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University of Chicago

University of Chicago

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The University of Chicago (U of C, UChicago, or Chicago) is an academic powerhouse par excellence. The University was founded with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890. William Rainey Harper became the university's first president, in 1891, and the first classes were held in 1892. As a private research university, UChicago consists of the College, various graduate programs and interdisciplinary committees organized into four divisions, six professional schools, and a school of continuing education. The University enrolls approximately 5,000 students in the College and about 15,000 students overall.

UChicago espouses a research-heavy ethos. For example, in 2008, the University received (largely from the federal government) and spent $423.7 million on scientific research. University of Chicago scholars have played a role in the development of various academic disciplines, including: the Chicago school of economics, the Chicago school of sociology, the law and economics movement in legal analysis, the Chicago school of literary criticism, the Chicago school of religion, the school of political science known as behavioralism, and in the physics leading to the world's first man-made, self-sustaining nuclear reaction. The University is also home to the University of Chicago Press, the largest university press in the United States.

Many great minds have been part of the University of Chicago community. The University is affiliated with 87 Nobel Laureates, 49 Rhodes Scholars and 9 Fields Medalists.

Honors: An Intellectual Powerhouse

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What do paint, dishwasher detergent, ketchup and blood have in common? All are composed of particles suspended in a carrier liquid and flow when stirred or forced, but remain thick or even gel-like at rest.

That very useful behavior in complex fluids is called shear thinning: their viscosity decreases during mixing and increases at rest. But when the mixing speed increases—as required in many large-scale industrial processes—certain fluids can pass through the region of shear thinning and move into a region where viscosity increases dramatically, making them difficult or impossible to stir. This effect, known as shear thickening, has been under investigation for several decades as engineers sought to solve complex production problems caused by the phenomenon.

Now, a team of nanoscientists and physicists from Argonne National Laboratory has unraveled this 30-year mystery by studying a shear-thickening fluid with X-rays. The study could lead to applications in 3-D printing, the chemical industry and the biomedical field.

In the late 1980s, scientist Richard L. Hoffman proposed a simple model: When fluids are mixed at low speeds, the suspended particles form ordered layers that can slide easily across each other, facilitating flow. But when exposed to high speeds, the layers become disordered and stumble over one another, hindering flow; this change in the type of flow is called “order-to-disorder transition.” It’s a bit like a disorderly crowd, pushing and shuffling its way through a congested exit.

Other researchers were able to observe this behavior in many fluids, but not in every shear-thickening fluid. So scientists proposed several other models to explain the shear-thickening phenomenon, but none of them address Hoffman’s model.

“So the puzzle remains: how is order-to-disorder of particles related to shear-thickening behavior? Why does it happen only in certain complex fluids?” said Xiao-Min Lin, a nanoscientist with a joint appointment at the University of Chicago James Franck Institute and the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne.

(From left): Alec Sandy, Xiao-Min Lin, Suresh Narayanan, Zhang Jiang, Jin Wang and Jonghun Lee (not pictured here) discovered the two-step nature of shear thickening in particulate suspensions. (Image courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory)

The team has always suspected that particle uniformity might play a role in this phenomenon. So Argonne postdoctoral fellow Jonghun Lee, the study’s lead author, synthesized silica nanoparticles of three different diameters. Then they took the samples to the Advanced Photon Source, a giant synchrotron at Argonne that provides extremely powerful X-rays for scientific analysis.

The team combined a rheometer, which measures the viscosity of the liquid, with X-ray characterization to create a unique instrument that can understand the structure of particles when they are moving in real time.

Their effort was rewarded. The highly uniform suspensions created by the team allowed them to separate the two phenomena: order-to-disorder transition and normal shear thickening. Until now, they had been indistinguishable in other experiments.

This allowed them to see that the order-to-disorder transition discovered in the 1980s occurs in lower-stress regions and the steady shear thickening occurs in higher-stress regions. In other words, these behaviors are driven by separate, independent mechanisms.

“But when you have non-uniform particles, these two behaviors collapse into the same region, making them indistinguishable,” Lee said.

—This article was originally posted by Argonne National Laboratory

Citation: “Unraveling the role of order-to-disorder transition in shear thickening suspensions,” Lee et al, Physical Review Letters, Jan. 9, 2018. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.120.028002

Funding: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, University of Chicago Materials Research Science and Engineering Center

Fri, 20 Apr 2018

Twice every year, the University of Chicago’s Enrico Fermi Institute sponsors the Arthur Holly Compton lecture series, which provide the public an inside look at the questions about the universe with which the institute and its scientists are grappling.

