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Growing local company Invisible Sentinel tackles food safety concerns

This Philadelphia startup gets a big spotlight in The New York Times. Their food-testing technology could help solve headaches for big companies like Chipotle who struggle with outbreaks of bacteria including E. coli or listeria that sicken customers. 

Troubles for one business can mean opportunities for others. And the competitive field of food testing is one. Companies big and small are looking for ways to make food testing faster, more accurate and less expensive. It requires sophisticated scientific and technological skills and is far from the easiest point of entry for a small start-up. But one Philadelphia biotech company led by a pair of entrepreneurs is hoping it has found a niche.

The company, Invisible Sentinel, has developed a patented technology called Veriflow that uses a hand-held device to detect the DNA of micro-organisms like E. coli, salmonella and listeria quickly and at a relatively affordable price. The technology has been approved by AOAC International, an association that sets standards for microbial food testing.

“It’s like a pregnancy test — one line negative and two lines positive — except that it’s amplified DNA that you’re reading,” said Benjamin Pascal, a co-founder of Invisible Sentinel.

Today, according to Invisible Sentinel, 114 companies in the United States and more than 50 internationally use the technology at more than 250 different sites in 18 countries.

Wawa Inc., which owns dairy and beverage manufacturing plants as well as 715 convenience stores in six states, tested Veriflow for about six months before signing on in March 2013. “Invisible Sentinel’s technology was two to three times faster than others,” said Chris Gheysens, the company’s chief executive.


Original source: The New York Times
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Fresh modern housing comes to college neighborhoods, but not for students

The New York Times takes a look at new residential development near colleges -- and notes that many of them have no interest in undergrad renters. University City features prominently in the piece.

A block from Drexel University, a glassy new rental building offers residents a roof deck with a heated saltwater pool, a fire pit and outdoor televisions — amenities that would make for a raucous college party, if college students could live there.

But the 28-story tower at 3601 Market Street was not built to house any of Drexel’s 16,900 undergraduates. Nor is it intended for the 10,400 undergraduates studying at nearby University of Pennsylvania.

Instead, it aims to attract young professionals — junior faculty, office workers and young doctors — to live in University City, a West Philadelphia neighborhood that is also home to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

The Market Street apartments are among roughly 2,000 residential units that are planned or have recently opened in University City and are aimed at young professionals and graduate students. A local developer has also acquired eight rental buildings in the neighborhood since the summer, with plans to renovate those 600 units to attract more young professionals...

Near college campuses around the country, developers have begun building luxury housing for the staff, not the students. Tapping into a desire among some younger workers to live in walkable, urban communities, these developers have discovered that a college neighborhood can fit that bill, as students are no longer the only ones who want to live near campus...

Developers use various strategies to keep undergraduates away from these new projects, including high rents that most students can’t afford. They time leasing to miss the start of the academic year, reject applicants who will rely on a guarantor to pay the rent and design spaces that are not ideal for young students. “The undergraduates get the message,” Mr. Downey said.


Original source: The New York Times
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Examining the work of controversial sociologist Alice Goffman, chronicler of life in West Philly

New York Times Magazine takes a deep dive into the work and life of Alice Goffman, writer of 'On the Run,' a book based on her field work in West Philadelphia. The story is a nuanced look at a complex topic:

The object of dispute was Goffman’s debut book, ‘‘On the Run,’’ which chronicles the social world of a group of young black men in a mixed-­income neighborhood in West Philadelphia, some of them low-­level drug dealers who live under constant threat of arrest and cycle in and out of prison. She began the project as a 20-year-old undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania; eventually she moved to be closer to the neighborhood, which in the book she calls ‘‘Sixth Street,’’ and even took in two of her subjects as roommates. While most ethnographic projects are completed over a year and a half, Goffman spent more than six years working in the neighborhood, which evolved from a field site into what she still basically considers her home. Her field notes, which she kept with obsessive fidelity — often transcribing hourslong conversations as they happened in real time — ran to thousands of pages. She had to spend more than a year chopping up and organizing these notes by theme for her book: the rituals of court dates and bail hearings; relationships with women and children; experiences of betrayal and abandonment. All those records had now been burned: Even before the controversy began, Goffman felt as though their ritual incineration was the only way she could protect her friend-­informers from police scrutiny after her book was published...

Within her discipline, attitudes toward Goffman’s work were conflicted from the beginning. The American Sociological Association gave ‘‘On the Run’’ its Dissertation Award, and many of Goffman’s peers came to feel as though she had been specially anointed by the discipline’s power elite — that she had been allowed, as the future public face of sociology, to operate by her own set of rules. As a qualitative researcher, Goffman paid relatively scant attention to the dominant mode of her data-­preoccupied field, instead opting to work in a hybrid fashion, as something between a reporter and an academic. She has also mostly refused to play the kinds of political games that can constitute a large part of academic life, eschewing disciplinary jargon and citing the work of other scholars only when she felt like it.

