UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO NEWS
University to bestow five honorary degrees at Convocation
The University of Chicago will present honorary degrees to five distinguished scholars during the 531st Convocation on June 9. The honorary degree recipients are Fabiola Gianotti, the director-general of CERN; Charles M. Lieber, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and the Joshua and Beth Friedman University Professor at Harvard University; Michael C.A. Macdonald, research associate in the faculty of Oriental Studies and the Khalili Research Centre at the University of Oxford; Robert E. Ricklefs, the Curator’s Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis; and William S-Y. Wang, chair professor of Language and Cognitive Sciences at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Fabiola GianottiPhoto byMaximilien Brice/CERNdownload Fabiola Gianotti, an experimental particle physicist who led the search and characterization of the Higgs boson, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science. Gianotti led the 3,000-member ATLAS collaboration since its inception at CERN Laboratory to search for the Higgs boson, one of the most sought-after objects in scientific history. Her early career was devoted to the search for supersymmetric particles, which could provide stability to nature’s two very different fundamental energy scales—gravity and weak interaction. Gianotti is a member of the Italian Academy of Sciences, a foreign associate of the United States National Academy of Sciences and the French Academy of Sciences, and an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy. She is the author or co-author of more than 500 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Her scientific and societal contributions have been recognized by prestigious honors, including the Special Fundamental Physics Prize of the Milner Foundation, the Enrico Fermi Prize of the Italian Physical Society, the Medal of Honor of the Niels Bohr Institute of Copenhagen, and the honor of “Cavaliere di Gran Croce dell’ordine al merito della Repubblica” by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. Charles M. Lieberdownload Charles M. Lieber, a groundbreaking scholar of nanoscience and nanomaterials, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science. Lieber has defined directions and demonstrated applications of nanomaterials in areas like electronics, computing and photonics, and has pioneered the interface of nanoelectronics with biology and medicine, including his current focus on brain science. He has originated new paradigms that have defined the rational growth, characterization and original applications of functional nanometer diameter wires and heterostructures, and provided seminal concepts central to the bottom-up paradigm of nanoscience. Lieber’s work has been recognized by a number of awards, including two National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Awards, the MRS Von Hippel Award, the Willard Gibbs Medal and the Wolf Prize in Chemistry. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. He is also a fellow of the Materials Research Society and American Chemical Society, and honorary fellow of the Chinese Chemical Society. In addition, Lieber is co-editor of the journal Nano Letters, and serves on the editorial and advisory boards of a number of other journals. He has published over 395 papers in peer-reviewed journals, and is the principal inventor on more than 40 patents. Michael C.A. Macdonalddownload Michael C.A. Macdonald, a leading expert in early language and civilization in the Arabian Peninsula, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. Macdonald has improved knowledge of the languages, religions, cultures and history of ancient Arabia and neighboring areas, including the Hellenistic and Roman Near East, through his scholarship on the vast number of inscriptions on the Arabian peninsula that predate the language of the Quran. Macdonald created the Online Corpus of the Inscriptions of Ancient North Arabia, a database that collects more than 70,000 inscriptions, many of which were unearthed, edited and translated by Macdonald himself. He was instrumental in establishing the field of Ancient North Arabian studies as an academic field in its own right, and has been its foremost scholar for the past three decades. He has fundamentally enabled the work of scholars of Ancient North Arabia, and has contributed research and writing that has shaped and guided this field. In addition to his many articles, Macdonald also wrote the book Literacy and Identity in Pre-Islamic Arabia (2009). Macdonald was elected to the Fellowship of the British Academy in 2016. Robert E. Ricklefsdownload Robert E. Ricklefs, a leading figure in evolutionary ecology, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science. Ricklefs has contributed fundamental research linking disease dynamics to macro-ecology, linking life-history evolution with macro-evolutionary patterns, and searching for commonalities in patterns of ecological communities across types of organisms and geographic areas. His research focused on history’s role in determining population densities and distributions on islands, at a time when other leading ecological researchers were emphasizing the importance of species interactions at local scales for shaping species distributions. Because of this, his work represents the modern foundation for the recent synthesis of local conditions and historical processes in shaping the composition of communities of organisms. Ricklefs is the recipient of the 2015 Ramon Margalef Prize from the government of Catalonia, the 2011 Alfred Russel Wallace award from the International Biogeography Society and the 1999 President’s Award from the American Society of Naturalists, among other honors. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. William S-Y. Wangdownload William S-Y. Wang, a pioneer in the study of language evolution and the emergence of new languages, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. Wang is an internationally renowned linguist whose scholarship and academic impact have spanned two continents across the Pacific Ocean. He has performed multidisciplinary research on the biological and evolutionary basis of language, as well as computational linguistics with a focus on the production and processing of language, the brain and computer interface, machine translation, and speech synthesis and recognition. He was one of the first to apply a combination of linguistics and acoustics to the problem of machine recognition of speech. Wang is the founder and lead editor of the Journal of Chinese Linguistics, which is the top publication in this field. He has had full professorial careers at the University of California, Berkeley; at the City University of Hong Kong; and at National Taiwan Normal University. His wide-ranging scholarship has been written in or translated into Chinese, English, French, German, Italian and Japanese.
Six entrepreneurs selected to develop innovative technologies at Argonne
Earlier this month, six scientists from across the country began a two-year program at Argonne National Laboratory dedicated to build their energy and science technologies into products. They are the second annual cohort for the Chain Reaction Innovations program, which provides an institutional home for the postdoctoral researchers to develop their innovative technologies. Eighty-three innovators from 26 states applied to earn a spot at Argonne, a Department of Energy national laboratory managed by UChicago. The program provides the innovators an opportunity different from traditional entrepreneurial programs through access to the lab’s scientific expertise, world-class facilities and multi-institutional support. Such support includes working with the Purdue Foundry at the University of Purdue and the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which help innovators to understand how to bridge the gap between benchtop ideas and the marketplace. The Polsky Center offers participants guidance on how to develop business strategies and attract investors and commercial partners. “Argonne National Laboratory, as one of the nation’s leading energy science laboratories, and the University of Chicago, which operates Argonne on behalf of the Department of Energy and is home to the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, are particularly well-positioned to spur energy technology innovation,” said Eric Isaacs, executive vice president for research, innovation and the national laboratories at the University of Chicago. “The new cohort in Chain Reaction Innovations can draw from the expertise of these two institutions, and the city of Chicago’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for startups with a growing investor network and several of the nation’s top engineering schools.” This cohort’s technologies focus on enhancing energy efficiency or sustainability and overcoming complex scientific challenges to improve quality of life. Meet a few of our CRI entrepreneurs below or view them all on the CRI website. Erika BoeingCourtesy ofCRIdownload Erika Boeing Erika Boeing is passionate about helping the world become powered by renewable energy. She’s the co-founder and CEO of Accelerate Wind, a company that is working to revolutionize distributed wind energy by drastically lower the cost of small wind turbine technology. While many buildings use solar panels as an alternative source of energy, few use wind turbines because they are far too expensive. Her company is looking to change this. “Accelerate Wind uses a systems approach to overall wind turbine design,” she said. “This includes using a flywheel to reduce the required size of the generator and inverter, which reduces their cost. We also have design features which capture and translate high velocity wind currents into energy in a manner that makes the whole system more cost-effective.” While in the Netherlands on a Fulbright Scholarship, she studied the interactions between how technology affects society and how society determines which technologies are adopted. “This bigger-picture understanding helps me to work on problems while taking into account a wide number of relevant perspectives, which is important for creating a successful business,” she said. Chad HuskoCourtesy ofCRIdownload Chad Husko Chicago native Chad Husko is working on creating a new class of lasers that can be miniaturized and put into photonic integrated circuits to improve performance and reliability. “As an analogy, our mastery of shrinking electronics allowed us to take those giant 1970s supercomputers and put that into the form factor of a smart phone using integrated electronic circuits,” he said. “Right now, we’re going through a similar revolution of ‘photonics,’ or light-based technologies, and learning how combine the forces of light and electricity.” Such integrated photonics are already being used in the cloud and in self-driving cars, but “this is just the beginning,” he said. “Plenty of unexpected applications await.” His team is using Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials to develop the laser devices and its Materials Engineering Research Facility to scale the raw materials required to build the lasers from lab scale to industrial scale. Veronika StelmakhCourtesy ofCRIdownload Veronika Stelmakh For the next two years, Veronika Stelmakh will work with researchers and engineers at Argonne to further development of a power generator that could help save lives and enable exploration in remote areas. Stelmakh is co-founder and CEO of Mesodyne, Inc. a company that is developing a thermophotovoltaic portable power generator that would weigh about 75 percent less than the batteries that would normally be required to provide the same amount of energy. This portable power generator would enable new capabilities in technological and human mobility and could be used by dismounted soldiers on the field, mountaineers scaling miles-high summits, emergency responders or even remote sensors that demand round-the-clock power. Stelmakh, currently a postdoctoral research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, will be working with Argonne energy systems section manager Doug Longman, whose expertise in engine combustion research is vital to Stelmakh’s own project. “Having someone like Doug help us design our microcombustor will greatly advance our work,” she said. “Argonne, CRI in particular, is a perfect fit for us. There are very few programs where you have access to this level of knowledge, facilities and support.” Meet the rest of the cohort on the CRI website.