This spring’s free lectures series will be held 11 a.m. Saturday mornings at the Kersten Physics Teaching Center through June 2 (except for Memorial Day weekend). 

The series is named for pioneering University of Chicago physicist and Nobel laureate Arthur Holly Compton, who demonstrated that light can be both particle and wave. Compton also directed the Metallurgical Laboratory, where Enrico Fermi and his colleagues produced the first controlled nuclear chain reaction in 1942.

The subject of this spring’s series, delivered by Grainger Postdoctoral Fellow Andrew Mastbaum, is the neutrino: the wiliest of all the particles in the universe. These tiny particles zip around and through us all the time, but they remain mysterious—yet they may be the gatekeepers to some of our most fundamental questions about the universe, from what makes the sun shine to why we exist at all.

Mastbaum answered a few questions for UChicago News.

Why do you study neutrinos?

Oh, neutrinos are where the party’s at. Everyone’s trying to find some kind of physics outside the Standard Model—something that’s outside of our current understanding of particle physics. And in neutrinos there’s all kinds of open questions and anomalies that our experiments have found. I feel like the time is right for discovery in one of those areas.

What are some of the neutrino experiments you’re working on?

I work on two experiments. At Fermilab I’m involved with the Short Baseline Neutrino Program, where our goal is to measure whether there’s some additional type of neutrino beyond the three ones we know about. The other is SNO+ in Ontario, Canada, which is located underground in a mine. It looks at neutrinos coming from the sun, which helps us understand how the sun works as well as how neutrinos work. But the main goal is to measure something called neutrino double-beta decay, which would only happen if a neutrino is its own antiparticle.

If you could find the answer to one of the questions about neutrinos, which would it be?

I think the question about whether neutrinos are their own antiparticles is really of fundamental significance. Among the known particles of matter, only neutrinos can get away with this, and it will be very interesting to see if that’s how Nature works. And that could also open the door to neutrinos being the solution to other problems—like the existence of the universe that’s full of matter and not antimatter.

So which one are you hoping for—it is or it isn’t its own antiparticle?

It’s so cool either way. If it is, that’s really interesting and feeds into this matter/antimatter symmetry. And if it’s not, then it suggests there’s something that actually differentiates neutrinos and antineutrinos that we don’t know about. So then there’s some fundamental symmetry of nature that we haven’t discovered yet.

But, if you pressed me…. I’m rooting for they’re their own antiparticles.

How would that affect physics?

The Standard Model, our main theory of particle physics, has evolved a bit over the years as we discover new things like neutrinos having mass, and add it in. But to make neutrinos their own antiparticles requires some bigger changes, and would be a strong hint that there is a some bigger-picture theory we don’t have yet, beyond the Standard Model.

When you started planning the lectures, what was something you hoped to get across?

One thing I wanted to communicate is this really interesting dichotomy with neutrinos. There’s so much we don’t understand about them, and so they’re really interesting to study in their own right to understand the universe; but in the meantime, because they’re so unique, we can use them as a probe. For example, they can help us see inside the sun, more or less, because the neutrinos come straight from the reactions in the core of the sun, while sunlight only tells us about what’s going on at the very outer surface. So we can use them to study physics out there in the universe even if we don’t fully understand the neutrinos themselves.

There’s a lot of very notable people who have done this before me, and it’s a real honor to be a part of that. And I think it’s a really cool opportunity to share some of the research we do—to share what the big open questions are, and what keeps neutrino physicists up at night. It’s really exciting stuff, and it’s great to be able to share that.

A syllabus and slides from past lectures are available at Mastbaum’s website. Funding for the free lectures is provided by the Enrico Fermi Institute; additional support from lecture attendees is welcomed.

Fri, 20 Apr 2018

Trustee Emeritus Robert H. Malott, former chairman and chief executive officer of FMC Corporation, who served as vice chairman of the University of Chicago Board of Trustees, died April 4. He was 91 years old.

Malott was elected a trustee of the University in 1976. He served as vice chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1988 to 1993, was elected a life trustee in 1993, and was named a trustee emeritus in 2007. Malott joined FMC in 1952 and was elected chief executive in 1971, moving the corporate headquarters to Chicago. He led FMC for two decades, retiring in 1991.

