University of Chicago

University of Chicago

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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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Fifty years ago, the University of Chicago became one of the first universities in the nation to partner with the federal government on a suite of programs to help high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve academic success.

UChicago and its Office of Civic Engagement recently celebrated the far-reaching impact of two groundbreaking efforts to help low-income, high-potential Chicago students gain admission to, pay for and thrive in college: the Office of Special Programs-College Prep program, which since 1968 has helped more than 3,000 South Side students prepare and apply for college; and the Collegiate Scholars Program, which in the past 15 years has helped 100 percent of its more than 500 alumni enroll in four-year colleges.

“Ensuring that students from all backgrounds have access and the opportunity to succeed in higher education is a vital priority for the University,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “The Office of Special Programs is especially focused on providing a system of support and enrichment for young people in the University’s neighboring communities; such programs help first-generation students succeed while strengthening the colleges and universities they choose to attend.”

One College Prep program alum, UChicago second-year Naa Ashitey, knew she would go to college—but she wasn’t sure how she would get there, or how she would afford it. Her father, a taxi driver, works seven days a week; her mother has always cobbled together multiple jobs to help provide for the family.

As a high school student living in the Woodlawn neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, Ashitey was eligible for the OSP Upward Bound program, which offers year-round academic support, along with help navigating college admissions and financial aid, to students from four communities and four high schools near campus.

The program, which serves more than 100 students each year, helped connect Ashitey with a full-ride QuestBridge scholarship; she’s now on a pre-med academic track and aspires to earn both an MD and a PhD. “I needed to get into college not only to achieve my dream of being a doctor,” she said, “but also to be able to go back and help my family just like they helped me growing up.”

In addition to academic and admissions help, Office of Special Programs activities include annual nationwide college tours and weeklong live-in programs on campus, as well as field trips to cultural events and research institutions. The program also emphasizes the involvement of parents and guardians in students’ journey to college.

Cultivating the potential of Collegiate Scholars

The Collegiate Scholars Program launched after the UChicago Consortium on School Research found that high-performing Chicago Public Schools students were under-reaching in their college application choices. During the academic year, Collegiate Scholars participate in enrichment activities geared toward college readiness, leadership development, cultural awareness and civic engagement. And during the summer months, they experience life on campus while taking humanities, social science, math and science courses taught by University of Chicago faculty and PhD candidates.

Ninety-three percent of program alumni earn bachelor’s degrees within six years; by comparison, 18 percent of Chicago Public Schools graduates earn a bachelor’s degree within a decade of entering high school.

Collegiate Scholar Raven Galloway, a straight-A graduate of Daniel Hale Williams Prep in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, who’s now a first-year at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, was accepted to ten colleges and received financial aid offers and scholarships totaling more than $1.3 million. “One of the most important things that CSP gave me was an understanding of how college works,” she said. “It felt like we were high school students and college students at the same time—so I got to Rhodes already knowing how to look at my syllabi, how to handle due dates, how to get to know my professors and ask for help when I need it. All of us in CSP matured during the program and were more prepared for college because of it.”

Both programs are part of UChicago Promise, the University’s multipronged initiative offering college resources and scholarships for Chicago high school students; CSP is endowed through the Odyssey Scholarship Program, UChicago’s comprehensive model for dismantling obstacles to education and careers for talented, hardworking students with financial need.

“The enduring partnership between the University of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools has helped thousands of students prepare for and succeed in college,” said Janice K. Jackson, CEO of Chicago Public Schools. “We look forward to building upon our lasting partnership to help students reach their full potential for generations to come.”

—Adapted from a story that first appeared on the Civic Engagement website.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

Free speech has been an experiment from the start—or at least that’s what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes suggested nearly a century ago in his dissent in Abrams v. United States, one of the first decisions to interpret and shape the doctrine that would come to occupy a nearly sacred place in America’s national identity.

Since then, First Amendment jurisprudence has stirred America in novel ways, forcing deep introspection about democracy, society and human nature and sometimes straddling the political divide in unexpected fashion. In the past 100 years, free speech protections have ebbed and flowed alongside America’s fears and progress, adapting to changing norms but ultimately growing in reach.

And now, this piece of the American experiment faces a new set of challenges presented by the ever-expanding influence of technology as well as sharp debates over the government’s role in shaping the public forum.

