State of the State in Dollars and Cents
Facing unprecedented Draconian cutbacks on the state level, and a $3 trillion war draining the nation’s federal resources, wary New Jersey taxpayers are warning politicians not to seek solutions in their pocketbooks. Meanwhile, former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin is unsure whether our current economic slide has hit bottom or or will go another 18 months.
Truly, both state politicians and this year’s presidential candidates face daunting economic challenges. To help lay out several possible political paths and detail what our leaders might choose NJN Television’s senior political correspondent, Michael Aron, will speak on "The Political Forecast – How Much It Will Effect Your Business?" on Thursday, April 3, at 11:30 a.m. at the Princeton Marriott Hotel on College Road East. Cost: $45. Visit www.princetonchamber.org.
A veteran of both print and television journalism, Aron feels that both hold a vital place in reporting. "Print is able to give a depth of factual detail that is difficult to achieve in other media," he says. "On the other hand, I like television because it is more of a team effort, and you can poignantly reveal things that really hit home – such as was done in the civil rights movement."
Raised in a Philadelphia suburb, Aron attended Harvard University, earning a bachelors degree in government. He then earned his masters in public administration at Princeton University. Launching his journalism career in print media, Aron successively wrote for and edited "Seattle Magazine," the "Los Angeles Sunday Times Magazine," several in-flight magazines, "Harpers," "Rolling Stone," and finally "New Jersey Monthly."
In 1982 Aron left the print world for NJN Public Television and Radio. In addition to his special reporting on New Jersey’s political and social issues, he hosts and produces the weekly "Reporters Roundtable with Michael Aron" in which Garden State reporters join to discuss statewide political topics.
Exactly how much hope we can count on from above remains very much in question. All of our political leaders realize that current economic woes are the great white elephant in our living room. Their strategies for leading this pachyderm outside vary greatly, and business people are predicting a tight and painful fit.
Candidate pathways. Among the three major presidential hopefuls, Aron sees a rather traditional split along historic party interests. "Obama and Clinton have mostly aligned themselves with the standard Democratic platform which serves the working person’s goals," he says. "Meanwhile, Republican McCain seems to be taking his party’s usual business-friendly stance."
These leanings do not necessarily indicate a total anti-business or anti-worker plank, he says. Just recently Hillary Clinton stated she would pass legislation to protect mortgage companies from the threat of extreme lawsuits. Barack Obama, while named the most liberal senator by some journals, continually speaks to issues of economic revitalization. "McCain recently made the slip and said that the economy was not his strong suit," notes Aron, "but there is no doubt his knowledge and concern are vast. He has, I’m sure, the ability to take the problems in hand."
State of the state. "Everyone is wondering how New Jersey got itself into so poor a business climate when we are being run by one of Wall Street’s most successful businessmen," says Aron. "Admittedly, this is scarcely all Governor Corzine’s making." The governor inherited a state with exceptionally high taxes, a large debt, and a lot more mandates and regulations than most states in the region. New Jersey holds a $33 billion debt, (fourth highest per capita in the nation) with a $2.5 billion a year debt servicing. Aron further points to the federal burden of a deficit and war sucking up our resources, plus the pending recession.
"This is not the kind of climate that allows a liberal governor to do what he wants to do," Aron notes. The governor has sought and struggled to promote universal health care, add 100,000 units of new affordable housing, and fund new biotech research. And while in many ways these goals may have seen slim success, New Jersey has held onto its tradition of being a cutting-edge, progressive state.
The Garden State remains the leader in commitment to alternative energy – and the leader in alternative energy financial incentives. Aron notes that our high tax rate maintains more advantages and offerings for both residents and businesses. "If a business moves across the Delaware, it is going to pay less, but get a lot fewer services," he says.