Malott’s civic leadership and philanthropic work ranged from higher education to scientific research to the arts. He served on the governing board of Argonne National Laboratory, which the University manages for the U.S. Department of Energy, and chairman of the board of overseers of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Malott was chairman of the board of the National Museum of Natural History and served on the boards of the Public Broadcasting Service, the National World War II Museum and the National Academy of Sciences. He was a life director of the Lyric Opera Company of Chicago and the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Malott was born in Boston. His father, Deane W. Malott, became chancellor of the University of Kansas where his son enrolled at age 16, studying chemistry and playing basketball. Malott enlisted in the U.S. Navy a year later and served on an electronics repair ship stationed in San Francisco. After World War II, he returned to the University of Kansas to finish his bachelor's degree. He earned an MBA from Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration and attended New York University Law School. Malott served as assistant to the dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration before joining FMC.

Malott is survived by his three children, Liza, Barb and Deane. Elizabeth “Ibby” Malott, his wife of 43 years, died in 2003. In keeping with UChicago board tradition, a memorial resolution in honor of Malott will be presented at the board meeting in May.

Thu, 19 Apr 2018

Adel Rahman and Naomi Sweeting, third-years in the College, have been awarded Barry Goldwater Scholarships, awarded annually based on academic merit in natural sciences, mathematics, computer science and engineering.

The two students were nominated by the College and are among 211 scholars selected from a field of 1,280 applicants nationwide. The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per year.

“As future scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians, UChicago’s students have the drive and dedication to make a meaningful impact on their fields,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “We are proud that the Goldwater Foundation has recognized the work of Adel and Naomi, and we hope the award will give them the resources and encouragement to continue their academic pursuits.”

A physics and mathematics major, Rahman plans to pursue a doctorate in theoretical physics and conduct research focused on geometric and topological aspects of gravitational, high-energy and condensed matter physics. After pursuing his doctoral studies, he would like to teach at the university level.

“As a theorist, my work is somewhat disconnected from the real world, so it's easy to worry that people outside my field might not understand or care about what I am doing,” said Rahman. “Knowing that the Goldwater committee sees value in my research and aspirations has helped reaffirm my desire to keep pursuing my goals.”

Rahman is currently conducting research focused on general relativity. Under the guidance of Prof. Robert Wald, he is attempting to understand if, and if so, how, incoming gravitational radiation might alter the structure of a black hole and what consequences such an alteration might have. Rahman first developed an interest in general relativity when he took an introductory course on the subject from Wald. “I found the theory, in particular its elegant weaving of concrete physical ideas with high-powered mathematical machinery, to be both fascinating and profound.”

Rahman also has been engaged in a research project in mathematical hydrodynamics. Outside of the classroom, Rahman is a member of the Ransom Notes a cappella group and has served as a tutor for the Harper Tutors Program and the Department of Physics’ Bridge Program.

Sweeting is a mathematics major and history minor who plans to study number theory in graduate school. After earning a doctorate in theoretical math, Sweeting would like to teach at the university level.

Sweeting developed a love for math at a young age, and her interests were solidified through participation in math competitions at the middle school and high school level.

“I’ve always been fascinated by open problems—even ones that I knew were completely unapproachable,” said Sweeting. “I am amazed that with all the brilliance that has gone into mathematics for centuries and all the problems that have been solved, there are still simple mathematical questions that no one can answer. The thought of one day solving some of them myself has always been irresistible to me.”

Last summer, she completed an independent reading project about geometric measure theory and served as a teaching assistant at UChicago’s NSF Research Grant Summer Bootcamp, in which she planned curriculum and supervised student lectures. This summer, Sweeting will study number theory and arithmetic geometry at Emory University.

“I find number theory fascinating because it combines very concrete questions—many open problems could be understood by middle school students—with diverse and sophisticated methods drawn from very abstract areas of math.”

When she’s not engaged in math, Sweeting is a member of UChicago’s College Bowl team. She also participated in the European Civilization in Paris study abroad program.

Rahman and Sweeting were supported throughout their application process by the College Center for Scholarly Advancement, which supports undergraduates and College alumni through the highly competitive application processes for prestigious national scholarships and fellowships.

Thu, 19 Apr 2018

Fifteen faculty members at the University of Chicago have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies.

UChicago has the most newly elected faculty members among universities and colleges. The scholars join a class of 213 individuals, announced April 18, which features world leaders, innovators and artists. This year’s class also includes President Barack Obama, a former scholar at the University of Chicago Law School; and seven UChicago alumni, including Carla Hayden, AM’77, PhD’87, the Librarian of Congress.