That’s why Geoffrey R. Stone, the Edward Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, two of the country’s leading First Amendment scholars, brought together some of the nation’s most influential legal scholars in a new book to explore the evolution—and the future—of First Amendment doctrine in America. 

The Free Speech Century (Oxford University Press) is a collection of 16 essays by Floyd Abrams, the legendary First Amendment lawyer; David Strauss, the University of Chicago’s Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law; Albie Sachs, former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; Tom Ginsburg, the University of Chicago’s Leo Spitz Professor of International Law; Laura Weinrib, a University of Chicago Professor of Law; Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School; and others.

“Lee and I were law clerks together at the Supreme Court during the 1972 term,” Stone said. “I was with Justice Brennan and Lee was with Chief Justice Burger. We have both been writing, speaking and teaching about the First Amendment now for 45 years. This was a good time, we decided, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s first decision on the First Amendment with a volume that examines four basic themes: The Nature of First Amendment Jurisprudence, Major Critiques and Controversies over Current Doctrine, The International Impact of our First Amendment Jurisprudence, and the Future of Free Speech in a World of Ever-Changing Technology. Our hope is that this volume will enlighten, inspire and challenge readers to think about the role of free speech in a free and democratic society.”

Stone, JD’71, has spent much of his career examining free speech—a topic he first became passionate about as a University of Law School student.

The University has a long tradition of upholding freedom of expression. UChicago’s influential 2015 report by the Committee on Freedom of Expression, which Stone chaired, became a model for colleges and universities across the country.

The collection takes on pressing issues, such as free expression on university campuses, hate speech, the regulation of political speech and the boundaries of free speech on social media, unpacking the ways in which these issues are shaping the norms of free expression.

One essay, for instance, explores how digital behemoths like Facebook, Twitter and Google became “gatekeepers of free expression”—a shift that contributor Emily Bell, a Columbia University journalism professor, writes “leaves us at a dangerous point in democracy and freedom of the press.” Her article examines foreign interference in the 2016 election and explores some of the questions that have emerged since, such as how to balance traditional ideas of a free press with the rights of citizens to hear accurate information in an information landscape that is now dominated by social media.

Technology, the editors write, has presented some of the most significant questions that courts, legal scholars, and the American public will face in the coming decades.

“While vastly expanding the opportunities to participate in public discourse, contemporary means of communication have also arguably contributed to political polarization, foreign influence in our democracy, and the proliferation of ‘fake’ news,” Stone writes in the introduction. “To what extent do these concerns pose new threats to our understanding of ‘the freedom of speech, and of the press’? To what extent do they call for serious reconsideration of some central doctrines and principles on which our current First Amendment jurisprudence is based?”

In another essay, Strauss, an expert in constitutional law, examines the principles established in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case, New York Times Co. v. United States. The landmark ruling blocked an attempt at prior restraint by the Nixon administration, allowing the New York Times and Washington Post to publish a classified report that reporters had obtained about America’s role in Vietnam. The threat to national security wasn’t sufficiently immediate or specific to warrant infringing on the papers’ right to publish, the Court said at the time.

But today’s world is different, Strauss argues. It is easier to leak large amounts of sensitive information—and publication is no longer limited to a handful of media companies with strict ethical guidelines. What’s more, the ease with which information can be shared—digitally as opposed to carefully sneaking papers in batches from locked cabinets to a photocopier, as military analyst Daniel Ellsberg did when leaking the Pentagon Papers—means that a larger number of people can act as leakers. That can include those who don’t fully understand the information they are sharing, which many have argued was the case when former IT contractor Edward Snowden allegedly leaked millions of documents from the National Security Agency in 2013.

“[T]he stakes are great on both sides,” Strauss writes, “and the world has changed in ways that make it important to rethink the way we deal with the problem.”

Ultimately, the health of the First Amendment will depend on two things, Bollinger writes: a continued understanding that free speech plays a critical role in democratic society—and a recognition that the judicial branch doesn’t claim sole responsibility for achieving that vision. The legislative and executive branches can support free speech as well.

What’s more, modern-day challenges do not have to result in an erosion of protections, Bollinger argues.

“[O]ur most memorable and consequential decisions under the First Amendment have emerged in times of national crises, when passions are at their peak and when human behavior is on full display at its worst and at its best, in times of war and when momentous social movements are on the rise,” he writes. “Freedom of speech and the press taps into the most essential elements of life—how we think, speak, communicate, and live within the polity. It is no wonder that we are drawn again and again into its world.”

