Eiffel Tower keychain trinkets

Triggering Trinkets


Making memories is half the reason you go on a fun run, safari, or cruise. But how often do you spontaneously remember to remember these events? Less frequently than you think, according to Tom Meyvis, professor of marketing at the Stern School of Business. Meyvis coconducted several studies on the subject with University of Southern California assistant professor Stephanie Tully (STERN ’15). The disparity between one’s expectations of recollecting—or “retrospecting,” as Meyvis puts it—and the regularity with which it occurs actually leads to decreased satisfaction with the experience. (Some even argue that the memory is better than the real thing, since your mind filters out hassles like long lines and traffic.)

Meyvis’s suggestion: spring for a keepsake. “People who buy mementos or professional photos are more likely to talk and to think about the event,” Meyvis says. He advocates for conversation-starters like T-shirts, which are functional and visible to others, as well as photos in digital frames or that rotate as wallpaper on the computer. “If you have a picture in the same position all the time, you’re not going to notice it anymore,” Meyvis says, “but when it suddenly pops up on a computer, you’re going to think about it.”
—Dulcy Israel

Brownsville, Brooklyn street scene

Community Service

In the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, 10 nondescript four-by-four-foot boxes mounted on light poles are collecting data that feels intangible but is intended to transform lives in concrete ways. The sensors will “measure air quality, noise, light levels, and very local weather conditions,” says Constantine Kontokosta, assistant professor of urban informatics at both the Center for Urban Science and Progress and the Tandon School of Engineering. “We’ll use it to better inform residents about what’s happening in their neighborhood and empower them to make conditions better.” The “data piece,” as Kontokosta puts it, is one component of the NYCx Co-Lab Challenge, a collaboration among the mayor’s office, residents, and local organizations, and the Quantified Community research initiative that Kontokosta heads. We’re “very focused around trying to bring urban tech and data analytics to serve the needs of local residents in Brownsville,” says Kontokosta, who notes that there are plans to bring the initiative to neighborhoods in New York City’s other four boroughs as well.
—Dulcy Israel



 Street under elevated tracks

Photos © Andrew White

Heartening New Route  

No physician wants to inform a patient that he or she is too high-risk to undergo last-hope heart surgery. Which is why transcatheter mitral valve replacement (TMVR) is literally a saving grace for many. Mathew Williams, associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery and director of the Heart Valve Center at the School of Medicine, is the first doctor in the world to replace a mitral valve completely through a vein in the groin, without having to go through the tip of the heart or an artery, let alone cut open the sternum and separate the ribs. Because it’s less invasive, Williams notes, he and his team—the busiest TMVR program on the East Coast—“don’t have to put the patient on a heart-lung machine [or] stop the heart.” Recipients typically recover in one to three days, versus the open–procedure patients’ convalescence period of six to eight weeks. Says the good doctor: “Now we actually have an option for patients who never had options before.”
—Dulcy Israel

A Finer Screen

Your dentist likely pulls your tongue out and looks underneath it during a routine exam. But the instruments for identifying a potential malignancy are seriously inadequate. “Oral cancer today doesn’t have a good screen,” says John McDevitt, professor and chair of biomaterials at the College of Dentistry. Referral to a surgeon usually occurs when a lesion is stage three or four, with a very poor outcome, so “you really want to catch this thing early,” McDevitt says, and “that’s what we’ve done.” McDevitt and his team have developed a system in which noninvasive samples, including saliva from a gum swab, a drop of blood from a needle stick, or a brush biopsy from an oral exam, are inserted into a programmable, credit card–size cartridge. The cartridge then goes into a portable analyzer that uses biological patterns from the specimen to determine the health and wellness status of the patient. The award-winning technology detects oral cancer before it becomes a death sentence, and McDevitt has spun it off to test for a range of illnesses, including cardiac disease. “Our next stage is to make hundreds of thousands of copies of the disposable [cartridge] and tens of thousands of [analyzers] so that we can serve the needs of the nearly 200,000 dentists in the United States.”
—Dulcy Israel

No-Seat Driver

The story of the automobile has lots of twists and turns. One upcoming curve in the narrative has Mark Geistfeld, professor of civil litigation at the School of Law, working aggressively to clarify the legal uncertainty around liability for driverless cars. For instance: With driver negligence eliminated from the equation, what happens when an autonomous vehicle with absolutely no defects in its hardware or operating system still crashes? “It’s almost like the whole fleet of vehicles is being driven by one driver, the operating system that is fully functioning,” says Geistfeld. “You need to analyze the performance of the autonomous vehicle by reference to the fleet rather than the individual circumstances.” So if the manufacturer shows through premarket testing that the driverless car is twice as safe as a conventional one, but it’s taken off the road to improve it even further, lives will be lost in the interim. “Once the cost of further testing exceeds the benefits, then under tort doctrine, there’s no obligation,” Geistfeld says. “We’re not looking for perfect safety. We’re just looking for reasonable safety.”
—Dulcy Israel

Van Gogh's Grayer Matters

Bradley Lewis, a psychiatrist and an associate professor of medical humanities and cultural studies at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, turns to the world of art in his work addressing ways to help those with psychological illnesses. “Vincent van Gogh clearly had mental differences, mental suffering,” Lewis says. “What’s fascinating is you’ll find a rainbow of ways people try to make meaning out of what was up with him.” Medical, neurological, and psychiatric approaches, he points out, tend to “overpathologize” van Gogh’s struggles and agree that something was wrong that needed to be fixed; celebratory interpreters feel that the Dutchman’s spirituality, artistic genius, political passion, and yearning for social justice were part and parcel of a “kind of gift or sensitivity to the world, way beyond the norm.” So how would van Gogh fare in modern society, from a shrink’s perspective? “If he were alive today,” says Lewis, “he would most likely get a biopsychiatric diagnosis of bipolar disorder or epilepsy or something like that.”
—Dulcy Israel

 Van Gogh illustration

Medical, neurological, and psychiatric approaches tend to “overpathologize“ van Gogh‘s struggles.