The newly elected UChicago faculty members include:

Fernando Alvarez, the William C. Norby Professor in Economics and the College, is a macroeconomist whose research focuses on dynamic general equilibrium models applied to asset pricing, holdings of liquid assets, nominal rigidities, international trade, and labor market search and insurance. During his tenure at UChicago, he was a visiting research scholar at the Enaudi Institute of Economics and Finance in Rome, the research departments at the Federal Reserve Banks of Chicago, Minneapolis and Philadelphia; the European Central Bank and the Central Bank of Argentina. Alvarez has received numerous recognitions for his research, including fellowships and or grants from the European Central Bank, European Research Council, N.S.F., the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Tinker Foundation, Bank of France Foundation and the Organization of American States.

Katherine Baicker is dean of the Harris School of Public Policy and the Emmett Dedmon Professor. A leading scholar in the economic analysis of health policy, Baicker is one of the leaders of a research program investigating the effects of insurance coverage on health care and health. Her research has appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, Science and the Quarterly Journal of Economics. From 2005-2007, she served as a member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Lauren Berlant is the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor of English Language and Literature. Her work focuses on the aesthetics and affects of intimate relations in the United States from the 19th century to the present, stretching across formal and informal modes of attachment, social belonging and citizenship. Berlant is the author of Cruel Optimism (2011), which received the 2012 Rene Wellek Award from the American Comparative Literature Association; The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (2008); The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (1997); and The Anatomy of National Fantasy: Hawthorne, Utopia and Everyday Life (1991).

Bill Brown, senior adviser to the Provost for arts and the Karla Scherer Distinguished Service Professor in American Culture, teaches in the Department of English, the Department of Visual Arts and the College. His research—at the intersection of literary, visual and material cultures—has tracked how objects form and transform human subjects, and, most recently, how the arts can contribute to social theory.

Laurie Butler is a professor of chemistry with the James Frank Institute. She investigates fundamental inter- and intramolecular forces that drive the courses of chemical reactions, integrating our understanding of quantum mechanics into chemistry. Among other applications, her current work has implications for our models of atmospheric and combustion chemistry. She is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a former Alfred P. Sloan Fellow.

Cathy J. Cohen, the David and Mary Winton Green Professor of Political Science, is a leading scholar on race and politics. She is the principal researcher on the Black Youth Project and the GenForward Survey. She has served as the deputy provost for graduate education, chair of the Political Science department and director of the Center for the Study of Race, Culture and Politics. Her general field of specialization is American politics, although her research interests include African-American politics, women and politics, lesbian and gay politics, and social movements. Cohen is the author of two books: Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics (Oxford University Press 2010) and The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics (University of Chicago Press 1999) and co-editor with Kathleen Jones and Joan Tronto of Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader (NYU, 1997).

Heinrich Jaeger is the Sewell L. Avery Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Physics and the James Franck Institute. His laboratory studies the investigation of materials under conditions far from equilibrium, especially to design new classes of smart materials. A focus of Jaeger’s work are granular materials, which are large aggregates of particles in far-from-equilibrium configurations, that exhibit properties intermediate between those of ordinary solids and liquids – which could lead to everything from soft robotic systems that can change shape to new forms of architectural structures that are fully recyclable. He is a former Fulbright Scholar and Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow and is currently a fellow of the American Physical Society.

Matthew T. Kapstein is the Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies in the Divinity School. He specializes in the history of Buddhist philosophy in India and Tibet, as well as the cultural history of Tibetan Buddhism more generally. He has published more than a dozen books and numerous articles, including a translation of an 11th-century philosophical allegory in the acclaimed Clay Sanskrit Series, The Rise of Wisdom Moon (New York 2009). Kapstein is also director of Tibetan Studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris.

Robert L. Kendrick is professor in the Department of Music. He works largely in early-modern music and culture, with additional interests in Latin American music, historical anthropology, traditional Mediterranean polyphony, music and commemoration, and the visual arts. His most recent book is Singing Jeremiah: Music and Meaning in Holy Week (2014).

Susan Levine is the Rebecca Anne Boylan Professor in Education and Society, director of the UChicago Science of Learning Center, co-director of the Center for Early Childhood Research and chair of the Department of Psychology. She is also a member of the Department of Comparative Development and the Committee on Education. Her research focuses on language and cognitive development in children, especially mathematics and spatial learning, as well as how early childhood experiences and injuries to the brain relate to developmental trajectories. She is a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Jacqueline Stewart is professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and the College, and director of UChicago’s Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry. Her research and teaching consider the intersections of race and American cinema, particularly the history and preservation of African American film. She is the director of the South Side Home Movie Project, an archival and community engagement initiative that collects, digitizes, researches and exhibits home movies shot by South Side residents. She is the author of Migrating to the Movies (2005) and co-editor of L.A. Rebellion (2015), and curator of Cinema 53, a film series at the historic Harper Theater in Hyde Park.