—Adapted from an article that first appeared on the University of Chicago Law School website.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

New research shows that healthy infants have intestinal bacteria that prevent the development of food allergies, findings that could impact the treatment of a disease that now affects 15 million Americans.

Researchers from the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Naples Federico II in Italy discovered that when gut microbes from healthy human infants were transplanted into germ-free mice, the animals were protected from an allergic reaction when exposed to cow’s milk.

Gut microbes from infants allergic to milk did not offer the same protection; mice receiving these bacteria suffered an allergic reaction when given cow’s milk. Cow’s milk allergy is the most common food allergy affecting children.

The study, published this week in Nature Medicine, also identifies a specific bacterial species that protects against allergic responses to food. “This study allows us to define a causal relationship and shows that the microbiota itself can dictate whether or not you get an allergic response,” said Cathryn Nagler, the Bunning Food Allergy Professor at UChicago and senior author of the study.

Nagler has been researching the physiological origins of tolerance to dietary antigens for more than 30 years. She is the co-founder and president of ClostraBio, an innovative startup company that is working to develop microbiome-based treatments for food allergies.

This latest research, funded in part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is the result of a long collaboration between Nagler and Roberto Berni Canani, chief of the Pediatric Allergy Program and CEINGE Advanced Biotechnologies at the University Federico II of Naples, Italy. In 2015, the two worked together on a project that found significant differences in the gut microbiomes of healthy infants and those with cow’s milk allergy. That eventually led them to ask if those differences somehow contributed to the development of the allergy.

The researchers transplanted gut microbes from each of eight infant donors—four healthy and four with cow’s milk allergy—into groups of mice via fecal samples. The mice had been raised in a completely sterile, germ-free environment, meaning they had no bacteria of their own. The mice were fed the same formula as the infants to help the bacteria colonize properly by providing the same sources of nutrients.

Mice that received bacteria from allergic infants suffered from anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, when exposed to cow’s milk for the first time. Germ-free control mice that were not given any bacteria also experienced this severe reaction. Those that received healthy bacteria appeared to be completely protected, however, and did not suffer an allergic reaction.

“These findings demonstrate the critical role of the gut microbiota in the development of food allergy and strongly suggest that modulating bacterial communities is relevant to stopping the food allergy disease burden,” Canani said. “These data are paving the way for innovative interventions for the prevention and treatment of food allergy that are under evaluation at our centers.”

The researchers also studied the composition of microbes in the intestinal tract of the mice and analyzed differences in gene expression between the healthy and allergic groups. This allowed them to pinpoint a particular species, Anaerostipes caccae, that appears to protect against allergic reactions when it is present in the gut.

A.caccae is part of a class of bacteria, Clostridia, that Nagler and her colleagues identified in a 2014 study that protects against nut allergies. These bacteria produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that previous research has shown is a crucial nutrient for establishing a healthy microbial community in the gut. This suggests that this class of butyrate-producing bacteria provides more general protection against other common food allergies as well. These bacteria or their metabolites could be used as part of biotherapeutic drugs to prevent or reverse other common food allergies.

“What we see with this work is how, in the context of all of the different types of microorganisms inhabiting the gastrointestinal tract, one single organism can have such a profound effect on how the host is affected by dietary components,” said Asst. Prof. Dionysios Antonopoulos, a microbial systems biologist at Argonne and a co-author of the study. “We also get a new appreciation for the distinct roles that each of these members play beyond the generalization that the ‘microbiome’ is involved.”

Citation: “Healthy infants harbor intestinal bacteria that protect against food allergy,” Nature Medicine Jan. 14, 2019. Doi: 10.1038/s41591-018-0324-z

Funding: Sunshine Charitable Foundation, the University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine, the National Institutes of Health and the Italian Ministry of Health

—Article originally appeared on The Forefront

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

You may think you are being prudent in taking the time to gather as much information as possible before making up your mind, but a new study finds that people consume far less information than expected before making judgments and decisions.

Whether buying a new car, hiring a job candidate or getting married, people assume they can and will use more information to make their decisions than they actually end up using, according to research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“Sometimes people need a lot of information to get an accurate reading, and sometimes people don't need much information at all to get an accurate reading,” said Assoc. Prof. Ed O’Brien of Chicago Booth. “The key insight revealed by our research is that it is hard to understand in advance which is which—people generally think that more information will be better, even when more information simply goes unused.”