Law School clinic co-authors report with ACLU on abuse of migrant children
A report released May 23 by the University of Chicago Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Border Litigation Project reveals evidence of rampant child abuse by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, offering the public an unprecedented look at conditions experienced by unaccompanied migrant children who are apprehended upon arrival at the southern border of the United States. The report, available on a new website launched by the ACLU, includes complaints in which children describe being kicked, shot with Tasers, sexually assaulted, deprived of food and water, held in freezing and unsanitary detention centers, threatened with rape and death, verbally abused, and more. It also offers evidence that children’s complaints of abuse were often ignored or mishandled by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “These children are among the most vulnerable in the world: they are alone, having escaped violence and poverty in their home countries. When they arrive at our border, however, they often face shocking levels of neglect and abuse at the hands of U.S. officials—officials who are bound by law to keep these children safe and treat them in a humane way,” said IHRC Director Claudia Flores, who led a group of three Law School students in reviewing the complaints; researching human rights, immigration and child protection laws; and drafting the report in collaboration with the ACLU. “These complaints—which offer details never before available to the public on this scale—show institutional impunity by Customs and Border Protection officials and a disturbing lack of accountability.” “These documents provide a glimpse into a federal immigration enforcement system marked by brutality and lawlessness,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, ACLU Border Litigation Project staff attorney. “All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their immigration status—and children, in particular, deserve special protection. The misconduct demonstrated in these records is breathtaking, as is the government’s complete failure to hold officials who abuse their power accountable. The abuse that takes place by government officials is reprehensible and un-American.” The report is part of a wider project by the ACLU’s Border Litigation Project—a joint project of the ACLU Foundations of Arizona and San Diego & Imperial Counties. Through a Freedom of Information Act request filed in late 2014, and over three years of subsequent litigation co-counseled with the law firm of Cooley LLP, the ACLU obtained more than 30,000 pages of documents from various DHS agencies. The documents—all of which are now being published by the ACLU—cover incidents that took place between 2009 and 2014 involving unaccompanied children, most of whom were fleeing violence and poverty in Mexico and Central America. By law, CBP officials are not to hold unaccompanied children who are apprehended at the border for longer than 72 hours. These children are entitled to safe, secure and clean facilities; adequate food and water; proper medical care; and respectful treatment. Federal officials are also bound by law to report any incidents of child abuse to law enforcement, child protective services or the FBI. But what the students and lawyers found as they reviewed complaints made to the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties was a systemic pattern of abuse: children being stomped on or punched; fondled or made to strip naked; verbally abused; fed inedible or spoiled food; or denied necessary medical care. These records also show that neither of two DHS oversight entities—CRCL and the Office of the Inspector General—fully or effectively investigated children’s complaints. Investigations were repeatedly closed due to agency delays and a lack of reliable record-keeping. The records offered no evidence of effective remedial or disciplinary measures taken by DHS. “The ACLU Border Litigation Project has recovered these disturbing records, which reflect abuses that occurred during the Obama administration. The concern is that, as Trump has increased federal immigration enforcement at our borders and called for increased funding for DHS entities, such abuses could recur—or proliferate,” said Grace Paek, who worked with fellow Law School students Nabihah Maqbool and Chinwe Chukwuogo on the project. “This clinic project was a serious eye-opener for us when it comes to holding government accountable,” said Chukwuogo. “No matter where they come from, children must be protected and have their basic needs met. These children were alone and had no one to advocate for them.”
Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, to receive Benton Medal
The University will award the Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service to Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post. Baron will receive his honor at the University of Chicago’s 531st Convocation on June 9. Baron is regarded as an influential leader in the field of investigative journalism, whose work reflects dedication to fact-based reporting around difficult or controversial issues, the responsibility to inform the public and the protection of freedom of the press. He is the 15th recipient of the Benton Medal, which recognizes people who have rendered distinguished public service in the field of education, including anyone who has contributed in a systematic and distinguished way to shaping minds and disseminating knowledge. Baron oversees more than 800 journalists at The Washington Post. News organizations under his leadership have won 14 Pulitzer Prizes, including seven at The Post, six at The Boston Globe and one at The Miami Herald. In Boston, he launched an investigation of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of clergy sexual abuse that won the Pulitzer Prize for public service and was portrayed in the Academy Award-winning film Spotlight. He also held top posts at The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Baron is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was awarded the 2016 Hitchens Prize from the Dennis & Victoria Ross Foundation, which is bestowed upon a journalist or author whose work “reflects a commitment to free expression, a depth of intellect and an unswerving pursuit of the truth, without regard to personal or professional consequence.” Nominations for the Benton Medal are submitted by members of the faculty, evaluated by the Committee on Awards and Prizes and voted upon by the Council of the University Senate. The University President extends an invitation to Benton nominees to receive their medals during Convocation. The nominees also are invited to give a public lecture or workshop the following academic year.
New theory finds ‘traffic jams’ in jet stream cause abnormal weather patterns
The sky sometimes has its limits, according to new research from two University of Chicago atmospheric scientists. A study published May 24 in Science offers an explanation for a mysterious and sometimes deadly weather pattern in which the jet stream, the global air currents that circle the Earth, stalls out over a region. Much like highways, the jet stream has a capacity, researchers said, and when it’s exceeded, blockages form that are remarkably similar to traffic jams—and climate forecasters can use the same math to model them both. The deadly 2003 European heat wave, California’s 2014 drought and the swing of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 that surprised forecasters—all of these were caused by a weather phenomenon known as “blocking,” in which the jet stream meanders, stopping weather systems from moving eastward. Scientists have known about it for decades, almost as long as they’ve known about the jet stream—which was explored in the last century by pioneering University of Chicago meteorologist Carl-Gustaf Rossby, in fact—but no one had a good explanation for why it happens. A wind map shows a typical blocking pattern in the Pacific, where the winds split and circle around. (Original image by earth.nullschool.net) “Blocking is notoriously difficult to forecast, in large part because there was no compelling theory about when it forms and why,” said lead author Noboru Nakamura, a professor in the Department of the Geophysical Sciences. Nakamura and Clare S.Y. Huang, PhD'17, were studying the jet stream, trying to determine a clear set of measurements for blocking in order to better analyze the phenomenon. One of their new metrics was a term that measured the jet stream’s meander. Looking over the math, Nakamura realized that the equation was nearly identical to one devised decades ago by transportation engineers trying to describe traffic jams. “It turns out the jet stream has a capacity for ‘weather traffic,’ just as highway has traffic capacity, and when it is exceeded, blocking manifests as congestion,” said Huang, who performed the research for her thesis. Just as car traffic piles up where speed limit is reduced or multiple highways converge, blocking often occurs where the background jet speed slows down due to mountains and coasts. The result is a simple theory that not only reproduces blocking, but predicts it, said Nakamura, who called making the cross-disciplinary connection “one of the most unexpected, but enlightening moments in my research career—it was a gift from God.” Clare S. Y. Huang (left) and Prof. Noboru Nakamura demonstrate an experiment that shows how temperature contrasts and rotation create the polar jet stream.Photo byJean Lachatdownload The explanation may not immediately improve short-term weather forecasting, the researchers said, but it will certainly help predict long-term patterns, including which areas may see more drought or floods. Their initial results suggest that while climate change probably increases blocking by running the jet stream closer to its capacity, there will be regional differences: for example, the Pacific Ocean may actually see a decrease in blocking over the decades. “It’s very difficult to forecast anything until you understand why it’s happening, so this mechanistic model should provide a useful guiding principle,” Nakamura said. And the model, unlike most modern climate science, is expressed in simple math: “This equation captures the essence with a much less complicated system,” Huang said. Citation: “Atmospheric Blocking as a Traffic Jam in the Jet Stream,” Nakamura and Huang, Science, May 24, 2018. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat0721 Funding: National Science Foundation.
