rural residency program. This new initiative will support health equity efforts in sparsely populated areas, where there is a shortage of primary care doctors.

Residents will spend a year at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and two years at Cayuga Medical Center.

CornellNYC: The Empire State Building

March 28, 2017

A Cornell graduate helped define New York City’s iconic skyline. It’s just one of many ways Cornell University and Cornellians have impacted New York City.

Cornell has been a part of the fabric of New York City for more than 100 years. More than 50,000 Cornellians live in the greater New York City area. Cornell alumni in the city are leaders in the areas of business and finance, art and culture, science, healthcare, law, public service, media, tech, fashion and hospitality. 

Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech are located in New York City. The College of Architecture, Art and Planning; School of Industrial and Labor Relations; College of Engineering; and Cornell SC Johnson College of Business have locations in the city. Cornell Cooperative Extension programs support thousands of city residents and families in all five boroughs. 

Across the city, Cornell students live and learn, faculty conduct research to solve urgent needs, and community partners join us to raise the quality of life for millions of New Yorkers.

We Are Weill Cornell Medicine: Dr. Anthony Watkins

March 24, 2017

As the grandson of a successful surgeon, Dr. Anthony Watkins was inspired to pursue a similar career path in medicine. But he soon learned that becoming a great surgeon requires more than superior technical skills; it requires the ability to connect with patients.

“Medicine is part of the DNA of who I am. But what I’ve found equally important is the human element,” said Watkins, an assistant professor of surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine. “What drives me is this interest and desire to make a meaningful impact in people’s lives.”

Ezra, of hawk-cam fame, has died

March 24, 2017

Karel & BOGette

To the dismay of many bird-lovers on Cornell’s campus and elsewhere, Ezra, the hawk made famous through the Cornell hawk-cam, died March 19.

On March 18, the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center received an injured red-tailed hawk who was later identified as Ezra, and who had been found near the A.D. White House on campus. After examining him and taking X-rays, veterinarians determined that his severe wing fracture could not be repaired and flight would never again be possible. They made the difficult but humane decision to euthanize him.

– Krishna Ramanujan

Backstage with the Dead

March 23, 2017


Six quarts milk. Twelve large bottles Perrier water. Five cases Heineken’s beer. One half case colorless cream soda. Two bottles red Bordeaux wine (French).

These beverages – and many more – were requested by the Grateful Dead for the band’s May 8, 1977 show at Barton Hall, according to the tour rider in its contract with the Cornell Concert Commission. Pages from the contract, which also calls for a messenger with “enough sense to be able to come back from a supply house with something useful, the same day, and not lose the receipt,” are among the items associated with the historic show now on display in the library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

“It gives a pretty interesting behind-the-scenes look at the show,” said collections assistant Kristen Reichenbach ’16, who curated the small exhibit in the reference room on Level 2B, Kroch Library, to celebrate the concert’s 40th anniversary this year.

The show – known to Deadheads simply as “Cornell ’77” – was part of the band’s “Terrapin Station” tour and became a legendary part of Grateful Dead lore, widely considered one of their best concerts ever. At Cornell, it was also an iconic event, in part for the freak May snowstorm that struck campus while fans were inside Barton.

Since 2011, a recording of the show has been preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. “Cornell ’77,” a book about the show, will be released in April by Cornell University Press.

In addition to pages from the rider, the exhibition on display through May also includes photographs and newspaper reviews of the concert.

- Melanie Lefkowitz

Math professor mentors winner of science talent search

March 21, 2017

Steve Strogatz/Provided
Alex Townsend with his computer in Malott Hall.

When 18-year-old Aaron Yeiser was awarded second place honors – and $175,000 – in the national Regeneron Science Talent Search, no one was prouder than his mentor Alex Townsend, assistant professor of mathematics.

Townsend began mentoring the high school senior while he was an applied math instructor at MIT, through a program called MIT PRIMES. For the last 15 months, Townsend has continued to mentor Yeiser privately via weekly Skype and email exchanges.

“Aaron is an ambitious and mathematically talented young man with astonishingly advanced technical skills and heaps of perseverance,” said Townsend. “Working with Aaron is wonderful on every level. If I mention a mathematical topic, then by next week he will have taught it to himself. If I ask him a technical research question, he will come back to me with an expertly considered reply. His attitude to research and his own learning is his fantastic strength. Those of us who know Aaron realize that this is only the very beginning for him.”

Yeiser’s winning project involved developing a new mathematical method for use in the field of computational fluid dynamics. He ran his simulations on a mini-supercomputer Townsend built, which now resides in the basement of Malott Hall.

Yeiser's work was motivated in part by an NSF grant Townsend received to build a next-generation spectral method, which will help to solve real-world fluid flow and airfoil problems. Townsend’s goal is to demonstrate that spectral methods in computational mathematics can be a flexible, general and powerful numerical tool.

- Linda B. Glaser

IVF puppies: Where are they now?

March 21, 2017

Red and Green, now Jubs.

In 2015, the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine introduced the world to seven very special puppies – the first dogs born as the result of vitro fertilization. Three separate pairs of beagle and cocker spaniel parents contributed embryos, which were transferred to a fourth female. Genetic testing confirmed that all three breeding pairs contributed at least one puppy to the litter, but the surrogate mom did not.

The keys to successful canine IVF eluded scientists for decades because of unique features of canine reproduction. It took a team of veterinary researchers from Cornell and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute to crack the code. The process can now be used to rebuild populations of endangered canine species.

March 23 is National Puppy Day, so an update on the magnificent seven seems in order. The puppies will turn two this summer. All seven were spayed or neutered before they were adopted. Color-coded at birth, most have been renamed by their owners.

Dr. Alex Travis, who led the IVF project at the college’s Baker Institute for Animal Health, has Red, a female beagle, who was and still is named for the Cornell Big Red; and Green, a male beagle his children renamed Jubs. Travis sighs: “The thing they like best is chewing on just about anything that we don’t want them to chew on.”

Jennifer Nagashima went home with Cannon (Purple), a male cocker spaniel/beagle named for the late Cornell scientist Patrick Concannon, a pioneer in dog and cat reproduction. Yellow, a male beagle, was originally nicknamed Pete, and lives with IVF team member Nucharin Songsasen, a research scientist at the Smithsonian who renamed him Buddy. Blue was called Beaker at Cornell, but his adoptive family changed his name to Kiwi. The new name of Zebra, Ivy LeFleur, is a play on IVF.

- Claudia Wheatley



New site gathers the stories of Ivy minorities

March 16, 2017


Jordan Abdur-Ra'oof '18, a junior in the School of Hotel Administration and a forward on the Big Red men’s basketball team, recently launched a website called

"I wanted to create a website devoted to Ivy League minorities," Adur-Ra'oof said. "The purpose of the site is to serve as a literary platform where African-Americans, LGBTQ+, Hispanics, people of low economic status, wealthy African-Americans and other minorities could share their stories.

"This is a space devoted to challenging preconceived notions and stereotypes. With an ever-changing society, and strong emotions about race, gender and LGBTQ+ rights, the time was right to create a forum where some of the brightest minorities could share their experiences."