Tapped out? On its own, New Jersey faces great fiscal problems, produced by a long history of taking in less than we spend. These fiscal troubles are joined by a downward economic spiral experienced throughout the region. "For years, we have kept ourselves afloat with creative financial maneuvering," says Aron. "But now we’ve increased the sales tax and even the income tax for those making more than $500,000 annually." One complaints is that this income tax rate boost is based on the small business’ gross, not the actual salary taken by the owner.
Aron points to two watershed moments that have at last made the New Jersey Legislature sit up and take notice. First was the November, 2007, defeat of the governor’s proposed stem cell research bond. While most believed in stem cell research, the words, "Will you fund a $450 million bond that …" proved enough to nix the referendum. The second wake up call came with Corzine’s town meetings on his toll hike proposal. The near-unanimous chilly reception forced this plan to the shadows.
Will New Jersey’s toll roads again be pushed as a source of economic salvation? Assuredly not in the old Corzine form, Aron feels. The much less ambitious plan to raise tolls 25 percent over 10 years, along with a six-cent-per-year gasoline tax increase, with a little tweaking, could stand a chance of adoption.
Yet with the state coffers nearly empty, are the taxpayers tapped out or merely unwilling? Many nations pay far higher residential and commercial taxes than New Jersey, with more services making up for the extra pinch. Higher taxes would give the Garden State the sewerage and transportation systems it desperately needs and even fix much of the flagging health care industry.
Cosmetic cuts. Last year the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, with rapid response, oversaw the recall of poison beef that had entered more than 100 schools and countless stores. This is necessary work, and no responsible government would do away with such functions.
That said, on February 26 Corzine announced that the New Jersey Commerce Commission and the departments of Agriculture and Personnel were to be eliminated from the state’s new frugality budget.
Aron feels that if any of these entities are legislatively eliminated, their people and duties will of necessity go on under new titles, rather than totally disappear.
The Commerce Commission, which was already downgraded from a department to a commission under Governor Christie Whitman, could move even closer to the governor’s office. Ever since Corzine unveiled his Office of Economic Growth in 2006 and brought its chief, Gary Rose, on as a cabinet member, a certain duplication has occurred.
"If these elimination’s take place they will be more cosmetic than real," says Aron. The savings are not great (a scant $4 million for the Department of Agriculture) and with so much of their functions mandated, these state workers may even remain at their same desks, serving a different department, he says.
"At this point, I think the governor is placing all his efforts in getting his budget passed," says Aron.
– Bart Jackson
Tuesday, April 8
Women In Business: Talking the Talk
To make it in the business world today, everyone needs strong presentation skills and the ability to speak in front of others, whether one-on-one, in a small group, or in front of a large audience. Many women, however, are uncomfortable making presentations, according to speech coach Gordon Jacoby. "They often aren’t mentored in the same way as men, so they don’t get the practice or the feedback," he says.
To give women an opportunity to practice their speaking skills in "a safe environment," Jacoby is teaching an eight-session course called "Presentation Skills for Women" beginning on Tuesday, April 8, and running Tuesdays through May 20 at 7 p.m. at the Princeton YWCA, 59 Paul Robeson Place, Princeton. Cost: $185. To register call 609-497-2100.
Jacoby brings a lifetime of listening to his work as a speech and dialect coach, beginning with his childhood as "a street urchin," in New York City. His mother ran a rooming house "filled with rough and tumble types from all over," he says. "I listened to all of the sounds and I probably picked up the worst of the worst accents."
He admits that his early teachers probably did not choose him as most likely to get a Ph.D. "I wasn’t that interested in school. I just got by," he said. But one important lesson he did learn, at school and at his mother’s rooming house, was how to work hard. It was the late 1940s and finding a job was probably easier for a 13-year-old than it is today. "There was a parking lot and auto mechanic’s place at the corner of 7th and 13th streets," he says. "I didn’t know how to drive but the owner just said, `Get in and do it.’" By the time he finished high school Jacoby was working full-time at the garage.