Students bring accessibility to forefront in organizing disability studies conference
A scholar of linguistic anthropology and the anthropology of disability, UChicago graduate student Sharon Seegers conducts research on sign language interpreters in Hanoi. Her work focuses on the ways interpreters are dependent on deaf people and what it means to value interpreters’ dependence. Seegers appreciated the opportunity to present her disability-focused research at a recent UChicago conference focused on disability studies. The Chicago Disabilities Studies Conference was conducted in an environment designed to accommodate attendees with disabilities. “A lot of the scholars who did present are students with disabilities and also disability scholars,” said Seegers of the April 20-21 event, which highlighted research from undergraduate and graduate students and faculty from across the country. “It was a great opportunity for disabled scholars to present their work in an accessible environment.” A dyslexic student, Seegers was one of the UChicago students who helped plan and organize this year’s conference, which offered attendees with disabilities resources including American sign language interpreters, CART services, large-print materials and access copies. This was the fourth annual conference, which was held at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Stephanie Ban, a fourth-year student at UChicago, presented her BA thesis, which focuses on how three Chicago-area universities addressed the issue of wheelchair accessibility prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. She was impressed by the wide variety of speakers and topics at the event. “Whatever your interest was in disability studies, someone at the conference was speaking on that exact topic,” said Ban, who added it “served to highlight that disability is a form of diversity that should be embraced more widely across campus.” Matthew Borus, a graduate student in the School of Social Service Administration and the Department of Sociology, participated in a panel on disability organizing and activism. His research focuses on the significant role of the Disability Rag, a print periodical in the 1980s that gained wide circulation and national focus, in the disability rights movement. “This was primarily an academic conference engaging multiple disciplines,” Borus said, “and it also modeled accessibility practices that can be a lot more common.” Student organizers hope the conference will return to UChicago in future years and will help increase the visibility of disability studies.
Through Memorial Day, the University of Chicago will host an art exhibit that honors military service members from Illinois killed in combat since 2001. Featuring more than 200 hand-sketched portraits, Portrait of a Soldier will be on display in the McCormick Tribune Lounge in the Reynolds Club through May 29. During an opening reception on May 24, UChicago Associate Vice President David Chearo urged the audience gathered to use Memorial Day as “a time to reflect upon those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.” A Marine veteran, Chearo appreciated that events like this on campus acknowledge that “your experiences and your brothers and sisters that have been lost are appreciated.” Bridget Collier, associate provost and director of the Equal Opportunity Programs at UChicago, welcomed community members to the opening of the exhibit, which she said was created “to put faces to the names of the fallen.” The reception included several speakers, including Ivan Samstein, vice president and chief financial officer at UChicago and an Army veteran; first-year student and ROTC member Nathan Kim; and former Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois. The portraits were created by artist Cameron Schilling of Mattoon, Illinois, who drew the first in 2004 of a Mattoon Army veteran who died in Iraq. Then-Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn saw the sketches and established the memorial exhibit in 2004, bringing it across Illinois. Guests examines the exhibit honoring Illinois military members.Photo byJean Lachatdownload “Memorial Day is a day to never forget all of those who gave their last full measure of devotion to our democracy,” said Quinn, alluding to President Abraham Lincoln’s sentiment delivered in “The Gettysburg Address.” Quinn encouraged visitors to take the opportunity to explore the portraits and see each of the men and women depicted, “to look into the eyes of the service members” and “see their soul.” The exhibit was brought to UChicago with the support of the Maroon Veterans Alliance. Kim, who is also vice president of the organization, closed the event with a reading of the famed John McCrae poem, “In Flanders Fields,” an ode to veterans of World War I. Kim told the crowd that the exhibit was a powerful reminder that “regardless of our race, our backgrounds, our sexual orientation, we’re all Americans.”
Startups with societal impact compete in Social New Venture Challenge finals
Seven teams have been selected to pitch their social impact startups during the finals of the John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge on May 22. The SNVC, a track of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s nationally ranked Edward L. Kaplan, ’71 New Venture Challenge, is one of the nation’s first social venture competitions and has helped more than 90 companies and nonprofits since it began in 2011. “Every year, we’re impressed by the creativity of our teams in addressing their stated challenges,” said Robert H. Gertner, the Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance at Chicago Booth and the John Edwardson Faculty Director of the Rustandy Center. “But this year they’ve pleased us with the degree to which they’ve proven their viability in the market.” Past winners of the Social New Venture Challenge, which is run in collaboration with Chicago Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, include BallotReady, the online voter guide founded by Alex Niemczewski, AB’09, and Aviva Rosman, MPP’16; and LuminAID, the solar-powered lamp for disaster relief founded by Andrea Sreshta, MBA’16. SNVC finalists will present to a panel of distinguished judges and compete for $75,000 in startup capital and $40,000 in additional specialized awards during the eighth annual competition. Doors open for SNVC finals at 9:15 a.m. in Harper Center, C-25, and remarks will start at 10 a.m. Winners will be announced at the Taste the Impact Reception in Harper Center, Room 104. The SNVC Finals also will be streamed live. Register to attend or livestream the 2018 SNVC Finals and the Taste the Impact Reception here. The finalist teams that will be presenting include: Unbreakable, a 10-week, anti-bullying online video program that focuses on empowering youth by improving their self-confidence and coping skills using scientifically proven psychological techniques. VouchCircle, a professional networking platform for underserved communities. Shakti, which empowers functionally illiterate women in India to enforce their rights and access legal and public health resources. Insights for Impact, a for-profit social enterprise that helps small to medium nonprofit organizations realize the use of data within their organizations. Gather Activism, a digital platform for political activism. Mighty, a free online and mobile marketplace for the public to deposit money in secure, community-investing banks. AIM Clinics, which provides the gold standard autism therapy to children in rural U.S. communities.
More than 1.1 million names installed on NASA’s Parker Solar Probe
Throughout its seven-year mission, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will swoop through the Sun’s atmosphere 24 times, getting closer than any spacecraft has gone before. The spacecraft will carry more than scientific instruments on this historic journey, though; it also will hold more than 1.1 million names submitted by the public to go to the Sun. “Parker Solar Probe is going to revolutionize our understanding of the Sun, the only star we can study up close,” said Nicola Fox, project scientist for Parker Solar Probe at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. “It’s fitting that as the mission undertakes one of the most extreme journeys of exploration ever tackled by a human-made object, the spacecraft will also carry along the names of so many people who are cheering it on its way.” In March 2018, the public were invited to send their names to the Sun aboard humanity’s first mission to “touch” a star. A total of 1,137,202 names were submitted online, and a memory card containing the names was installed on the spacecraft on May 18—three months before the scheduled July 31 launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The card was mounted on a plaque bearing a dedication to and a quote from the mission’s namesake, University of Chicago physicist Eugene Parker, who first theorized the existence of the solar wind. This memory card also carries photos of Parker and a copy of his groundbreaking 1958 scientific paper. Parker proposed a number of concepts about how stars—including our Sun—give off material. He called this cascade of energy and particles the solar wind, a constant outflow of material from the Sun that we now know shapes everything from the habitability of worlds to our solar system’s interaction with the rest of the galaxy. Parker Solar Probe will explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere and make critical observations to answer decades-old questions about the physics of stars. The resulting data may also improve forecasts of major eruptions on the Sun and subsequent space weather events that impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space. A plaque mounted on the Parker Solar Probe contains the memory card and the inscription: “The Parker Solar Probe mission is dedicated to Dr. Eugene N. Parker whose profound contributions have revolutionized our understanding of the Sun and solar wind. ‘Let’s see what lies ahead’ Gene Parker, July 2017.” (Photo courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman) A commemorative reproduction of the plaque bearing an identical memory card—minus the submitted names—was presented to Parker at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in October 2017 by the mission team. "From the experience of seeing the probe up close, I understand now the difficult task you are undertaking, and I am sure you will succeed,” said Parker after visiting the spacecraft in the clean room. —This release was adapted from an article originally posted by NASA.