In the era of Google and Facebook, people may believe that exchanging ever-more information will foster better-informed opinions and perspectives when the reality is people are making snap judgments without even begin aware of it, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. O’Brien co-authored the paper with Nadav Klein, who is a postdoctoral scholar at the Harris School of Public Policy.

In a series of seven studies, participants overvalued long-term product trials, overpaid for longer access to information, and overworked to impress others, failing to realize that extra information wouldn’t actually inform anyone’s judgment.

“In our studies, participants thought they would withhold judgment and await a lot of evidence before making up their minds, but in reality, they cast judgment right when the evidence came in,” said O’Brien, whose research examines how people perceive and experience change.

In one study, researchers asked all participants to drink one 0.5-ounce sample cup of a novel vegetable drink. Then they randomly assigned some of those participants to predict how many cups they would need to drink to decide whether they liked or disliked the drink. The others were instructed to keep drinking the cups until they decided.

The participants over predicted: They thought they would need more sample cups than they actually needed to make a decision. The discrepancy held true whether participants ended up liking or disliking the drink.

In another study, the researchers asked MBA students to apply for a hypothetical management position and write the exact number of essays they thought a hiring manager would need to read to make a decision. Participants were informed that a real hiring manager would read the essays, and that too many or too few essays would cost them the job.

The researchers found applicants wrote more essays than the hiring managers read to make their decisions. Essentially, the students “overworked to impress,” the authors wrote, adding, “Those looking to impress might be wiser spending their time fine-tuning some information rather than fine-tuning all information.”

The data also suggest a gap between information seekers and information providers. For example, people who go online to research a topic or take part in a debate may only access a small fraction of what is available before making a decision, while providers of that information may assume the seekers are taking in all the information and “hear them loud and clear,” the researchers wrote.

“Broadly speaking, we think this discrepancy is especially important in today's information age, with more access to more information than ever before,” O’Brien said. “People may think that so much accessible information will be useful for informing opinions and changing each other's minds, without realizing that minds will be made up nearly right away.”

—Story first appeared on the Chicago Booth website.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

When Danya Taymor was hired by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company to direct the new comedy, Familiar, she knew that she had to get the cultural elements exactly right. The play, which focuses on a Zimbabwean-American family preparing for the wedding of their eldest daughter, hinges on the conflict between Shona culture of Zimbabwe and American society.

In need of expert help, Taymor sought out Kathryn Takabvirwa, a member of the anthropology faculty at the University of Chicago. Takabvirwa grew up in Zimbabwe, and her research focuses on citizenship, culture and society in Southern Africa. Her background and work made her the ideal consultant for the production.

But Takabvirwa wasn’t so sure. “I didn’t know anything about the theater,” she said.

Taymor assured Takabvirwa experience in the preforming arts wasn’t required. What the production needed was a scholar who understood the complexities of the Shona culture.

“Kathryn was amazing,” Taymor said. “She brought so much authenticity to this play.”

A social and cultural anthropologist, Takabvirwa is teaching this winter in the African Civilizations sequence of UChicago’s distinctive Core Curriculum. In Takabvirwa’s class, students will discuss Zimbabwean culture, marriage and migrant diasporic life. She sees a strong connection between the play and anthropologic studies, planning to bring her work on Familiar into the classroom.

“It’s about communicating cultural norms and rituals of a Zim family to other people,” said Takabvirwa, who has been a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UChicago since 2018 and will become an assistant professor starting in 2020. “It was wonderful to be a part of that process.”

At Steppenwolf, Takabvirwa spent her first week on the project listening to the actors read through the play written by Danai Gurira, a Zimbabwean-American actress and playwright known for her roles in the film Black Panther and TV show The Walking Dead.

Takabvirwa talked with the actors about the context of the story, and why seemingly modest elements of the dialogue and direction were so important. From acknowledging the relevance of ancestral connections that extend relations beyond that of parents and their children, to understanding the appropriate ways of sitting, clapping and greeting an elder, Takabvirwa brought vital insights to the story, and in some cases, helped Taymor avoid making unintentional missteps.

Taymor recalls one scene in which the father and daughter are watching football together, and when the team scored a touchdown, she had them celebrate with a chest bump. “I didn’t think twice about the interaction, it was just a moment of celebration,” Taymor said.