That might have been the end of his story – a great garage mechanic who lived his life in New York City. But a few years later Jacoby headed to California. "It was a girl of course. And of course she dumped me soon after we got there," he says. But he liked the area and quickly found work at a garage specializing in Porsche and Volkswagen repairs. "I was one of only three people who spoke English. Everyone else spoke German," he says. As he hadat home, he enjoyed listening to the language and picking up the accents of his fellow workers.
One day he discovered Pasadena City College. "The city college program in California in the 1950s was phenomenal," he says. "So much was available for free. I wandered in one day and said, `So what do you people do here?’ and they asked me if I wanted to sign up for some classes."
He took English composition, anthropology, and "anything else that was available at night," two courses at a time, for the next year or so. Then, because his mother needed help at home, he returned to New York. But the one thing he brought back with him from California was a love and appreciation for education.
He enrolled at City University of New York and gravitated toward the speech and drama department. "I was interested in theater, but one of my professors steered me away from it. He encouraged me in the speech pathology area instead." At about the same time Jacoby met his wife, Elaine.
"She was from New England and she attended Mount Holyoke College," he says. "She civilized me."
They married in 1963, right after they both graduated, and headed to Ohio, where both had been accepted to graduate school at Ohio State University. Jacoby began his graduate studies in speech pathology, but again soon gravitated toward the theater department. "I quickly found I was a very good coach," he says, and for his dissertation he combined his love of theater with his speech background and developed a system for learning dialects.
After receiving his doctorate in the late 1960s he spent a few years as a professor at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, then headed back to New York City where his wife would have more opportunities to pursue her own career. She eventually attended law school and recently retired after practicing law in New Jersey for almost 20 years.
Jacoby went to work as a professor at City University in 1971, but he didn’t enjoy the politics of the academic world. In the late 1970s he decided to leave academia and go out on his own as a speech coach.
"I put ads in all of the trade newspapers and I began to get work coaching individuals and working at an actor’s studio," he says. He became well-known for his abilities in teaching dialects and has worked with actors from foreign countries who need to perfect their English. His career has also brought its share of high profile clients including Joan Plowright, Bob Hoskins, Danny Glover, Olympia Dukakis, and Nicholas Cage.
In the 1990s his career took another unusual turn. He was teaching at Rutgers University and became acquainted with some of the professors in the agriculture department. He became fascinated with agriculture and in 1993 purchased a farm in Stockton. "As a coach I was constantly traveling, and I was tired of it," he says. "I seemed to have a natural affinity for greenhouses and agriculture."
As a small farmer he sold specialty crops to restaurants in Stockton, Lambertville, and New Hope, Pennsylvania. After 11 years in Stockton he and his wife decided it was time to leave. He denies that he has retired, however. He and his wife now live in Pennington and he continues to keep active teaching a few days a week at a studio in New York City.
Body language. One of the most important things for a person to remember when giving a presentation is the importance of posture and gestures, says Jacoby. Posture and movement, hand gestures, and eye contact all play an important role in how we are perceived when making a speech. "Too often we see speakers make almost involuntary gestures with their hands; they are either too wild or too small," he says.
Appropriate gestures involve the audience in what is being said and add emphasis to particular words or phrases. Eye contact is another important area of body language that makes many speaker uncomfortable. While the inexperienced speaker may be afraid to look at the audience, "making eye contact with various individuals suggests that you are talking to each person individually, rather than just talking into space," he says.
Voice. The way in which a person speaks can either increase or decrease the audience’s perception of her professionalism and expertise. Speaking too softly, a nervous laugh, or other verbal mannerisms can decrease the speaker’s authority, says Jacoby.
Another common trap many speakers fall into is to memorize a speech. "To memorize something word for word eliminates the vibrancy and color of the presentation," he says. "It is much better to really become an expert on what you are talking about. You can always use notes, but practice what you are speaking about until you can really do it well."