Worse, perhaps, was Goffman’s fondness in her writing for what could seem like lurid detail. Some of the flourishes in ‘‘On the Run’’ were harmless or even felicitous — one character’s ‘‘morning routine of clothes ironing, hair care, body lotion and sneaker buffing’’ — but others seemed to play up her own peril or pander to audience expectations. In one scene, two white officers in SWAT gear break down a house door, ‘‘with guns strapped to the sides of their legs.’’ She continues, ‘‘The first officer in pointed a gun at me and asked who was in the house; he continued to point the gun toward me as he went up the stairs.’’ In another, Goffman writes that the house of a family ‘‘smelled of piss and vomit and stale cigarettes, and cockroaches roamed freely across the countertops and soiled living-­room furniture.’’

Above all, what frustrated her critics was the fact that she was a well-off, expensively educated white woman who wrote about the lives of poor black men without expending a lot of time or energy on what the field refers to as ‘‘positionality’’ — in this case, on an accounting of her own privilege. Goffman identifies strongly and explicitly with the confident social scientists of previous generations, and if none of those figures felt as though they had to apologize for doing straightforward, readable work on marginalized or discredited populations, she didn’t see why she should have to. As another young professor told me, with the air of reverent exasperation that people use to talk about her, ‘‘Alice used a writing style that today you can’t really use in the social sciences.’’ He sighed and began to trail off. ‘‘In the past,’’ he said with some astonishment, ‘‘they really did write that way.’’ The book smacked, some sociologists argued, of a kind of swaggering adventurism that the discipline had long gotten over. Goffman became a proxy for old and unsettled arguments about ethnography that extended far beyond her own particular case. What is the continuing role of the qualitative in an era devoted to data? When the politics of representation have become so fraught, who gets to write about whom?

Original source: New York Times Magazine
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Penn named one of world's most beautiful college campuses

The West Philly university was included on a Buzzfeed list "25 of the Most Beautiful College Campuses in the World." It came in at No. 13. Check out the whole list here. 

Original source: Buzzfeed

On the Ground: Parkside Journal welcomes Flying Kite to the neighborhood

The local paper invited Flying Kite publisher Michelle Freeman to pen an intro to the program.

In 2011, Flying Kite Media deepened its coverage around neighborhood news and began to explore the possibility of transforming vacant spaces into pop-up community media hubs.

With very limited funds and a desire to connect directly with people across the city helping to move their communities forward, the On the Ground program was born.

The On the Ground program aims to dive deep into changing neighborhoods, uncovering the people, places, and businesses that contribute to its vitality. The Flying Kite team embeds itself in a neighborhood for a period of 90 days, bringing a currently vacant space alive by creating a temporary media hub that hosts meetings, events, art exhibitions, and open office hours...

Flying Kite’s team is thrilled to report that their On the Ground program is up and running once again, as of this summer, and has landed in Parkside. Made possible by support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Flying Kite will take its On the Ground program to four of the five neighborhoods that the Fairmount Park Conservancy is initiating their Re-Imagining Civic Commons initiative, which will activate some major public space projects over the course of several years.

Original source: Parkside Journal
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Talking mental health on campus with a focus on Penn

The New York Times shines a light on a mental health crisis on college campuses. The story focuses on University of Pennsylvania, where student Kathryn DeWitt describes her struggle. She has since become involved with Active Minds -- a Flying Kite partner through our work with the Thomas Scattergood Foundation -- to create change.

Classmates seemed to have it all together. Every morning, the administration sent out an email blast highlighting faculty and student accomplishments. Some women attended class wearing full makeup. Ms. DeWitt had acne. They talked about their fantastic internships. She was still focused on the week’s homework. Friends’ lives, as told through selfies, showed them having more fun, making more friends and going to better parties. Even the meals they posted to Instagram looked more delicious.

Other efforts at Penn include the formation of a peer counseling program, to start in the fall, and the posting of “ugly selfies” to Instagram and Facebook, a perfectionism-backlash movement that took place for a few weeks earlier this year. Nationally, researchers from 10 universities have joined forces to study resiliency, and the Jed and Clinton Health Matters Campus Program has enlisted 90 schools to help develop mental health and wellness programs. Active Minds, which was founded at Penn in 2001, now has more than 400 chapters, including ones at community colleges and high schools. Ms. DeWitt is the Penn chapter’s webmaster.