But Takabvirwa demurred. She explained that a man in Zimbabwe would never thump chests with his daughter, and that the scene had to be altered or would interrupt the realism of the interaction. “It was a small moment but it had so much impact,” Taymor said, noting that she changed the direction to a fist bump. “I didn’t have the knowledge to pick up on that, but she did.”

Takabvirwa also helped Taymor rework positioning to ensure younger characters always showed respect to their elders. In Shona culture, a younger person would never stand and talk to an older person who was sitting down or choose a position higher up.

“It seems like a small thing, but the way you sit matters,” Takabvirwa said. 

Taymor used that knowledge in one scene where Maggie, one of the aunts, remains standing while her two elder sisters are seated. “It is a deliberate way of reminding the audience that she has been out of Zimbabwe for a long time,” Takabvirwa said.

Familiar, which has been called an “exceptionally insightful…layered, compelling depiction of the unescapable pull of family and history,” is playing at Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theater through January 13.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

A pair of prominent civil rights advocates will be the keynote speakers at the University of Chicago’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration, as the UChicago community celebrates Dr. King’s life and legacy.

The Jan. 15 event at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel will feature the Rev. William J. Barber II, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach; and Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. They will provide remarks then join Cathy Cohen, the David and Mary Winton Green Professor of Political Science at UChicago, for a moderated conversation.

This year’s public event, which will begin at 6 p.m., continues a tradition that the University started in 1990. A number of prominent leaders have served as keynote speakers of the UChicago MLK commemoration, including Barack Obama, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and educator/activist Angela Davis. Dr. King himself spoke at Rockefeller Chapel twice as his profile as a civil rights leader rose rapidly—first in April 1956, just months after the Montgomery Bus Boycott; and again in October 1959.

“The University community is incredibly excited to host Rev. William Barber and Sherrilyn Ifill as the 2019 keynote speakers. Both not only embody the values espoused by Dr. King, but they have spent their professional lives serving as drum majors for justice in the fight for civil and equal rights,” said Regina Dixon-Reeves, assistant provost at the University of Chicago. “Their passion and commitment to inspiring young people to careers in service to others makes them a formidable pair for this year’s commemoration celebration.”

A 2018 MacArthur fellow, Barber is a social justice advocate who is working to confront racial and economic inequalities in America. He has worked to expand voting rights, health care, living wages, immigrant rights, public education and LGBTQ rights in North Carolina. That has included beginning a series of “Moral Monday” rallies outside of the statehouse to protest state laws that suppressed voter turnout, cut funding for public education and health care, and disenfranchised poor communities. Those efforts and associated nonviolent acts of civil disobedience grew to involve tens of thousands of participants across North Carolina and spread to other states.

Ifill is president and director-counsel of the LDF, the nation’s premier civil rights legal organization, and has emerged as one of the nation’s leading voices in the struggle for racial justice and equality. She litigated voting rights cases for the LDF before leaving to teach law at the University of Maryland. She is also the critically acclaimed author of the 2007 book, On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will also feature music from the Chicago Children’s Choir. A community reception will follow in Ida Noyes Hall.

The MLK commemoration is one in a series of events during January in which the UChicago community will honor the life and legacy of Dr. King.

The University Community Service Center will partner with the Laboratory Schools and UChicago Charter School for the annual Day of Service on Jan. 19. UChicago students, staff, faculty, alumni and family members are invited to volunteer for on-campus service projects, including organizing and cleaning spaces, tutoring, crafting and painting. There also will be an off-campus activity to package meals in partnership with the nonprofit Rise Against Hunger and Kraft’s Micronutrient Campaign.

Civil rights leader Timuel Black, AM’54, will lead a bus tour around the South Side discussing his work with Dr. King. A lifelong resident of the South Side, the 100-year-old Black recently completed his memoir, Sacred Ground, which he will discuss at a 4 p.m. event Jan. 19 at the Seminary Co-op bookstore in Hyde Park. Although the tour is sold out, find more information about the book discussion here.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

For the past six years, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory has been part of an international effort to create an unprecedented survey of distant galaxies and better understand the nature of dark energy—the mysterious force accelerating the expansion of the universe.

After scanning about a quarter of the southern skies over 800 nights, the Dark Energy Survey finished taking data on Jan. 9. It ends as one of the most sensitive and comprehensive surveys of its kind, recording data from more than 300 million distant galaxies.