Jessica Stockholder is the Raymond W. & Martha Hilpert Gruner Distinguished Service Professor and chair of the Department of Visual Arts. She works at the intersection of painting and sculpture. Her work has exhibited widely in North America and Europe, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, SITE Santa Fe, and the Venice Biennale, and her work is represented in various collections including the Art Institute of Chicago. She has received numerous grants including a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Melody Swartz is the William B. Ogden Professor of Molecular Engineering, with a joint appointment in the Ben May Department for Cancer Research. Her research focuses on how the lymphatic system affects and participates in the immune system—particularly its role in cancer – using engineering tools and approaches. She is a MacArthur Fellow, and her other honors include the Wendy Chaite Leadership Award in Lymphatic Research and the Wenner Prize from the Swiss Cancer League.

Andrei Tokmakoff is the Henry J. Gale Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry with the James Franck Institute. He studies the chemistry of water, and molecular dynamics of biophysical processes such as protein folding and DNA hybridization. His lab uses advanced spectroscopy to visualize how molecular structure changes with time to study these problems. He was an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow and has received the American Physical Society’s Ernest Plyler Prize, among others.

Linda Waite is the Lucy Flower Professor in Urban Sociology and senior fellow at NORC at the University of Chicago. Her research interests include social demography, aging, the family, health, sexuality and social well-being. Her current research focuses on the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, which she directs. This study examines the links between social connectivity and health at older ages, and has at its heart a nationally representative, longitudinal survey of older adults. She is the recipient of a MERIT Award from the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health.

The UChicago alumni elected to the Academy this year include: John R. Bowen, AM’77, PhD’84; Richard V. Kadison, AM’47, PhD’50; Laurie Patton, AM’86, PhD’91; David Reichman, AB’92; Christopher A. Walsh, PhD’83, MD’85; and Birgitta K. Whaley, SM’82, PhD’84.

Wed, 18 Apr 2018

The 2018 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced on April 16, with prizes given in journalism, letters, drama and music. UChicago scholar Amy Dru Stanley of the Department of History, the Law School and the College, had a unique vantage point to the selection process as the chair of the jury for the Pulitzer Prize for history.

Stanley shared her thoughts on serving on the jury and helping select the three finalists: Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics by Kim Phillips-Fein; Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America by Steven J. Ross; and the eventual winner, The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, by Jack E. Davis.

How does the process for selecting the Pulitzer in History begin?

A jury of three was appointed last spring: Allyson Hobbs, at Stanford; Fredrik Logevall, at Harvard; and I, as chair. Through the summer and late into the fall, we received boxes of books for a total of 141 entries, on topics ranging from colonialism to baseball, religion, international relations, disease, terror, housing, immigration, slavery, race, gender, disease and the environment. But military and political history predominated, as did works on the 20th century. There were as many entries by journalists as there were by academic historians. Our jury was rather mystified about the process by which the trade and academic presses determined which titles to submit to the Pulitzers.

We found it fairly simple to create a short list of about eight books. But it took many days of discussion to reach consensus in nominating the three finalists, along with naming one alternative title. We strove for unanimity, which involved a long process of rereading, deliberating and playing devil’s advocate.

The jury was not allowed to rank the finalists. We were also barred from revealing our service on the jury, until the Pulitzer Board’s announcement of the prizes. Finally, the Pulitzer process required us to recuse ourselves entirely from weighing in on books written by faculty members at our own universities or by friends in order to ensure impartiality in our judgments.

What is the criteria in selecting the finalists that are presented to the Pulitzer committee?

Every jury defines its own criteria; the Pulitzer Board did not instruct on this. We differed about what makes a Pulitzer book. Of course, it must be original, challenging us to think in new ways and firmly based on extensive research. But we had to overcome disagreements about the attributes we most valued. One of us stressed craft—the deftness of the narrative and the quality of the prose—and the scale of the work. Another focused on storytelling that makes lived experience vivid and reveals the agency of everyday actors. For me, the significance of the subject and the power of the analysis were paramount.

Something we also disagreed on was whether a serious mistake of fact was per se disqualifying; I thought it should be.

In the end, we looked for books with the virtues of being revelatory, risk-taking and eloquent—as well as accurate.

Throughout, we were acutely aware that the Pulitzer brings works of history to a broad public, making our judgments a sort of public trust. We would be defining the history that matters, shaping collective memory. It fell to us to say what is worth knowing about the past and how history today is best written. One thing we looked for were books that speak to pressing concerns of the present.

What struck you most about this year’s three finalists? And what set the winner, The Gulf, apart?