Land rising above the sea 2.4 billion years ago transformed Earth’s life, climate
Chemical signatures in shale rocks, a consolidated form of mud, point to an increased rate in the rise of land above the ocean 2.4 billion years ago—possibly triggering dramatic changes in climate and life. In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers from six universities, including the University of Chicago, report that shales sampled from around the world contains archival-quality evidence of fleeting, almost imperceptible traces of rainwater that caused weathering of land as old as 3.5 billion years ago. The exposure of new land to weathering may have set off a series of glacial episodes and atmospheric changes spawned by the Great Oxygenation Event, in which free oxygen filled the air, said University of Oregon geologist Ilya Bindeman, who led the study. The evidence is from analyses of three oxygen isotopes, particularly the rare but stable oxygen-17, in multiple shale samples from every continent and spanning 3.7 billion years of Earth's history. Shale rocks are formed by the weathering of crust, so "they tell you a lot about the exposure to air, light and precipitation,” Bindeman said. Notable changes in the ratios of oxygen-17 and 18 with more common oxygen-16 allowed researchers to read the chemical history in the rocks. In doing so, they were able to establish when the pattern of precipitation on continents switched from near-coastal to more inland, reflecting the transport of moisture over vast swaths of emerged lands as the continents rose above seawater and high-mountain ranges and plateaus were created. “It is mind-boggling to think that we still find a record of something as evanescent as rainwater in rocks as old as 3.5 billion years old,” said co-author Nicolas Dauphas, head of the University of Chicago Origins Laboratory and professor in the Department of Geophysical Sciences and the Enrico Fermi Institute. “There are a number of challenges to applying this oxygen isotope proxy to ancient rocks, but our study shows that there was a clear change in the pattern of precipitation on continents at a time that coincided with the oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere approximately 2.4 billion years ago.” The measurements could help resolve previous arguments whether the emergence of land between 1.1 and 3.5 billion years ago was gradual or stepwise, scientists said. Based on his own previous modeling and other studies, Bindeman said, total landmass on the planet 2.4 billion years ago may have reached about two-thirds of what is observed today. Chemical weathering on the newly emerged land would have begun to consume carbon dioxide and changed the climate. “We still need to figure out how everything ties together, but this is a very exciting discovery that opens many avenues of research,” Dauphas said. —A version of this article was originally published by the University of Oregon Citation: “Rapid emergence of subaerial landmasses and onset of a modern hydrologic cycle 2.5 billion years ago.” Bindeman et al, Nature, May 23, 2018. Doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0131-1 Funding: National Science Foundation, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, NASA.
Fossil reveals global exodus of mammals’ near relatives to major continents
A nearly 130-million-year-old fossilized skull found in Utah is an Earth-shattering discovery in one respect. The small fossil is evidence that the super-continental split likely occurred much more recently than scientists had previously thought, and that a group of reptile-like mammals that bridge the reptile and mammal transition experienced an unsuspected burst of evolution across several continents. “Based on the unlikely discovery of this near-complete fossil cranium, we now recognize a new, cosmopolitan group of early mammal relatives,” said Adam Huttenlocker, lead author of the study and assistant professor of clinical integrative anatomical sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. The study, published May 23 in the journal Nature, updates the understanding of how mammals evolved and dispersed across major continents during the age of dinosaurs. It suggests that the divide of the ancient landmass Pangea continued for about 15 million years later than previously thought and that mammal migration and that of their close relatives continued during the Early Cretaceous, 145 to 101 million years ago. Paleontologists had once believed that the primitive precursors to mammals were anatomically similar, ecological generalists. “But now we know mammal precursors developed capacities to climb trees, to glide, to burrow into the ground for subterranean life, and to swim,” said Zhe-Xi Luo, senior author of the study and professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago. “With this new study, we also know that they dispersed across from Asia and Europe, into North America, and farther onto major southern continents.” The study reveals that the early mammal precursors migrated from Asia to Europe, into North America and further onto major southern continents, Luo said. A new species Huttenlocker and his collaborators at the Utah Geological Survey and UChicago named the new species Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch. Recreation of the Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch. (Artwork by Jorge A. Gonzalez) Found in the Cretaceous beds in eastern Utah, the fossil is named in honor of famed paleontologist Richard Cifelli. The species name, “wahkarmoosuch,” means “yellow cat” in the Ute tribe’s language in respect of the area where it was found. Scientists used high-resolution computed tomography scanners to analyze the skull. “The skull of Cifelliodon is an extremely rare find in a vast fossil-bearing region of the Western Interior, where the more than 150 species of mammals and reptile-like mammal precursors are represented mostly by isolated teeth and jaws,” said James Kirkland, study co-author in charge of the excavation and a Utah State paleontologist. With an estimated body weight of up to 2.5 pounds, Cifelliodon would seem small compared to many living mammals, but it was a giant among its Cretaceous contemporaries. A full-grown Cifelliodon was probably about the size of a small hare or pika (small mammal with rounded ears, short limbs and a very small tail). It had teeth similar to fruit-eating bats and could nip, shear and crush. It might have incorporated plants into its diet. The newly named species had a relatively small brain and giant “olfactory bulbs” to process sense of smell. The skull had tiny eye sockets, so the animal probably did not have good eyesight or color vision. It possibly was nocturnal and depended on sense of smell to root out food, Huttenlocker said. CT scan of the skull of Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch. (Courtesy Huttenlocker et al.) Supercontinent existed longer than previously thought Huttenlocker and his colleagues placed Cifelliodon within a group called Haramiyida, an extinct branch of mammal ancestors related to true mammals. The fossil was the first of its particular subgroup—Hahnodontidae—found in North America. The fossil discovery emphasizes that haramiyidans and some other vertebrate groups existed globally during the Jurassic-Cretaceous transition, meaning the corridors for migration via Pangean landmasses remained intact into the Early Cretaceous. Most of the Jurassic and Cretaceous fossils of haramiyidans are from the Triassic and Jurassic of Europe, Greenland and Asia. Hahnodontidae was previously known only from the Cretaceous of northern Africa. It is to this group that Huttenlocker argues Cifelliodon belongs, providing evidence of migration routes between the continents that are now separated in northern and southern hemispheres. “But it’s not just this group of haramiyidans,” Huttenlocker said. “The connection we discovered mirrors others recognized as recently as this year based on similar Cretaceous dinosaur fossils found in Africa and Europe.” Citation: “Late-surviving stem mammal links the lowermost Cretaceous of North America and Gondwana.” Huttenlocker et al, Nature, May 23, 2018. Doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0126-y
Philip Roth, one of the iconic voices in American letters who credited his debut novella to a conversation he had while a University of Chicago graduate student, died May 22. He was 85 years old. Over a career that spanned six decades, Roth, AM’55, received almost every major literary prize, including the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, PEN/Faulkner Award and National Book Critics Circle prize. Other honors included the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal, as well as the Man Booker International Prize for his contributions to literature in English. Roth received his master’s degree in English from UChicago in 1955 and taught in the College’s writing program from 1956-58. In media interviews, Roth discussed the impact of his time at UChicago, where he took classes with former Dean of the Humanities Napier Wilt, became a protégé of Nobel laureate Saul Bellow, and studied alongside noted writer and editor Ted Solotaroff. In a 1983 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Roth said of Chicago: “I’ve never felt as close to any other city I’ve lived in,” in part because of the young talent he met at the University—“the competition, the ambition, the stimulation, the talk.” Also in that interview Roth said he owed his debut novella Goodbye, Columbus to Richard Stern, the late Helen A. Regenstein Professor Emeritus in English Language and Literature. Over hamburgers at a Hyde Park tavern in 1955, Roth told Stern of his middle-class upbringing in New Jersey. “Dick got a kick out of the stories. ‘Why don’t you write that down?’ he said. My head was so full of The Golden Bowl, I thought he was having me on. But when I went home, I did it.” His talks with Stern, Roth said, “helped me to see that what was in front of my nose, though not as resounding as Conrad or as convoluted as James, qualified as fiction. That’s what I learned in Hyde Park, how to talk back to all those great books.” Roth’s time at UChicago influenced his work in other ways as well. Nathan Zuckerman, the protagonist of several Roth novels, is a UChicago alumnus, while Roth described former Dean Wilt as his “greatest supporter.” “I loved the University of Chicago,” he said in 2011 upon winning the Man Booker International Prize. “[It] was in a great city and had great faculty and it had very, very smart students.” Roth said Bellow’s writing had a deep influence on his work and experience of the city. “[Bellow’s novel] Augie March was my guide book, I read it like Fodor's guide to Chicago, y’know? Also it was so glamorous—it seemed to me, that I should be in this city that nourishes this guy.” Roth’s debut collection, Goodbye, Columbus won the National Book Award in 1960. He is perhaps best known for his 1969 novel Portnoy’s Complaint, a comic novel that attracted both praise and controversy for its frank discussion of sexuality. His other novels include The Counterlife, for which he won the 1987 National Book Critics Circle prize for fiction; American Pastoral, for which he won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; and Operation Shylock, The Human Stain and Everyman for which he won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 1994, 2001 and 2007, respectively.