Fermilab, an affiliate of the University of Chicago, served as lead laboratory on the survey, which included more than 400 scientists and 26 institutions. The findings created the most accurate dark matter map of the universe ever made, shaping our understanding of the cosmos and its evolution. Other discoveries include the most distant supernova ever detected, a bevy of dwarf satellite galaxies orbiting our Milky Way, and helping to track the first-ever detection of gravitational waves from neutron stars back to its source.

According to Dark Energy Survey Director Rich Kron, a Fermilab scientist and professor at the University of Chicago, those results—and the scientists who made them possible—are where much of the real accomplishment of the Dark Energy Survey lies.

“The first generations of students and postdoctoral researchers on the Dark Energy Survey are now becoming faculty at research institutions and are involved in upcoming sky surveys,” Kron said. “The number of publications and people involved are a true testament to this experiment. Helping to launch so many careers has always been part of the plan, and it’s been very successful.”

Now the job of analyzing that data takes center stage, providing opportunities for new breakthroughs. The survey has already released a full range of papers based on its first year of data, and scientists are now diving into the rich seam of catalogued images from the first several years of data, looking for clues to the nature of dark energy.

The first step in that process, according to Fermilab scientist Josh Frieman, a professor at UChicago and former director of the Dark Energy Survey, is to find the signal in all the noise.

“We’re trying to tease out the signal of dark energy against a background of all sorts of non-cosmological stuff that gets imprinted on the data,” Frieman said. “It’s a massive ongoing effort from many different people around the world.”

More comprehensive results on dark energy are expected within the next few years.

The data for the survey was collected using the Dark Energy Camera mounted on the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. The camera, which is one of the most powerful digital imaging devices in existence, was built and tested at Fermilab, America’s leading particle physics laboratory located in Batavia, Illinois. Fermilab is named after Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi, a Nobel-winning physicist and member of UChicago’s faculty.

The Dark Energy Camera, called DECam, will remain mounted on the Blanco telescope at Cerro Tololo for another five to 10 years and will continue to be a useful instrument for scientific collaborations around the world.

“DECam was needed to carry out the Dark Energy Survey, but it also created a new tool for discovery—from the solar system to the distant universe,” said Alistair Walker of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, a Dark Energy Survey team member and the DECam instrument scientist. “For example, 12 new moons of Jupiter were recently discovered with DECam, and the detection of distant star-forming galaxies in the early universe, when the universe was only a few percent of its present age, has yielded new insights into the end of the cosmic dark ages.”

Steve Heathcote, director of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, also foresees a bright future for the Dark Energy Camera.

"Although the data taking for the Dark Energy Survey is coming to an end, DECam will continue its exploration of the universe from the Blanco telescope and is expected remain a front-line engine of discovery for many years,” Heathcote said.

The survey generated 50 terabytes (50 million megabytes) of data over its six observation seasons. That data is stored and analyzed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The DES collaboration will now focus on generating new results from its six years of data, including new insights into dark energy. With one era at an end, the next era of the Dark Energy Survey is just beginning.

—Adapted from a story that first appeared on the Fermilab website.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

A new planet roughly twice the size of Earth has been discovered located within the “habitable zone”—the range of distances from a star where liquid water may exist on the planet’s surface. A research team that included a UChicago graduate student confirmed the finding after volunteer citizens flagged a crucial piece of evidence in data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.

The new world, known as K2-288Bb and located in the Taurus constellation, could either be rocky or a gas-rich planet similar to Neptune in our own solar system. Within the system, there are two stars; K2-288Bb orbits the smaller star.

“It’s a very exciting discovery due to how it was found; its equilibrium temperature, which likely is similar to Earth’s; and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon. We probably only know about a handful of planets this size,” said UChicago graduate student Adina Feinstein, lead author of a paper describing the new planet and published in The Astronomical Journal.

Feinstein is part of a group of UChicago scientists shaping the emerging field of exoplanet research—searching for planets beyond our own solar system. She and colleagues announced the discovery Jan. 7 at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

Located 226 light-years away, the new planet lies in a stellar system known as K2-288, which contains a pair of dim, cool M-type stars separated by about 5.1 billion miles, or about six times the distance between Saturn and the sun. The brighter star has around half the mass and size of the sun, while its companion is about one-third the sun’s mass. One year on K2-288Bb is approximately 31.3 days.