Comfort level. Practice is the best way to increase a woman’s confidence, Jacoby says, which is why practicing in a safe place, such as a classroom or workshop, is so important. That comfort level will help a speaker when the inevitable glitches, problems, or mistakes occur. "You must be able to stay in the moment and not become distracted," he says. If something negative occurs you need to be able to regain your focus and concentrate on your presentation," says Jacoby.
The more presentations a woman makes, the more her comfort level will increase, he says. That increased comfort and confidence will show in her posture, her gestures, and her voice, bringing more authority to her presentations. – Karen Hodges Miller
Channel Surfing Around the Web
Even just a few years ago, few people imagined we would be watching videos, movies, and television programs through the computer. But as the broadband widens and more consumers plug into it, connections to today’s faster Internet are bringing home files that not too long ago were prohibitively large.
How it’s done will be the subject of "Video, Movies and TV on the Web," a presentation by Sol Libes of Ewing’s SeniorNet on Tuesday, April 8, at 1:30 p.m. The free session takes place at SeniorNet’s new facilities at 999 Lower Ferry Road in Ewing and will be preceded at 1 p.m. by a question and answer session. The program is the latest in SeniorNet’s on-going "Computer Tips and Tricks" series presented on the second Tuesday of each month. No registration is required. For more information, visit www.ewingsnet.com or call 609-882-5086, or 609-883-1009.
"TV over-the-air is going digital and computers with low-cost digital tuner devices are becoming an alternative to buying a new digital TV," Libes says. He plans to discuss some of the TV programming currently available on the World Wide Web, much of which is free. He also will talk about some of these new technologies and give some insight into what the future might hold.
Libes, a member of SeniorNet’s all-volunteer faculty for the past nine years, is a retired professor of electrical engineering and computer programming. He also is the author of 16 books primarily on computer hardware and software design. He has written extensively for many magazines and journals, served as a monthly columnist for "Byte" magazine, and was for 10 years the editor of Microsystems Journal, a publication for computer hardware and software designers.
In 1975, Libes founded the Amateur Computer Group of New Jersey, the oldest personal computer club in continuous existence. He also co-founded the Trenton Computer Festival, an annual event returning to the College of New Jersey on April 23.
Thursday, April 9
Often a single business can’t do it all and has to look to others for help. A smaller company is usually strong in the skills critical to its mission but, to fully serve its customers’ needs, it might need to reach out to fill in with experts in other areas.
But it works the other way around too. Even large pharmaceuticals may rely on small companies to help fill their pipelines, linking up, in some cases, with as many as 500 partners. Or companies may simply be outsourcing in hopes of saving some money.
In all these cases the attention companies pay to deciding on with whom to partner with and build relationships will likely make the difference between success and failure. Alliances require ongoing care and management, and businesses that develop partnerships must assume responsibility not only for their own problems but for those of their partners.
Elizabeth Treher, president and cofounder of the Learning Key in Washington’s Crossing, has developed a process for creating and managing strategic relationships, which she shares in seminars and through a game she has developed called "Partnering Success: The Challenge." Not all types of outsourcing are strategic, she explains. For example, when a company hires another to produce a single component on a one-time basis, the relationship is merely transactional. As you go up the continuum toward strategic relationships, says Treher, there is more trust and integration of assets.
Treher will speak on "Strategic Partnerships: Activities for Improving Alliances and Outsourcing Relationships" on Wednesday, April 9, at 9 a.m. at the Learning Key, 1093 General Washington Memorial Boulevard, Washington’s Crossing, Pennsylvania. Cost: $495. For more information visit www.thelearningkey.com.
Treher received all of her degrees from Washington University: a B.A. in chemistry in 1969, a master’s in nuclear and radio chemistry in 1972, and a Ph.D. in the same field in 1976. Between the last two degrees, she taught and created a chemistry curriculum at a private girl’s school, where she says she learned to say things in a simple way.