Big Brains podcast explores the future of energy, innovation with entrepreneur
Editor’s note: Big Brains is a new University of Chicago podcast in which some of the pioneering minds on campus discuss their groundbreaking ideas and the stories behind them. When UChicago alumnus Michael Polsky first ventured into the field of renewable energy in 2003, he thought he’d missed the boat. “When we got into renewables in earnest, I thought we were too late,” said Polsky, MBA’87, believing people were well ahead of him in building clean energy projects. Today, he said we’re barely in “the third inning” of the renewables game. The founder and CEO of Invenergy, one of the largest renewable energy companies in North America, Polsky believes it’s not a question of if but when the United States becomes completely energy independent of fossil fuels. It’s a seemingly unexpected turn for the former power plant engineer who arrived in the U.S. from the Soviet Ukraine in the 1970s and began his career designing power plants. With his strong technical background, Polsky wanted to better understand the business side of the industry by getting his MBA from the Booth School of Business. He credits his time at Booth for launching him on a path to his current work, and driving his decision to support the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UChicago. Polsky said he was ecstatic when the University approached him with the idea for the Polsky Center, calling it “a revelation” after years of preaching the importance of entrepreneurship. On this episode of Big Brains, Polsky discusses his early days in the energy field, his current project to build one of the largest wind farms in the world and why he believes in the power of innovation. Subscribe to Big Brains on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Google Play. New episodes will be available Monday mornings through the Spring Quarter.
Behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan to join Booth faculty as University Professor
Influential economics scholar Sendhil Mullainathan will join the University of Chicago Booth School of Business faculty on July 1, 2018, where he has been appointed University Professor. He currently serves as the Robert C. Waggoner Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Mullainathan’s research spans broad areas of economics: behavioral, labor, public economics and corporate finance, and most recently has focused on the intersection of machine learning and public policy. His seminal research includes topics ranging from the impact of poverty on mental bandwidth to showing that higher cigarette taxes make smokers happier. “Sendhil is a phenomenal scholar, whose work has had great impact in a variety of fields,” said Madhav Rajan, dean of Chicago Booth and the George Pratt Shultz Professor of Accounting. “Sendhil’s history of collaboration across disciplines will strengthen ties among Booth’s research areas and deepen the school’s connections to the rest of the University.” University Professors are selected for internationally recognized eminence in their fields as well as for their potential for high impact across the University. Mullainathan will become the 22nd person to hold a University Professorship, and the ninth active faculty member holding that title. After completing his PhD in economics at Harvard in 1998, Mullainathan taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology until 2004, when he moved to Harvard, where he is a professor of economics and affiliate of Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The University of Chicago has a grand tradition of defining new disciplines: the phrase ‘Chicago School of’ has its own resonance in many academic fields,” Mullainathan said. “Today a new discipline is emerging at the intersection of human and machine intelligence. Algorithms are now capable of amazing feats, and fully harnessing their capacities requires integrating them equally with marvelous aspects of human cognition,” he added. “I’m excited to join Booth and be part of a team that will hopefully define another ‘Chicago School’ in this emerging discipline.” Mullainathan has published more than 50 journal articles, including 14 papers in top economics journals. He recently co-authored Scarcity: Why Having too Little Means so Much and writes regularly for The New York Times. In 2002, he received a MacArthur Fellowship and serves on the board of the MacArthur Foundation. In 2012, Mullainathan was designated a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum; was labeled a “Top 100 Thinker” by Foreign Policy Magazine, and named to the “Smart List: 50 people who will change the world” by Wired Magazine. He helped co-found the non-profit organization ideas42, which applies behavioral science to positively change lives; and co-founded Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, a center to promote the use of randomized control trials in development. Mullainathan is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Polsky Center helps launch biotech company from lab to real world
When Yang Zheng decided to go to business school, he knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. Instead of launching his own mobile application or consumer product, he sought an opportunity to join up with a University of Chicago doctor and begin work on bringing a technology to market that will change people’s lives. An MBA student at Chicago Booth, Zheng is the chief operating officer of Oxalo Therapeutics, a biotechnology company that is developing a novel drug to prevent kidney stones. Oxalo is the latest in a series of research innovations that, with the help of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, is moving from the lab to making impact in the real world. Oxalo’s drug is based on research conducted by Hatim Hassan, a UChicago assistant professor of medicine, who studies the gut microbe that exists in some people that helps prevent kidney stones. This microbe, found in around 60 percent of people, releases factors that stimulate the intestines to remove oxalate, the toxic molecule that, when combined with calcium, causes most kidney stones. By creating a drug that mimics the factors that this bug releases, the drug aims to remove oxalate in the body and prevent kidney stones. This type of microbiome-inspired therapy is sometimes referred to as “drugs as bugs.” On May 22, Oxalo Therapeutics will find out if it is one of the teams selected to compete in the nationally renowned Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, in which companies present to a panel of esteemed entrepreneurs and investors. Getting involved Zheng got involved with the Polsky Center through programs like the Collaboratorium, which connects University scientists and researchers with business students, and the Technology Venture Fellows program. While working as an intern in the Polsky Center’s technology commercialization office, Zheng decided he was ready to take his business expertise and join a company that could make an impact. “My criteria for whatever business I joined or started was that it would make dramatic impact in people’s lives, and in reviewing these University technologies, it seemed like biotech was the way to do that,” said Zheng. “I wanted to focus on one technology that had good potential and a good cofounder, and at the same time, Hassan’s technology was just mature enough where it was ready to be commercialized. And the Polsky Center, knowing both of our paths and our goals for the future, connected us.” Next Previous Oxala Gallery “I was impressed with Yang’s commitment to the biotech entrepreneurship path,” said Matt Martin, microbiome innovation and ventures lead at the Polsky Center. “While Yang and I had been informally talking for a few months, he described his commitment at a time when I was looking for another person to join Hassan’s business team. It turned out to be a perfect fit.” Zheng connected with Hassan, and they took Oxalo through the UChicago Innovation Fund in the fall of 2017, receiving $250,000 from the Polsky Center. The Innovation Fund provides funding to UChicago-affiliated ventures and technologies that have the greatest promise to benefit society. The Innovation Fund fills a critical gap in venture funding, providing early capital that is often unavailable, but is needed to help bring groundbreaking ideas to market. Oxalo also benefited from the UCGo! Startup License, a program that streamlines and simplifies the licensing process for University startup companies, shortening the timeline and minimizing the company’s legal costs. Following the Innovation Fund, Oxalo prepared for the next step in their entrepreneurial journey: the Polsky Center’s capstone program, the New Venture Challenge. The NVC experience Zheng is leading Oxalo through the New Venture Challenge, which requires a UChicago graduate student as an integral part of the team. Oxalo was accepted to Phase II of the NVC in February and is now in the middle of the rigorous classroom portion—complete with mentoring, critical feedback from outside judges and investors, and business plan development. The classroom portion of the New Venture Challenge calls for students to present their companies to the class and a rotating group of outside judges and investors multiple times throughout the quarter. A process that Zheng contends is about much more than just crafting the perfect pitch. “Going through the process of forcing yourself to tell the story of your company to people that may or may not care, or may or may not be in your industry, is the most powerful tool of the NVC,” said Zheng. “You intimately know your business, so you get to the point where you can explain it in a million different ways for a million different audiences. If you don’t know your business to that level, you need to. And that’s what the NVC has forced us to do.” “My criteria for whatever business I joined or started was that it would make dramatic impact in people’s lives.” MBA student Yang Zheng While the New Venture Challenge has a 22-year history, it is only recently that the University’s venture creation and technology licensing operations were brought under one organization. The recent expansion of the Polsky Center has made companies such as Oxalo—the product of University research—even more common. While there might be a vast difference between companies such as Oxalo or past NVC winners Grubhub or Tovala, the program is designed to benefit companies, no matter their industry or background. “Ultimately, everything is a business. It doesn’t matter if you are a new type of food or science or a mobile app, it’s a business,” said Zheng. “You need to tell a story and figure out your finances and operations and everything like that. The NVC forces you to do that, and to do it well.” At the NVC finals, teams will compete for a comprehensive awards package totaling more than $1 million in prize and in-kind services. This year, as a result of a recent gift from Chicago Booth alum Rattan Khosa, MBA ’79, the first-place prize will be a record $150,000. Following the New Venture Challenge, Oxalo is planning to spend the next few months fundraising and participating in additional accelerator programs to continue to build and grow their business. “They’re at the beginning of what could be a long, 10-year journey to bring a new class of drug to market,” said Martin. “However, kidney stone prevention is a huge unmet need for those with recurrent stones, and this team is off to a great start. I’m confident that if anyone can turn this science into a new therapy, Yang and Hassan will.”