Our jury nominated three books that are powerful in distinct ways but all with profound relevance for the present. The Gulf illuminates ravages to the natural environment created by profit-maximizing economic activity. Fear City reveals the struggles of everyday urban life evoked by fiscal austerity and neoliberal policymaking. Hitler in Los Angeles lays bare the resistance to fascism mounted by citizens when government institutions failed, shedding new light on indigenous illiberalism, imported Nazism and underground resistance. Each holds lessons for the current moment.

We especially admired The Gulf for fusing originality, erudition and literary skill. The book explores the history of human destruction of the natural world. It tells of fish, mollusks, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, the Earth’s tenth-largest body of water. But it also tells of the oil industry and real estate development, and of polluted waters, and of dams, jetties, seawalls and levees that hasten erosion. The writing is both lyrical and limpid. The author, Jack Davis, enables us to see and feel and understand the fragile wonders of the Gulf. The book haunted me.

The Pulitzer Board’s selection of The Gulf is a tocsin, telling the public of a work of history that counters denial of environmental destruction as fake science.

Wed, 18 Apr 2018

Editor’s note: Playwright Martyna Majok, AB’07, was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play, Cost of Living. In the award, the play is described as “an honest, original work that invites audiences to examine diverse perceptions of privilege and human connection through two pairs of mismatched individuals.” The play appeared Off-Broadway in 2017 and was called ‘immensely haunting’ by The New York Times.

The Polish-born Majok spoke with UChicago News in 2014 about another of her works, a comedy entitled Ironbound that appeared at the Steppenwolf Theatre, as well as her experience as a performer and playwright while at the University. The original story appears below:

Martyna Majok’s “Ironbound” is the story of the relationship between Darja, a struggling Polish immigrant, and three very different men. The play, she says, was inspired by the work of Marxist theorist Slavoj Zizek.

It’s also a comedy.

Despite its weighty subject matter, the last thing Majok wants is “for the audience to sit there for the next hour and a half thinking this is just drama. You have to give them permission to laugh.”

“Ironbound” emerged as Majok was preparing to marry her then-fiancé and reflecting on “who has the privilege to marry for love.” Both Majok and her husband grew up poor and chose to pursue careers in the arts. Majok says they feared they would never have economic security. “We know how hard it is to get out of a cycle of poverty.”

She began to reflect on the romantic choices made by her mother—like Darja, a working-class immigrant from Poland.

“She would make what ended up being the wrong decisions for all the right reasons, trying to do the best thing that she could for her children and for herself,” Majok explains.

Around the same time, Majok was reading Zizek’s Violence during long commutes between a residency and teaching position at a theater in New Jersey and Connecticut, where her fiancé was in graduate school. “What I took away from that is that capitalism makes us treat each other as commodities,” she says. “‘What can you do for me, what can I do for you’ doesn’t exactly equal love.”

With Zizek’s writing, her mother’s experience, and her own impending marriage all simmering in her head, Majok dashed off the first draft of “Ironbound” in just a week. The play follows Darja over 22 years, depicting her at different points in her three marriages and showing her fierce struggle to survive and provide security for her son.

After two workshop productions, she submitted “Ironbound” to Steppenwolf at the suggestion of the company’s literary manager, who had mentored Majok during an internship after college.

“Part of our deal was that if I came to Chicago, I had to bring him Polish food, so I just brought him three pounds of kielbasa and some pierogi. Hopefully he liked it. I haven’t heard back from him, so maybe it was too much,” Majok jokes.

Becoming a playwright was never Majok’s plan, although she always showed a flair for writing. She didn’t see her first play until high school, when she won $45 playing pool and decided to treat herself to a production of “Cabaret” on Broadway.

As a University of Chicago undergraduate, she tried out for a play and fell in love with the strong bonds she created with her castmates. “I loved the communities that you form—these little ridiculous, inside joke-y families,” she says.

Her love of theater flourished as she studied with David Bevington and Nick Rudall at UChicago. She delved into playwriting during a quarter studying abroad in Paris.

She describes her first play as “the 22-year-old play that you write about your family. It was a super dark and ungenerous and emo play.” University Theater ultimately produced the piece, and Majok decided she wanted to make playwriting a career.

“It’s the thing that I found challenging and exciting and I felt it had worth,” she explains. “Leaving some sort of permanence was attractive.”

Supported by a fellowship from the Merage Foundation for the American Dream, Majok spent the first two years after graduating from UChicago immersing herself in the theater community by watching, studying, reading and writing as many plays as she could. She went on to study playwriting at the Yale School of Drama.