After leaving Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1983 she moved to Squibb Diagnostics, where she led a research team involved in the development of Cardiotec, a heart-imaging agent. But her commitment to teaching won out and she ended up starting what became Squibb College and eventually set up the Center for Science Education. She was able to provide internal courses where people could learn science as well as human skills like communication, teamwork, and leadership.
She started the Learning Key in 1990, designing training programs and learning services for global clients in technology-based industries. More recently the company has created many new learning tools and has been working with clinical organizations to help them make their learning and training more interactive. In 2006 it published "Strategic Partnering: A Five-Stage Process to Improve Strategic Alliances and Outsourcing Relationships," which is available on the Learning Key website.
Treher’s father was a physician and researcher specializing in internal medicine and allergy. He was on the staff of Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes Hospital and was a founding member of the American Academy of Allergy. Her mother was the first editor of the journal "Cancer" and eventually became a foreign language teacher.
Treher warns that some companies are better at creating partnerships than others. "You may want to look back on your own skills and track records in working with external partners," she says.
Before initiating any new relationship Treher urges companies to ask themselves the hard questions: What is our purpose in seeking help from the outside? What would be the appropriate type of relationship – outsourcing or a strategic partnership? Will this effort provide us with new opportunities? What are the benefits and risks? Are there benefits to not outsourcing and instead pursuing other alternatives?
A company also needs to look carefully at the skills and willingness of its own staff and how developing a new strategic relationship will affect it. Are senior managers committed and willing to accept potential risks? Who are your best communicators? Will people lose their jobs or will they instead have new opportunities for greater importance to the organization? Who are the managers who will have to support and shape the implementation? If they do not have the necessary skills, they may need help in developing them.
The company itself might have to make changes. Will it be necessary to change processes or organizational structure to make outsourcing effective? Will new standard operating procedures have to be developed, or information systems integrated or developed?
Once companies truly understand the risks of developing strategic partnerships and are ready to commit to one, Treher suggests five necessary steps:
Decide on projects to be outsourced, review potential partners, and make a selection. Once you decide on a project, name the internal team that will manage selection, contracting, and implementation and determine the scope of work: Which products, services, operations, or functions are you going to contract for and over what timeframe? Is this something you want to do on an interim basis because you are developing the capabilities yourself or do you expect it to extend far into the future?
What are the best practices – who are the people and companies known for doing this kind of work well? What are your success factors – how will you know things are going well or are off track? What are the performance metrics?
"Once you know these things, you can identify who might be potential partner organizations," says Treher. Then you develop criteria for narrowing the field to a few candidates – for example, reputation, experience, previous relationships, compatibility in culture and philosophy, regulation experience, technology, location, and pricing. Once you have a short list, you need to develop request for proposal and nondisclosure agreements.
Once completed, identify the top candidates and invite them to make presentations to the core team.
Look first at a potential partner’s key executives: Do you think you will have sufficient rapport with them to work together? Is there enough good will to face problems together and resolve them? Where are your compatibilities, philosophically and culturally, and are your goals and values aligned? "This may not be important when you are looking at a transaction, like paying for product development or buying something," says Treher, "but it becomes much more important as you go up the scale and have more strategic relationships."
Next arrange for site visits and quality audits; find out about the company’s experience with projects of similar complexity; look at their technical competence, staffing strategies, communication and problem solving, safety, regulation, and quality assurance. In pharmaceuticals, look at compliance history with the Food and Drug Administration. Look at facilities. Explore potential intellectual property issues and who would own anything to be developed.
Conduct contract negotiations. Treher believes the boilerplate contracts legal departments often cough up are generally not the best approach. "They will give legal protection, but there must be some equal sharing in the partnership in structuring the agreement or contract," she says. "People support what they help create." The key to building a good contract, she says, is to use a process in which both parties have opportunities without maximizing their own gains at the expense of the other.
Research suggests that the source of many outsourcing problems is the way relationships are conceived and set up to begin with. "Companies in North America look more at the scope and technical parts of the contract than the relationship and communication parts," she says. It is the relationship issues, though, that can be the game stoppers.