High above mountains of Nepal, detectors study impact of Asian monsoon on climate
As rain sheeted down on the roof of an airplane hangar in the mountains of Nepal, a group of researchers watched a small, strangely shaped airplane disappear into the clouds. The plane, laden with custom-built detectors and instruments, was headed for the top of the most powerful, organized weather system in the world: the monsoon over southeast Asia. “We all had our hearts in our mouths,” said Assoc. Prof. Liz Moyer, a University of Chicago geophysical scientist who studies the atmosphere and the effects of climate change. The mission had been scheduled with an ambitious goal: to better understand the monsoon structure and its role in the global climate. More than one such mission had already been canceled for weather, customs, regulations or other difficulties. But this one, held together with the hopes of more than 50 scientists, was headed for a different fate. Accompanied by UChicago graduate and undergraduate students, Moyer was part of a July 2017 international collaboration funded by the European Commission to send a plane over the monsoon for the first time. Their results, which will be discussed this week at a meeting in Italy for the science teams in the project, reveal new details about how pollution and water from near the ground is transported to the stratosphere during the monsoon. Their questions: How high do the clouds of the monsoon reach? Are they boiling up over into the stratosphere—the second major layer of the Earth’s atmosphere? And to what extent do they carry surface pollution high enough to contribute to ozone destruction? “These seem like simple questions, but no one had ever been to the top of the monsoon before,” Moyer said. Clouded with mystery The Asian monsoon is the most massive weather event on the planet, and even apart from the treacherous winds and temperature shifts across altitudes, it makes its own chaos on the ground. Even getting equipment in had been a struggle for the scientists: They had shipped some of the equipment overseas to India, but trucks struggled to cross flooded roads on the way to Nepal. By go time, not everything had made it—they had to push the plane in and out of the hangar by hand, because that equipment was stalled—but the crucial parts were all there, and they could “MacGyver” the rest of it, Moyer said. A Russian-made Myasishchev M-55 Geophysica flew to 65,000 feet to study the top of the monsoon. (Courtesy of Moyer lab) Despite the challenges, the scientists felt the chance for knowledge was too important to pass up. Their work would not only help better understand the monsoon, which affects the livelihoods of billions of people, but also the climate for the entire planet. “By far the biggest uncertainty in our global climate models today is clouds,” said Moyer. Much of this uncertainty is about lower clouds, but we also don’t know as much as we’d like about cloud formation at the highest altitudes and over the tropics, where the plane was headed. And it’s difficult to study, because clouds at such altitudes are often made up of ice particles invisible to the naked eye. But they may deeply affect the global climate, including storms, the ozone layer and how much heat is reflected from Earth. Other scientists on the collaboration were studying whether particles from the lower layers of the atmosphere were being pulled up by the powerful winds of the monsoon. If so, pollution from the ground could be traveling into the upper atmosphere, which would affect cloud formation. Moyer’s lab, on the other hand, was tracking water on its journey to the stratosphere. That led them to the hangar in Nepal. Borrowing a crane, they lifted the 330-pound detector, built over three years in Moyer’s lab, onto the plane. “That was probably the most terrifying two minutes of my life,” said undergraduate Clare Singer, a fourth-year who traveled with Moyer for the mission. The plane, a Russian-made Myasishchev M-55 Geophysica, is one of just a few in the world suited to fly at that altitude: 65,000 feet into the atmosphere. Fourth-year Clare Singer helps load the detector onto the plane. (Photo courtesy of Clare Singer) After its four-and-a-half-hour trip, the plane finally came back into view. It landed, its Russian pilot unconcerned by the perilous trip. The scientists, less unruffled, rushed to download the data. ‘We could see it immediately’ Even without analysis, Moyer said they took one look and immediately knew their first question had been answered. Their detector was looking for the isotopic makeup of water in the highest altitudes. Certain heavier isotopes would mark water as having recently come from the ocean, pulled up as ice by the powerful forces of the storm. Those signatures were all over the readings. “We could see it immediately. There was just abundant evidence that the lid of the troposphere had been punctured,” she said. “What remains to be seen is how that influences the highest reaches, closest to the ozone layer. These are the questions we’ll tackle at the meeting in May.” Buoyed by the results, Moyer recently received a five-year, $5 million National Science Foundation grant to study high-altitude sub-visible cirrus clouds. In conjunction with Princeton, Harvard and the University of Washington, her group will work to better model the formation and evolution of these thin ice clouds in the uppermost reaches of the troposphere, to understand how they may change in the future. “I am concerned, though,” Moyer said. “Now the students might think you can do one run and always have new science come pouring right out the first time.”
As the Trump administration weighs how to revise fuel economy standards, a new study finds footprint-based rules are less effective and more costly than a flat standard with credit trading. At the heart of U.S. fuel economy standards currently being evaluated by the Trump administration is one attribute: a vehicle’s “footprint,” measured by the rectangle formed by the four points where a vehicle’s tires touch the ground. The attribute-based footprint standard is used to sort vehicles into bins with different compliance targets, with larger vehicles facing more modest requirements. Some have argued that this system incentivizes automakers to produce bigger vehicles, but there has been little concrete evidence to support this beyond a general trend toward light trucks and SUVs. But a study in the May edition of The Review of Economics and Statistics evaluates attribute-based regulations, looking specifically at the weight-based standards in Japan. The study finds that the standards did indeed incentivize automakers to increase the weight of their vehicles. And while the weight-based standards are more efficient than a flat standard alone, they are twice as costly as a flat standard accompanied by credit trading. “As automakers like Ford dramatically boost production of their pickups and SUVs, it’s clear that there is more driving their decisions than consumer preferences alone,” said co-author Koichiro Ito, an assistant professor at the Harris School of Public Policy. “Policy plays a substantial role, as our study indicates.” Ito and his co-author James Sallee, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, studied Japan’s standards at a time when the government introduced an incentive for vehicles that exceeded their fuel economy target. This policy change—whereby vehicles were judged based on both weight, to be in compliance, and fuel economy, to receive the subsidy—allowed Ito and Sallee to examine how the targeted goal of the policy (i.e. fuel economy) changed relative to the attribute-based scheme (i.e. weight). They compared cars sold in 2008, before the policy change, to those in 2012. The authors found that the weight-based system incentivized automakers to increase vehicle weight in order to fall into a less stringent compliance category. Ten percent of Japanese vehicles had their weight increased. Among the affected vehicles, the authors estimate that weight rose by 110 kilograms on average. When comparing this to a flat standard, the flat standard reduced the weight of cars broadly, but cost more to comply. If those who achieve the flat standard are allowed to sell credits to those who do not, this credit trading reduced compliance costs, making the weight-based system twice as costly as the flat standard with credit trading. “Having a flat standard with compliance trading where automakers can trade credits is the best option, improving fuel economy at a low compliance cost,” Ito said. “The U.S. fuel standards already have this trading scheme in place. Making a switch away from the footprint-based system and toward the most efficient policy option can be within reach.” —This story first appeared on the EPIC website.