In 2017, Feinstein and Makennah Bristow, an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina ,Asheville, worked with Joshua Schlieder, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. They searched Kepler data for evidence of transits—the regular dimming of a star when an orbiting planet moves across the star’s face.

While examining data, the team noticed two likely planetary transits in the system. But scientists require at least three transits before claiming the discovery of a candidate planet, and there wasn’t a third signal in the observations they reviewed.

As it turned out, though, the team wasn’t actually analyzing all of the data.

The data they were working from had been processed to remove the first couple of days of observations as the Kepler telescope repositioned itself to look at a different part of the sky every three months. The missing data in the first few days of the observing run was hiding the third transit.

The full data had, however, been posted directly to Exoplanet Explorers, a project in which the public searches Kepler’s K2 observations to locate new transiting planets. In May 2017, volunteers noticed the third transit and began an excited discussion through the program, which caught the attention of Feinstein and her colleagues.

“That’s how we missed it and it took the keen eyes of citizen scientists to make this extremely valuable find and point us to it,” Feinstein said.

“Vetting transits with the human eye is crucial because noise and other astrophysical events can mimic transits,” Schlieder explained.

The team began follow-up observations using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, the Keck II telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory and NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility, both in Hawaii, and also examined data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission.

Estimated at about 1.9 times Earth’s size, K2-288Bb is half the size of Neptune. This places it within a recently recognized category called the radius gap. Among planets that orbit close to their stars, there’s a curious dearth of worlds between about 1.5 and two times Earth’s size. Scientists think this is due to intense starlight eroding away the atmospheres of some planets over time. Since K2-288Bb’s radius places it in this gap, it may provide a case study for how planets evolve within this size range.

On Oct. 30, Kepler was shut down after nine years, during which it discovered 2,600 confirmed planets around other stars. And while NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is the newest space-based planet hunter, this finding shows that more discoveries await scientists in Kepler data.

Citation: “K2-288Bb: A Small Temperate Planet in a Low-mass Binary System Discovered by Citizen Scientists.” Feinstein et al, The Astronomical Journal, Jan. 7, 2019. DOI: 10.3847/1538-3881/aafa70

Funding: NASA, National Science Foundation, North Carolina Space Grant Consortium.

—Adapted from an article by Francis Reddy

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

Prof. Ralph Koijen of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business has been awarded the 2019 Fischer Black Prize by the American Finance Association.

The prize is awarded to the person under 40 whose work best exemplifies the Fischer Black hallmark of developing original research that is relevant to finance practice. The AQR Capital Management Professor of Finance, Koijen conducts research on asset pricing and macroeconomics, insurance markets and financial econometrics.

UChicago economists have earned the biennial prize four of the eight years it has been awarded, with past winners including Profs. Amir Sufi (2017); Tobias Moskowitz (2007, now at Yale); and Raghuram Rajan (2003 inaugural prize). The prize is named in honor of the late Fischer Black, former partner at Goldman Sachs and professor of finance at Chicago Booth and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His seminal research included the development (with UChicago Nobel laureate Myron Scholes, MBA’64, PhD’70) of the widely applied Black-Scholes Option Pricing Model.

Koijen is a Fama Faculty Fellow and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a research fellow of the Center for Economic Research. He is a co-editor of the Review of Financial Studies.

Prior to joining the Chicago Booth faculty, Koijen was a professor of finance at the London Business School and NYU Stern School of Business; he also was an assistant and associate professor of finance at Booth.

—Adapted from a story that first appeared on the Chicago Booth website.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

The University of Chicago will expand its presence in Paris through the construction of a new building designed by Studio Gang, growing opportunities for education, research and scholarly engagement across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Expected to open in 2022, the project will double UChicago’s space in Paris and replace the University’s existing Center, which has experienced tremendous growth in interest and programming since opening in 2003. The Center in Paris was UChicago’s first global facility, creating a model for engagement around the world that now includes the University centers in Delhi, Beijing and, most recently, Hong Kong, where The Hong Kong Jockey Club University of Chicago Academic Complex | The University of Chicago Francis and Rose Yuen Campus in Hong Kong opened in November.