The parties should also work together on a well-defined process for controlling change. Common changes are adjustments to procedures, either to save money or to speed things up. These changes could be initiated either by the hiring party or the vendor. The partners need to agree up front on how to manage such changes, who must be consulted, and what kinds of approvals are required.
The contract must also define clearly the roles and responsibilities within the leadership of the two organizations. It must decide on the fee basis for the agreement and look at a cash flow analysis to decide how to best structure the payment schedule for each party.
What is often left out, at great risk to the success of the partnership, is documenting expectations around communication and the specific strategies or processes to be used: how to kick off the partnership, how often to have meetings, what mechanisms will be used to manage progress, and what critical factors will be used to decide a go/no go decision.
"My recommendation is that once the contract is in the review process," says Treher, "you should include not only the responsible senior managers but those in both organizations who are going to do the project work. Commitments can be made and contracts signed for things that are impossible in the real world." And the worker bees need to be present to do the reality check.
Plan the project launch. The launch is often an afterthought after so much effort has been expended on other issues. Treher says, "In the technology world, we are so interested in jumping in and doing, we don’t plan too well how we’re going to begin." But insufficient attention to managing the launch, she continues, is the most cited cause for alliance failure.
Treher suggests that before any kickoff meeting two things must happen: Everyone who will be present should review the contract ahead of time and look at the parts related to their own involvement and commitments; and everyone should complete a questionnaire about their perceptions of expectations, goals, and missions.
At the kickoff meeting the earlier work will allow you to summarize issues around the contract and deal with them as a group, and it will highlight any areas of difference. These can be discussed to clarify and align goals and objectives as well as individual roles and expectations so everyone ends up on same page. At this meeting participants need to develop a working agreement that expresses norms for operations, communications, and response times expected for routine and crisis situations.
A host of things must be clear to everyone: key contacts for different parts of the project; where decision-making authority resides; whose standard operating procedure will be used; what process will be used to change members of the project team; and what success looks like across a host of possible measurements.
An approach must be specified for the timing of meetings and other communication. Will meetings be routine or follow special milestones? Treher stresses the importance of early communication.
Focus on streamlining the process. Though streamlining is usually the nuts and bolts of the relationship, people tend to focus on the tangibles of delivery, data, and output, Treher says. In addition to focusing on measurable outcomes and milestones, you want to also focus on the communication plan: is the communication appropriate? Are you meeting frequently enough? Is the process working or does it need to be improved?
"You need to conduct a reality check on how you are working together," says Treher, "talking about and reconciling differences in approaches."
Participants also need to look at differences between reality and expectations and ask critical questions: If there are deviations, what was the cause? Did anticipated risks actually happen? Was the mitigating plan for key risks successful? Are there new risks on the horizon and how should they be handled?
"You want to improve things as you go along," explains Treher. "The goal as you move from a transactional to a strategic relationship is that you want better and better relationships and easier and easier communications." Then if you do another project with the same partner, the upfront process will require much less time and cost.
Develop an effective way to share lessons across both organizations. "Many companies have a relatively good lessons-learned process – what worked, what didn’t, and how might we do it differently," says Treher. "You need a way to leverage the learning from a particular piece that was outsourced so you don’t make the same mistakes again and to enhance other teams and projects in the future."- Michele Alperin
Long before the dinosaurs were yielding up that last full measure that would provide us with oil, humble plants were generating a power that could solve our problems. Can we mimic nature’s photosynthesis energy factories? A consortium of Princeton University and Australian scientists think we can. Using hydrogen and water, they are developing an energy-producing system that is totally clean and uses abundant resources.
This new process, laden with the potential for an energy evolution, is one of several enticing discoveries investors will discuss at the "Princeton University Jumpstart Innovation Forum" on Wednesday, April 9, at 5:30 p.m. in the Friends Center Auditorium. The event is free. Register at email@example.com.