Over time, she says, she’s worked to make her plays funnier and less self-serious than her earlier efforts, and to write rich, complex female characters. “Women with strong appetites and flaws—I would like to see these women on stage, and if I were an actor, I would want to play these women who go after something hungrily,” she says.

Her next project focuses on the women and families that continued to live near Chernobyl after the nuclear disaster, despite the risks to their health and safety.

Even when tackling the weighty topic of Chernobyl, Majok’s darkly comedic sensibility still shines through. “It’s a musical,” she says.

Tue, 17 Apr 2018

For architect Jeanne Gang, the materials that compose the built environment are as important to her as the final design.

Speaking April 10 at UChicago’s Logan Center for the Arts, Gang recalled visiting a ruin on St. John’s several years ago that served as inspiration: Although its craggy stone walls seemed unremarkable at first, Gang later discovered that they were made up of the skeletons of harvested coral and brick shards that were likely used as ballast on slave ships.

“The question is: Are all materials tainted with history, or can they be redeemed in some way?” Gang asked in her address, the first of three Randy L. & Melvin R. Berlin Family Lectures, in which the University highlights individuals making fundamental contributions to the arts, humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Jeanne Gang, "Material World", Lecture 1 of 3, 04.10.18 Video of Jeanne Gang, "Material World", Lecture 1 of 3, 04.10.18 Jeanne Gang, "Material World", Lecture 1 of 3

Gang is best known for combining elements of ecological systems into her designs—from the 82-story Aqua Tower (2010) in downtown Chicago, which resembles a landscape of hills and valleys; to the Ford Calumet Environmental Center (2008), which used the nest-making process of birds for inspiration.

“I’ve always been sensitive to materials in architecture, seeing the choice of them and the deployment of them on equal footing with the building’s function, its form, its technologies,” Gang added. “The issue of where materials come from, the resources they consume, where they end up, and the way they make people feel, are all central to my thoughts about architecture.”

In three talks entitled “Mining the City,” Gang will explore various elements of the built environment. She framed the first discussion around the ubiquitous three Rs of environmentalism—reduce, reuse, recycle—as starting points for “reusing physical resources rather than starting from complete scratch.”

In a wide-ranging discussion, Gang explored architecture and design from the growth of mass consumerism by the American public in the post-war 1950s, up to modern innovations for making better use of space through concepts like tiny houses and micro apartments.

Gang shared concepts for current and past projects, including the conversion of a former coal-burning power plant into a modern student union at Beloit College, to a network of flexible live-and-work units in the former factory town of suburban Cicero.

Pioneering architectural vision

Gang was introduced to a crowd April 10 by Christine Mehring, chair of the Department of Art History at UChicago, who recognized Gang as one of a handful of successful female architects in the history of architecture. Mehring praised Gang’s efforts to bring more diverse perspectives to the profession during a celebrated career.

“In little over a decade, Jeanne has built an international reputation for advancing and intertwining the social, elemental and formal possibilities of architecture and design in the 21st century,” Mehring said.

Next Previous 2018 Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Family Lectures

The founding principal of Studio Gang, an international architecture and urban design practice based in Chicago, New York and San Francisco, Gang was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2011, which recognized her as “an architect challenging the aesthetic and technical possibilities of the art form in a wide range of structures.” Locally, her projects include the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo (2010), Northerly Island (2015) and closer to UChicago, the Campus North Residential Commons (2016).

Most recently, Gang also was named one of seven designers selected by the curatorial team for the U.S. Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, for which the University of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago are serving as commissioners.

Gang’s next Berlin Lecture is April 17, a talk entitled “The Uneven City,” which will followed by her final talk on April 24, “Mutualism in the Anthropocene.” Both will begin at 6 p.m. in the Performance Hall at the Logan Center.

Tue, 17 Apr 2018

Four UChicago faculty members and a visiting faculty member have won John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowships: Alain Bresson, the Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor in Classics; Lenore A. Grenoble, the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor in Linguistics; Srikanth Reddy, associate professor in the Department of English Language and Literature; and David Schutter, associate professor in the Department of Visual Arts. Annie Dorsen, visiting assistant professor of practice in the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies, also was honored.

Chosen from a pool of nearly 3,000 applicants, the four UChicago faculty are among 173 Guggenheim Fellowship winners who will receive financial support to pursue a variety of projects, from endangered languages to the invention of money.

Prof. Alain Bressondownload

A scholar of the ancient economy, Bresson is the author of “The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy,” which won the 2017 James Henry Breasted Prize from the American Historical Association.

Bresson will use his Guggenheim prize, which he said came to him “as a wonderful surprise,” to work on a new book about the specific form taken by money in the ancient Greek world, with a central focus on the question of why the ancient Greeks “invented” coinage.

