The Natural Sciences: Illuminating Our World

December 4th, 2015 / Advancement

Research in chemistry

Princeton’s scientists are conducting research with real-world impact, pursuing solutions that can improve human health, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, safeguard the environment, and help unravel the mysteries of the universe. Here’s a glimpse of just a few of their discoveries and most promising areas of exploration:

  • Study of the chemical components of butterfly wings by Edward Taylor, the A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Organic Chemistry Emeritus, eventually led to the development of a drug that is saving the lives of lung cancer victims.
  • Professor Bonnie Bassler, the Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology, discovered  “quorum sensing,” which told us how bacteria communicate and congregate. Now, she and her colleagues are working on ways to disrupt that communication and keep bacteria from clustering and contaminating medical devices and industrial pipes and filtration systems.

“Princeton University has a long-standing and well-deserved reputation for global excellence in the natural sciences.”
—President Christopher L. Eisgruber

  • Researchers in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute are working to understand the brain’s systems and behaviors, which could help scientists develop therapies for conditions like autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression and allow amputees to control prostheses with their brains. 
  • Neuroscience research Professor Michael Oppenheimer, the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, explores the potential for “dangerous” outcomes of increasing levels of greenhouse gases by examining the effects of global warming on ice sheets and sea level, on the risk from coastal storms, and on patterns of human migration.
  • Researchers at the Princeton Baby Lab study how babies and young children learn to see, talk, and understand the world, often using neuroimaging techniques that let researchers see infants’ brains change as they learn and develop.
  • Yibin Kang, the Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Molecular Biology, has discovered that bone tissue in patients with breast cancer sends a signal to breast tissue, instructing it to send the tumor to the bone, where it is likely to metastasize. He has developed an antibody that blocks that signal, which could eventually dramatically increase survival rates.
  • Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Kelly Caylor and his team in the ecohydrology lab work to explore the ways in which farming and climate change impact land in water-deprived areas.
  • Coleen Murphy, professor of molecular biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, leads a team of researchers who are trying to understand the mechanisms that underlie aging, with the goal of finding ways to slow the progress of age-related diseases. 

    Telescope component

  • Two telescopes on a Chilean mountaintop are surveying the faint temperature fluctuations left over from the explosive birth of the universe in an attempt to piece together its early history and understand how galaxies evolved. The project, led by Lyman Page, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Physics, and Suzanne Staggs, the Henry DeWolf Smyth Professor of Physics, reveals temperature patterns that help researchers answer questions about the composition and evolution of the universe. 

Princeton’s scientists have consistently been at the forefront of discovery about ourselves and the world around us, helping to shape their fields while preparing generations of students to make tomorrow’s transformative discoveries.