Original source: The New York Times
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Universities and drug companies partner to tackle big diseases

New partnerships between universities and drug companies show promises for complex diseases. 

British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline is teaming up with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to start a research institute and a company aimed at curing H.I.V. infection and AIDS... The company and the university will each own half of the new company, Qura Therapeutics, which will have the rights to commercialize any discoveries... 

The arrangement is part of a trend in which pharmaceutical companies are working directly with university researchers. Novartis and the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, are building a research center on the Philadelphia campus to work on ways to genetically alter a patient’s immune cells to battle cancer.

But while the University of Pennsylvania partnership is already producing striking remissions in some cancer patients, the attempt to cure H.I.V. is expected to take far longer and may fall short. The $20 million being contributed is a small sum for a company like Glaxo, which spent close to $5 billion on research and development last year.


Original source: The New York Times
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PA jazz treasure Steve Coleman plans Philly shows

The New York Times takes a long look at Steve Coleman, one of the region's jazz legends, as he plans upcoming concerts in Philly.

More than any other living jazz musician, the alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman seeks inspiration in unlikely places. So it wasn’t all that odd to find him here on a recent Saturday, scouting locations at Bartram’s Garden, the nation’s oldest botanical garden, near the southernmost bend of the Schuylkill.

Mr. Coleman, one of the most rigorously conceptual thinkers in improvised music, was considering potential sites for a pair of major outdoor performances, on June 21, the summer solstice, and Sept. 23, the fall equinox. Those celestial dates, like the arboreal setting, represent an alignment of his interests. Some of them, anyway.

Over the last 30 years, since his debut album, Mr. Coleman, 58, has been an indefatigable outlier in jazz, engaged in esoteric but vital work on the margins. He has also been a mentor and touchstone to many in the music’s current vanguard, like the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and the pianist Vijay Iyer, who once declared in JazzTimes magazine that Mr. Coleman was, for him, as important a figure as John Coltrane, someone who “has contributed an equal amount to the history of the music.”


Original source: The New York Times
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Wharton student -- and founder of four companies by age 21 -- reflects

The New York Times spoke with Daniel Fine, a serial entrepreneur and Wharton student who's staying in school.

Daniel Fine is the founder and chief executive of Glass-U, a two-year-old, 10-employee maker of foldable sunglasses bearing the licensed brands of universities, music festivals like Lollapalooza, and the World Cup soccer tournament last summer. He arranges for the manufacture of the glasses in China and their distribution around the country. He’s also a senior in college.

Mr. Fine financed Glass-U, which operates out of off-campus housing, in part with proceeds from a tutoring company, NexTutors, that he started right after high school. He has also founded Fine Prints, a custom apparel company he started during high school, and Dosed, a health care technology company that is working on a smartphone app to help diabetics...

Q. You considered applying for a Thiel Fellowship, a $100,000 grant to forgo college and pursue your dream?
A. I made it through the second round, but I didn’t complete my application. At Penn, I’ve absolutely learned in the classroom, but it’s been a much greater benefit being here and growing as a person and learning who I am, what I’m becoming and what I’m hoping to be.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Philly physicist is this year's youngest MacArthur 'genius'

Danielle S. Bassett, a 32-year-old physicist at the University of Pennsylvania, is the youngest recipient of a 2014 MacArthur Genius Grant. Pennsylvania had a strong showing overall: other winners include Steve Coleman, 57, a composer and alto saxophonist in Allentown, and Terrance Hayes, 42, a poet and professor at University of Pittsburgh who won a National Book Award for his collection Lighthead.

The fellowships, based on achievement and potential, come with a stipend of $625,000 over five years and are among the most prestigious prizes for artists, scholars and professionals...

The oldest fellow this year is Pamela O. Long, 71, a historian of science and technology in Washington, whose work explores connections between the arts and science. The youngest is Danielle S. Bassett, 32, a physicist at the University of Pennsylvania, who analyzes neuron interactions in the brain as people perform various tasks. She seeks to determine how different parts of the brain communicate and how that communication changes with learning or in the aftermath of a brain injury or disease.

When she received the call informing her of the no-strings-attached windfall, Ms. Bassett recalled being stunned into silence.

“Halfway through, I said, ‘Are you absolutely sure you got the right person?’ ” Ms. Bassett said in a telephone interview. “Then they read my bio to me. It’s an unexpected honor and sort of validation.”


Original source: The New York Times
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Training dogs to detect cancer with their noses

The Penn Vet Working Dog Center trains canines to detect cancer using their remarkable sense of smell.

McBaine, a bouncy black and white springer spaniel, perks up and begins his hunt at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. His nose skims 12 tiny arms that protrude from the edges of a table-size wheel, each holding samples of blood plasma, only one of which is spiked with a drop of cancerous tissue.