“The Greeks and the Lydians are famous for having invented a new means of payment, an instrument that we still have in our pockets in our daily life: coinage,” Bresson said. “But a frequent confusion is the idea that the Greeks invented money. Of course they did not. Their contribution was to give to money a political form. I have explored these questions in almost twenty articles which, hopefully, will constitute the foundation for the book I plan to write.”

Prof. Lenore A. Grenobledownload

Grenoble has been studying language endangerment for the last 20 years, specializing in Slavic and Arctic Indigenous languages. In 2017, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The Guggenheim award will go towards supporting Grenoble’s research project on the relationship between language and well-being among Arctic Indigenous peoples in the face of rapidly changing social and environmental conditions, including urbanization and climate change.

“Linguists estimate that 50-90 percent of the world’s languages will be lost over the course of the next century due to a process called language shift, whereby speakers cease to use their mother tongue in favor of another language,” Grenoble said. “Receiving the Guggenheim is both recognition and validation of the importance of the project that I am working on.”

Assoc. Prof. Srikanth Reddydownload

Reddy is a poet and scholar and currently serves as the interim director for creative writing & poetics. The author of two books of poetry, Reddy’s writing on contemporary poetry has appeared in various publications including The New York Times and The New Republic.

The award meant a great deal to Reddy, who says he sees it as a sign of “encouragement to pursue my creative inclinations, no matter how eccentric or foolhardy.”

Reddy will use the award to complete a new book of poetry, titled “Underworld Lit.” The poem, built from fragments of lecture notes from an imaginary college humanities course, will weave together a disparate range of subjects including academic satire and a journey through versions of the underworld from various cultures.

“Needless to say, it’s a very UChicago poem,” Reddy said.

Assoc. Prof. David Schutterdownload

Schutter is a visual artist who specializes in painting and drawing and his work often draws on historical works in these disciplines.

A former recipient of the prestigious Rome Prize, Schutter has had exhibitions around the world, including the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the Gemaeldegalerie Berlin, the Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Palazzo Poli, and most recently in the Frans Hals Museum and documenta 14.

Schutter will be working on a new project on Thomas Eakins, the late 19th-century American realist painter, utilizing Eakins’ archives at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“The archives contain letters, studies, anatomical models and oil sketches—things of that sort that I’ll be using for an upcoming project,” Schutter said.

Visiting Asst. Prof. Annie Dorsendownload

Dorsen is a director and writer whose work explores the intersection of mathematical algorithms and live performance. Her projects have appeared throughout the U.S. and Europe, and she is the co-creator of the 2008 Broadway musical Passing Strange.

Dorsen, in the second year of an initial three-year appointment with TAPS, called the Guggenheim “an enormous honor” and will put the prize toward a new theater project.

“I’m working on a new theater project, as yet untitled, that has to do with forms of online social life, the kinds of virtual communities that we are constructing, and the ways of being together that the internet makes possible—for good or for ill,” Dorsen said. “The piece is part of my ongoing interest in how the technological tools we create end up re-creating us in all kinds of unforeseen ways.”

Mon, 16 Apr 2018

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.

University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin said he’ll never forget the day in 2004 when he unearthed the discovery of a lifetime.

After spending six years in the Arctic searching for a fossil that could be a missing link between sea and land animals, Shubin finally found himself eye-to-eye with the 375-million-year-old creature that would come to be known as Tiktaalik roseae.   

“I had staring at me the skull of a creature that looked part fish, part land-living animal,” Shubin said. “What made it even better is that as we pulled that skeleton out, we started to see other parts of the body. We started to see its fins, and its fin had arm bones and wrist bones inside. We started to see its body, and it looked like it had both lungs and gills.”

Shubin, the Robert R. Bensley Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, has shared his groundbreaking research with a wide audience, from his best-selling 2008 book Your Inner Fish, and as host of an Emmy Award-winning PBS series of the same name.  

On the debut episode of Big Brains, Shubin sat down to discuss his discovery of Tiktaalik, what it meant for the understanding of human evolution and how it has impacted the future of genetic research.

Most recently, Shubin’s research has taken him to Antarctica, where he will return later this year to search for more ancient fossils. The thrill of the hunt continues to excite him, Shubin said.

“Questions are never-ending, and a life of discovery is a life of surprises,” Shubin said.

Subscribe to Big Brains on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Google Play. New episodes will be available Monday mornings through the Spring Quarter. Big Brains is the newest podcast on the UChicago Podcast Network.

Mon, 16 Apr 2018