Bob Monsour, associate director of the sponsoring Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, calls the event "a chance for the inventors to meet investors, angels, and venture capitalists with the hopes of commercialization." Selected from all scientific disciplines in Princeton University, developer groups each make a three-minute pitch, then offer poster sessions at length for those interested.
Tapping the energies of hydrogen in water has become one of today’s most popular research goals. In hopes of solving the problem, Princeton professor G. Charles Dismukes has formed a tripartite collaboration linked with two Australian institutions. Last year, doctoral candidate Robert Brimblecombe from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and that nation’s Monash University came to Princeton to help work on the initial step.
Brimblecombe, who gained bachelors degrees in biology and renewable energy from Monash University, is using this current experimentation to fuel his chemistry doctorate. "It’s funny. I grew up in Melbourne, with two teachers as parents, and until I was grown, I never realized how much their love of the environment effected my career," he says.
A leaf’s inspiration. Every spring, as green leaves push out, the energy of the sun strikes a catalyzing enzyme, inciting photosynthesis. The water within separates into fuel for the plant and oxygen, which is released into the atmosphere. It’s simple, clean, age old, and an excellent model for inspiring a similar conversion of sea water into hydrogen, oxygen, and electrical energy.
The aim, says Brimblecombe, "is to produce carbonless hydrogen energy by mimicking this natural photosynthesis process. It’s wonderful to see how much we can learn from nature."
Hydrogen power. Hydrogen is a marvelous carrier of energy – just like electricity. But just like electricity it requires a kickstart to get that energy out and flowing. Princeton’s Dismukes Group began providing this kickstart by seeking a synthetic catalyst that would excite the sea water to separate into hydrogen gas and waste oxygen. The viable catalyst proved to be a cubane – a synthetic hydrocarbon molecule of manganese and iron that some feel is similar to the still-vaguely known plant enzyme in photosynthesis.
In theory, light activates this cubane catalyst which in turn causes a chemical reaction splitting the water into hydrogen and oxygen. Thus, feeding water and the cubane into a solar cell initiates the splitting process. This separating of water into hydrogen and oxygen sets up the raw fuel elements providing the energy source. The hydrogen and oxygen are then fed into a fuel cell. Here, two electrodes force the energy-laden hydrogen gas out one side and atmospherically purifying oxygen out the other. Like photosynthesis, the process provides fuel and clean air in a single stroke.
Will it sell? The Dismukes Collaboration has parceled the three steps of their bio-inspired hydrogen power process amongst the three primary institutions. Princeton has achieved the first step by developing a workable cubane catalyst which initiates the water splitting. It remains for those at Monash University to engineer an efficient solar cell and for CSIRO to effectively lure usable hydrogen gas from the fuel cell.
Dismukes’ Princeton Group has also developed a working model of the entire system on a tiny laboratory scale. "It fuels an area of only about an eight-inch square," says Brimblecombe. "If we were the size of gnats, we’d be ready to go." Yet this small, low efficiency model provides much-sought-after proof that the concept works; and that furnishes Dismukes with a reason to pitch.
As alternatives now stand, solar energy remains dauntingly expensive, demanding about $5,000 worth of panels at retail value to produce one kilowatt. Current hydrogen fuel cells, catalyzed by traditional fuels, are mired in a tangle of logistical transport problems. The hydrogen gas must be produced at centers then trucked to the usage area. Just like oil, with the same involved infrastructure.
The Dismukes Group seeks to unite the benefits of both systems – the low-cost of hydrogen gas, and the simple, onsite production capabilities of solar. In addition, the bio-inspired hydrogen method is totally clean, both in the burning, and in the production of the gas itself. The system is not self-defeatingly burning dirty oil or coal to produce seemingly clean hydrogen.