The dog makes one focused revolution around the wheel before halting, steely-eyed and confident, in front of sample No. 11. A trainer tosses him his reward, a tennis ball, which he giddily chases around the room, sliding across the floor and bumping into walls like a clumsy puppy.

McBaine is one of four highly trained cancer detection dogs at the center, which trains purebreds to put their superior sense of smell to work in search of the early signs of ovarian cancer. Now, Penn Vet, part of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, is teaming with chemists and physicists to isolate cancer chemicals that only dogs can smell. They hope this will lead to the manufacture of nanotechnology sensors that are capable of detecting bits of cancerous tissue 1/100,000th the thickness of a sheet of paper.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

University of Pennsylvania wins contract to treat memory deficits

The University of Pennsylvania was one of two institutions to win a Department of Defense contract to develop brain implants for memory deficits.

Their aim is to develop new treatments for traumatic brain injury, the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Its most devastating symptom is the blunting of memory and reasoning. Scientists have found in preliminary studies that they can sharpen some kinds of memory by directly recording, and stimulating, circuits deep in the brain...

“A decade ago, only a handful of centers had the expertise to perform such real-time experiments in the context of first-rate surgery,” said Michael Kahana, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania and the recipient of one of the new contracts granted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa. “Today, there are dozens of them, and more on the way; this area is suddenly hot.”


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Funeral for a Home earns national press

Funeral for a Home, a project Flying Kite has covered extensively in the past, earned some national praise for its mission to memorialize a demolished home in Mantua. The Atlantic's CityLab attended and snapped some pictures.

The voices of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church choir echoed off the buildings on Saturday along the 3700 block of West Philadelphia’s Melon Street.

Their usual pulpit sits around the corner at 37th and Wallace. But this past weekend, they sang at the funeral of an unusual neighbor: a small, dilapidated rowhouse at 3711 Melon, torn down that night.


As the choir sang the gospel hymn, the words seemed fitting – “Precious memories, how they linger.” Soon, memories would be all that’s left of the two-story home, a narrow rowhouse that long ago lost its partners.

Original source: The Atlantic's CityLab
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Can 30th Street become a hub for a 'livable' neighborhood?

Can the area around 30th Street Station be transformed into a mixed-used community? Next City investigates.

The first hurdle that the planners will have to overcome is the area’s zoning. Most of the parcels immediately adjacent to the station are zoned for industrial use only, essentially limiting their use to Drexel or Penn, since the area is too expensive for real industrial uses and the zoning also allows institutional uses. While the universities are no doubt the area’s anchors and will remain the most important employers, a truly urban neighborhood is hard to fashion out of an “eds and meds” monoculture.

Farther from the station, extending down Market Street to 34th Street and the streets farther south, the blocks are zoned for institutional use, again excluding office and residential uses not affiliated with a university or hospital.

Only in select locations — for example, on the block south of the old post office, where Brandywine is building the apartment building — are general residential and office uses allowed. This building is proof that there is a residential market in this location (and why wouldn’t there be, with the easy access downtown and to suburbs for reverse-commutes by regional rail or the highways?), and the first order of business must be changing the zoning so that developers can build housing and office space. This approach would complement the universities rather than allowing the neighborhood to be totally subsumed by them.


Original source: Next City
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Hidden City tackles the 'complicated' CHOP expansion

Hidden City takes an in-depth look at CHOP's expansion to the eastern banks of the Schuylkill.

Doug Carney, CHOP’s senior vice president of facilities, said his hopes were that CHOP would continue to “be attractive to the world-class researchers we compete for.”
 
Carney’s invocation of “world-class,” however, left an opening for those in the audience unhappy with CHOP’s plan for a 23-story, half-a-million-square-foot tower right next to the low-rise neighborhoods of Graduate Hospital and the Devil’s Pocket, which would bring 1,000 CHOP researchers to the site each day. (Note that this is not going to be a place for patient care, as with CHOP’s complex across the river, but an office building for research.) “Is it world-class,” a follow-up questioner asked the CHOP team, “to drive 76 then take a ramp into a parking garage?”

It doesn’t seem that CHOP’s institutional ambitions and the city’s ideal planning needs will coalesce. But CHOP, which is currently undertaking a remarkable amount of expansion, has goodwill on its side -- it is, after all, devoted to the care of children -- as well as, frankly, considerable leverage to do what it wants. The Graduate Hospital Area project serves as a good insight into CHOP’s role in the city and illustrates the influence it wields.


Original source: Hidden City Philadelphia
Read the complete story here.
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