Big Brains podcast explores how world’s largest telescope might glimpse universe’s birth
Editor’s note: Big Brains is a new University of Chicago podcast in which some of the pioneering minds on campus discuss their groundbreaking ideas and the stories behind them. Prof. Wendy Freedman spent much of her career measuring the age of the universe. Now she’s working on a project that may very well give scientists a chance to glimpse into its birth. Freedman, the John & Marion Sullivan University Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics, works in the field of observational cosmology, measuring the expansion rate of the universe. In 2001, she and a team of scientists found that the universe is around 13.7 billion years old—far more precise than the previous estimate in the 10- to 20-billion-year-old range. Freedman was the founding leader from 2003 until 2015 of an international consortium of researchers and universities (including UChicago) to build the world’s largest telescope high in the mountains of Chile. The Giant Magellan Telescope will be as tall as the Statue of Liberty when complete, and ten times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope—with the ability to look back at the dawn of the cosmos. “In our field, the new developments have come with new technology,” Freedman said. “Without exception, from the time that Galileo first turned a telescope to the sky in 1609, every time we’ve built a new capability we’ve made new discoveries, which is why we’re so excited about this.” The telescope, 80 feet in diameter and weighing more than 20 tons, will be the first of its kind to see fine details like a planet’s atmosphere, which could one day help discover life on other planets. The telescope is expected to be operational starting in 2024. “If we really were able to show that there’s life on a planet outside of our own solar system, that will be one of the discoveries that will not only be exciting for astronomers but will change human kind’s perspective on our place in the universe,” Freedman said. On this episode of Big Brains, Freedman discusses her research on measuring the age of the universe, her leadership of the Giant Magellan Telescope and the search for life outside our solar system. Subscribe to Big Brains on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Google Play. New episodes will be available Monday mornings through the Spring Quarter.
In Brinson Lecture, astrophysicist to shed light on the early universe
The first billion years after the Big Bang were formative for the universe. But because there was so little light as the earliest stars began to shine, astronomers know very little about this epoch. On May 17, astrophysicist Richard Ellis will deliver the 10th annual University of Chicago Brinson Lecture, entitled “Let There Be Light: The Observational Quest for the First Galaxies.” His talk will cover what scientists understand about this period and how new telescopes could fill in many of the gaps in their knowledge. “The motivation is fundamental,” Ellis wrote in the description of the lecture. “The origin of starlight begins the process of chemical evolution, which ultimately leads to our own existence in this remarkable universe.” The Brinson Lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 6 p.m. May 17 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Previous events have covered topics from the search for inhabited planets in other galaxies to underground ice telescopes, and have included decorated scientists from Prof. Wendy Freedman to newly minted Nobel laureate Kip Thorne. Ellis is a professor of astrophysics at the University College London. The 2011 winner of the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, Ellis works primarily in observational cosmology, considering the origin and evolution of galaxies, the evolution of large-scale structures in the universe and the nature and distribution of dark matter. His most recent discoveries relate to searches for the earliest known galaxies, seen when the universe was only a few percent of its present age. The lecture is co-sponsored by the University of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, with generous support from the Brinson Foundation.
Smart Museum of Art expands perspectives with major reinstallation of its collection
The University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art announced a major reinstallation of its collection and the launch of Expanding Narratives, a three-year, three-part collections and exhibitions series. The new series combines loans from UChicago alumni and Chicago-area collectors with works from the Smart’s collection. It offers a means to examine the content and role of the Museum’s collection, and the ways in which the addition of new works, particularly works by women and artists of color, can shift and expand narrative possibilities. On view until Dec. 30, 2018, Expanding Narratives: The Figure and the Ground is the first version of the series, and will look at the formal relationship between human figures and the background of a work, offering a more inclusive approach to the art historical canon by giving pride of place to artists like Sam Gilliam, Lee Krasner, Kerry James Marshall, Joan Mitchell, Alice Neel, Cindy Sherman, Sylvia Sleigh, Kara Walker and Jack Whitten. The exhibition will also incorporate interdisciplinary perspectives through the work of the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry. Over the course of the exhibition, faculty from departments across the University will share interpretations of individual works, furthering the celebration of alternative voices and diverse points of view. “As we look to the future, the Expanding Narratives series will offer a transparent platform for us to consider what constitutes a great university art museum collection in the 21st century,” said Alison Gass, the Dana Feitler Director of the Smart Museum. (Photo by John Zich) In preparation for the reinstallation, the Smart will be reconfigured by demolishing a long interior wall that has been in place for nearly 20 years. The new large, open space will offer opportunities to display large scale-works, and will ask visitors to consider themselves as a figure against the newly considered ground of the gallery. “We don’t have the space to tell an encyclopedic history all at once,” Gass said. “But we can be flexible and build an exhibitions and collections program that positions us as a site of critical debate, reflective of the academic excellence and global impact of the University.” “The Expanding Narratives series provides an opportunity to ask: How can we develop an inclusive collecting strategy that reflects and challenges the issues and questions shared by our community? How can we build a collection and program that sparks connections and dialogue?” said Michael Christiano, deputy director and curator of public practice. The second chapter in the Expanding Narratives series will open in spring 2019 and will focus on how museums, collectors, scholars and artists are re-inscribing African-American artists and artists of the African Diaspora into the canon of art history. The third and final chapter in 2020 will include an ambitious global history of art. The project will be installed chronologically with works from around the globe grouped together to examine critical points of intersection among people and cultures. Along with the reinstallation, the Smart recently launched a new two-year fellowship to help expand the professional fields of art history and museum practice to include individuals from traditionally underrepresented populations.
Nationwide program launches to train new generation of quantum engineers
In the past decade, quantum technology took a leap out of the realm of science fiction and landed firmly in reality. As companies around the world race toward practical applications, however, they’ll need a new generation of scientists and engineers to fulfill its potential. Funded by a $1.6 million award from the National Science Foundation, the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago and Harvard University will head a new nationwide graduate student training program for quantum science and engineering. Called the Quantum Information Science and Engineering Network, the program will group select graduate students with both an academic adviser and one from a leading technology company or national laboratory. Over the course of four years, the “triplets” will each address a pressing research question for both academia and industry. David Awschalom, the Liew Family Professor in Spintronics and Quantum Information at the University of Chicago, will oversee the program in partnership with Evelyn Hu, the Tarr-Coyne Professor of Applied Physics and of Electrical Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Professor Hu and I are extremely excited to help the NSF pioneer a different approach to graduate education and advance the frontiers of quantum science by creating a national workforce of quantum engineers,” Awschalom said. “Students selected for QISE-NET will benefit from the mentorship of both academic and industrial advisers on research topics that will pursue leading-edge science and engineering along with longer-term industrial goals.” The students will serve as the principal “communicators-in-residence” at both universities and in industry, translating ideas into research results, Awschalom said. “NSF is pleased to foster this novel approach to educate the future workforce for the needs of quantum engineering, industry and science,” said Anne Kinney, assistant director of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate at the National Science Foundation. “This important project responds to input from industry, research communities and other federal agencies. I look forward to the results of the QISE-NET project and to the mentorship and collaboration framework that it is expected to generate.” Approximately 20 students will receive four years of funding under the first edition of the program.