The selection of Studio Gang, a Chicago-based design practice led by renowned architect Jeanne Gang, Chev. L.H., with offices in New York, San Francisco and Paris, followed a competitive process led by the SEMAPA, the government agency in charge of the development of Paris Rive Gauche, the neighborhood in which both the current and future Center reside. Studio Gang partnered with PARC Architectes, a Parisian architectural firm, on the new Center. The expansion project is a collaboration between SEMAPA, real estate developer Icade, and the University and will be located on the Rue des Grands Moulins and Avenue de France in an area that has become an international hub of research and higher education.

“The expansion of the Center in Paris is a testament to its success as an essential intellectual destination for faculty, students and alumni. This new project is a critical step in the University’s support of education and research around the globe. Jeanne Gang and her colleagues are a superb choice to lead the design of the Center, connecting it to the University, Paris and the broader region,” said President Robert J. Zimmer.

The Center in Paris hosts activities across the University, serving as home to UChicago’s largest undergraduate study abroad program, a hub for research and scholarly collaborations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and a focal point for a wide variety of alumni activities. The new project will grow the space for these activities through such additions as a theater, laboratory and café, while further connecting UChicago to one of Europe’s leading centers of culture, education and innovation.

“The Center in Paris has enhanced the intellectual life of the University of Chicago at every level,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “The Center hosts more than 250 undergraduates each year who study with leading Chicago faculty in one of 14 interdisciplinary programs. The Center also supports the advanced studies of doctoral students and faculty from across the University, who make use of the rich resources of Paris and engage with scholars from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa in undertaking major research projects.”

The project is comprised of two interlinking parts: the new UChicago Center in Paris and a mixed-use development not owned or operated by the University. The two parts will be housed in separate buildings connected through shared outdoor space.

The Center in Paris Project

New, biodiverse green spaces, public art, and the visual and material dialogue between the buildings will invite mixing between the University and greater communities while weaving together the site and its context both physically and intellectually.

“We are very excited to work in the great city of Paris and to collaborate with the prestigious University of Chicago on the Paris Center,” said Jeanne Gang. “Building upon the mission of the Center as a place of dialogue and exchange, our project is designed to encourage meaningful connections between the faculty, students and Parisians and to create a new kind of vitality in this growing neighborhood in the 13th arrondissement. I look forward to working with Icade, PARC Architectes and the city of Paris to realize this new addition to the life of the city.”

UChicago and Studio Gang have collaborated before. The firm designed the award-winning Campus North Residential Commons and Frank and Laura Baker Dining Commons, which opened in 2016. Throughout its history, UChicago has commissioned leading architects for projects as part of a commitment to architecture that advances inquiry and practice, enhances student life and cultivates a scholarly community that has an impact beyond its physical boundaries.

The site of the Center’s expansion is part of one of Europe’s leading civic projects, which focuses on developing former industrial sections of Paris’s Left Bank. The larger civic project is anchored by the French National Library and includes leading higher education institutions such as Paris Diderot University, the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations, IAE Paris - Sorbonne Business School, laboratories that are part of the National Center for Scientific research, and Station F, the world’s largest incubator and start-up campus.

“The city of Paris is very proud of the establishment of the University of Chicago Center in the heart of the city, close to the French National Library. The 13th arrondissement is a key district for higher education in Paris and the University of Chicago’s increased presence strengthens our strategy of maintaining universities and student facilities inside Paris. The building imagined by Jeanne Gang is a symbol of our urban policy that brings together ecological excellence, contemporary architecture and a social and functional mix,” said Jean-Louis Missika, deputy mayor of Paris.

The expansion project will support UChicago’s distinct approach to study abroad. Unlike traditional programs at many universities, which focus on language instruction and cultural enrichment, UChicago undergraduate programs in Paris and around the world represent a deeper and broader model for study abroad—one that combines cultural immersion and exploration in a variety of fields, ranging from history to neurobiology to mathematics.

The Center in Paris project will support faculty research and collaborations across the region, including housing dedicated workspaces for research teams and visiting scholars. It will serve as an administrative center for programs and events, including supporting alumni and admissions activities, and serving as a link to distinguished colleges, universities and organizations in the region.

This project was recommended by a faculty committee that brought together scholars from a range of disciplines and was chaired by Robert Morrissey, the Benjamin Franklin Professor of French Literature and former academic director for the Center in Paris.

The current Center in Paris, which is located two blocks from the expansion project site, will close after the new building is completed.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969