Brimblecombe estimates that within several years a workable prototype should be ready for commercial production. He points out that the adoption of this new clean energy system is less likely to be derailed by lack of knowledge than by political will. There are a lot of very powerful businesses making a lot of money with current fuels who will fight any change to the death.
Yet the power of the clever and far-sighted investor can ever be counted on to move the marketplace and our lives. Imagine getting in on the ground floor of a wholly clean, amazingly cheap fuel which provides electricity, heats one’s house, fires up the family car, runs on sea water, and actually adds beneficial oxygen to our atmosphere. Imagine your children being urged to drive their autos more often, to help fight global warming. It could happen, and the odds are excellent that it will.
– Bart Jackson
Job Fair for Teens
Susan Conlon gets to know a lot of kids through her work as teen services librarian at Princeton Public Library, and she knows what a difference a first job makes for a teen. "They get such a different perspective on the world," she says. "It helps with self-esteem, gives a sense of purpose, helps with social skills, and gives more structure to the day. Their time is more valuable, and they have to budget time between school, work, hanging out, and activities."
Statistically teens who work during high school are more likely to graduate than those who do not, yet teens are finding it harder than ever to find a job. The website fairchanceforyouth.org notes that a smaller percentage of male teens are working today than at any time in the past 55 years, and one out of every four African-Americans and one out of every five Latinos between the ages of 16 to 24 are out-of-school, unemployed, and on the street.
The Princeton Alcohol and Drug Alliance (PADA), the Princeton Public Library, and the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce are sponsoring a teen job fair to provide jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities on Wednesday, April 9, at 2 p.m. at the library. The event is free. For more information, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 609-683-8807.
Conlon, who is also on the board of PADA, feels strongly about the importance of teen jobs. She quotes Bob Herbert’s op-ed in the March 26 New York Times, "Education and career decisions made during the late teens and early 20s are crucial to the lifetime employment and earnings prospects of an individual. Those who do not do well during this period seldom catch up to the rest of the population."
Sheryl Punia, chair of PADA, says one of the greatest risks for drug and alcohol use in middle and high school is when kids are not involved in positive activities, are unsupervised, and do not have goals. Summer is a particularly risky time, because although many Princeton kids go to camp or other enrichment programs, lots stay at home.
At a monthly PADA board meeting focused on summer recreational and educational opportunities for teens, a board member reported on successful job fairs run by other alliances, including one in Hopewell Township. PADA decided to organize a community job fair in Princeton. In addition to offering supervised summer activities, the fair will kids a chance to explore different types of work and help them set goals for themselves.
"We have a good many employers willing to hire kids 15 and up," says Conlon, "although many want 18-year-olds." Some of the companies have terrific benefits, including college scholarships, she adds.
Employers participating to date include Wegman’s, Olives, Princeton YMCA, Princeton HealthCare System, Princeton Human Services Commission, Target, Princeton Packet, Braun Research, Six Flags Great Adventure, and Sparkling Pools. Sparkling Pools finds lifeguards for companies who have pools, and it is willing to train.
"Through the library we have the space that kids are comfortable coming to and come to anyway," says Conlon, and she is already working with librarians to put together workplace and employment resources for teens at the event. This information about interviewing skills, resumes, and rights in the workplace will be posted on the library’s website, www.princetonlibrary.org, where possible.
The chamber’s role has been getting the word out to organizations and businesses looking to send representatives to the job fair. Karen Colimore, its president and CEO, says the chamber is especially attuned to the need for a qualified workforce. "By co-sponsoring this job fair we are connecting businesses with an untapped fresh work source," she says. "At the same time we are helping young workers get acquainted with the workplace and get a feel for the kinds of employment they would like to pursue when they leave their high schools and colleges."
The organizers are reaching out to both public and private high schools in the area as well as Princeton organizations involved with teens. They are hoping that lots of Princeton teens will come to the job fair to look for summer employment. As Punia notes, "It’s a lot more work to pound the pavements." – Michele Alperin