UChicago scientists and engineers at forefront of technology revolution
UChicago project archives decades of South Side home movies
From birthday parties to family holidays and picnics to parades, scenes from everyday life on the South Side of Chicago are featured in a new UChicago film preservation project that aims to reflect the history and diversity of families and communities. More than 200 home movies shot from 1929 to 1982 make up the South Side Home Movie Project and its new digital archive. The project, founded and directed by Prof. Jacqueline Stewart, a renowned scholar of African-American film culture, is the culmination of 13 years of work to collect, preserve, repair and digitize home movie collections, including that of Stewart’s family, which lived in Princeton Park. Although largely silent, the footage—shot on 8 mm, Super 8 mm and 16 mm film—speaks volumes to scholars like Stewart as well as the students and filmmakers who can benefit from these “unique documents of cultural and social history.” “I’m interested in visual details of family and community life—the details that rarely make it into mainstream films or conventional histories of Chicago,” said Stewart, professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and the College, who grew up in Hyde Park. “The movies we collect are intimate, first-hand visual records of work and play, of traditions and spontaneous acts. Scenes of families dancing or eating or traveling together personalize and illuminate aspects of our history that are often intangible, even in still photographs. And they activate memories, crucial knowledge and expertise that too often goes unrecognized.” The free online archive contains film from Chicago neighborhoods ranging from Chatham to Bridgeport to Chicago’s East Side. Oral histories recorded by family members describing their home movies are available as companion works to the films. The digital archive is fully browseable and also allows visitors to add tags and comments to help identify places, people and events as part of the collective historical project. “The movies we collect are intimate, first-hand visual records of work and play, of traditions and spontaneous acts…and they activate memories, crucial knowledge and expertise that too often goes unrecognized.”Prof. Jacqueline Stewart Through this new digital archive, and an active program of screenings and exhibitions across the South Side, the project has worked to ensure that this archive will be available to students, teachers, researchers, artists and filmmakers today and in future generations. Film clips may be downloaded for research and creative projects with written permission from the project. “We are frequently approached by documentary filmmakers who have difficulty finding footage of family life in Chicago, particularly among African-Americans, during this time period,” Stewart said. “Also, having worked with local musicians who find inspiration in the poetic silence of these films, and high school students who use SSHMP films to reflect on pressing issues of gentrification and activism, we welcome inquiries regarding creative projects as well as research projects.” The project is actively seeking participants to contribute their films and stories to the archive. The project is supported by the University of Chicago's Division of the Humanities, the Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture, the Film Studies Center, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, the Women’s Board of the University of Chicago and the Office of Civic Engagement’s Community Program Accelerator.
UChicago Library receives medals and papers of Nobel-winning physicist James Cronin
The University of Chicago Library has received the medals and academic papers of Nobel-winning physicist James Cronin, SM’53, PhD’55, the late UChicago scientist who made defining contributions to physics and astronomical observation. Cronin’s children, Emily Cronin Grothe and Daniel Cronin, donated six medals that recognize his extraordinary achievements, including the 1980 Nobel Prize Medal for Physics and the 1999 National Medal of Science. His widow, Carol Cronin, donated his professional papers, including lab reports, articles, lectures, speeches, teaching materials, correspondence and other items. The two gifts join archival collections at the Library’s Special Collections Research Center containing the papers or medals of 20 other Nobel laureates, including UChicago-associated physicists Niels Bohr, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Arthur H. Compton, Enrico Fermi, James Franck, Albert A. Michelson, Yoichiro Nambu and Eugene Wigner. “I am deeply grateful to the Cronin family for their invaluable gifts to the Library,” said Brenda Johnson, Library Director and University Librarian. “Making James Cronin’s papers and medals available to researchers and students not only helps us to understand the achievements of the past—it also fuels the rigorous inquiry of faculty and the transformative education we provide students. That is why the University of Chicago Library is committed to being the home of Nobel Prize winners’ research.” Selected medals of James W. Cronin include (from left): the 1976 Franklin Institute John Price Wetherill Medal, the 1977 United States Department of Energy Ernest Orlando Lawrence Memorial Award Medal, the 1999 National Medal of Science, the 1999 Collège de France Service Medal, the 1980 Nobel Prize Medal for Physics, and the 1999 French Légion d’Honneur Chevalier Medal. (Photo by Jean Lachat, courtesy of Special Collections Research Center) Cronin earned his master’s degree and PhD in physics from UChicago in the 1950s. While conducting research in the 1960s at Brookhaven National Laboratory, he and colleague Val Fitch studied subatomic particles coming off collisions between protons and atom nuclei and found the first example of nature’s preference for matter over antimatter. It was the first observation of a mystery that had baffled scientists for decades, and the breakthrough would earn them the Nobel Prize in 1980. This finding was later used to provide support for the Big Bang theory, explaining why the explosion would produce more matter than antimatter—leaving remnants that would eventually became stars, planets and human life. Studying the origin of cosmic rays Cronin joined the UChicago faculty in 1971 as University Professor of Physics. He soon shifted course to study the origin of cosmic rays: mysterious, highly energetic particles that strike the Earth from elsewhere in the cosmos. To search for them, he co-founded the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina—a massive international collaboration to build a system of giant water tanks spread over an area ten times the size of Paris. It took its first readings in 2005, and just last year discovered extragalactic origins for some of the cosmic rays that strike Earth. Cronin saw himself as part of a long lineage of UChicago physicists. In 2001, he organized a symposium marking the 100th anniversary of Fermi’s birth and edited the book Fermi Remembered. Published by the University of Chicago Press in 2004, it explored the enduring significance of Fermi’s work. “In his first year as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Cronin studied with Enrico Fermi and developed a great respect for him,” said Daniel Meyer, director of the Special Collections Research Center. “When he was working on the Fermi centennial and publication, Cronin came to Special Collections frequently to do his own research in the Fermi papers. He examined all of Fermi’s original laboratory notebooks and located key letters and documents from Fermi’s career.” Next Previous Cronin papers and photos Emily Cronin Grothe, LAB’78, said the University of Chicago Library was the right home for her father’s medals and papers. “Our family has a long history with the University of Chicago, with my grandfather, father, mother, uncle and daughter all receiving advanced degrees from the institution,” she said. “Given that, and how proud my father was to be associated with the University and its remarkable approach and achievements in science, my brother Dan and I never wavered in our commitment to house my father’s papers and medals with the library.”
Researchers invent tiny, resealable packets to deliver materials on cue
Your body keeps its neurons firing, immune system working and serotonin flowing with a clever bit of engineering: tiny capsules that deliver signaling molecules from place to place in the body. A team including University of Chicago engineer Juan de Pablo announced last week in Nature Chemistry that they have created a recipe to mimic these capsules. Their tiny, resealable synthetic packets, like Ziploc bags, release their contents on cue—in this case, when exposed to light of a particular wavelength. Such technology could be useful for medicine or other applications, scientists said. “One could imagine making these to custom-deliver medicine to specific parts of the body, or to release fertilizer or cleanup chemicals in the soil, for example,” said de Pablo, the Liew Family Professor at the University of Chicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering. The team, which also included researchers from the University of Massachusetts, designed a hollow synthetic packet that is just tens to hundreds of nanometers across—so tiny that thousands could sit side by side in the period at the end of this sentence. Its skin is made up of a double layer of two long molecules called polymers: The outer rind is water-soluble, while the inner layer is a glassy material that forms a rigid wall. The two polymers are linked by a single molecule that responds to light by changing its shape. When researchers shine light on the packet, the linking molecules change shape, softening the glassy material that sits below and allowing the contents of the packet to slip out. Once the light turns off, the glass solidifies again and the packet is resealed. The researchers imagine applications such as targeted medical treatments: Fill the packets with medicine, wait until they’re circulating in the body, then shine a light on the specific part of the body and watch the packets release the medicine. Both parts of the molecule are biocompatible and already used in implants and medical treatments: The outside is polyethylene oxide, a polymer used in cosmetics, toothpaste and medications today; and the interior lining is polylactic acid, which can be derived from corn starch and degrades to lactic acid, a natural compound in the body. The collaboration is expanding to explore more molecules that could be designed to react to different triggers, such as light, pressure or chemical cues, which could expand the range of potential uses. “The surprise was this insight that a single light-sensitive layer, measuring less than one nanometer but lying on top of otherwise very long molecules tightly packed onto a thick glass, can create a perturbation in the entire material,” de Pablo said. A deeper understanding of such mechanisms could provide the foundations for more new materials with useful properties. De Pablo and his collaborators are using sophisticated molecular simulations to decipher those mechanisms, he said. Citation: “Dynamic actuation of glassy polymersomes through isomerization of a single azobenzene unit at the block copolymer interface.” Moller et al, Nature Chemistry, April 30, 2018. doi: 10.1038/s41557-018-0027-6 Funding: U.S. Army Research Office.