December 15, 2020
In this unprecedented year of news, fifteen PSD-related stories on the UChicago News site garnered over 4,000 views according to Google analytics. The vital role of the PSD response to the pandemic is represented alongside coverage of the University’s appointment of its first woman provost and breakthroughs in field-defining research. Here, ranked by highest readership, are the top stories covering PSD news and research for 2020.
Andrea Ghez, a UChicago Laboratory Schools alum (1983) and UCLA professor, won the Nobel Prize in Physics. The renowned astronomer was honored for discoveries about the black hole at the center of our galaxy. With fortuitous timing, Ghez delivered the 2020 Maria Goeppert-Mayer lecture to over 1000 viewers just weeks before the prize ceremony.
The hands of the Doomsday Clock were moved to 100 seconds to midnight—the closest the clock has ever been to apocalypse since its creation following World War II. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which is housed at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago and whose board includes several UChicago scientists, announced the change during a Jan. 23, 2020 event in Washington, D.C.
In March, 2020, as scientists around the world raced to decode the coronavirus that had caused more than 15,000 deaths in a matter of months, a group of University of Chicago chemists were focused on understanding how the virus’s RNA works—which could translate to a more effective vaccine. Chuan He, the John T. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry, commented on the search for clues using RNA.
Ka Yee C. Lee, Professor in the Department of Chemistry and former Vice Provost for Research, was named the next provost of the University of Chicago, effective Feb. 1, 2020. President Robert J. Zimmer announced Lee’s appointment in a message to the campus community in which he praised her work with deans, faculty and researchers across the University.
A discovery by Chemistry Prof. David Mazziotti, Dr. Shiva Safaei, and graduate student LeeAnn Sager addressed the problem of generating and moving energy efficiently. The breakthrough suggested a framework for an entirely new type of matter, which could have very useful technological applications in the real world. Though the prediction was based on theory, efforts are underway to test it experimentally. “We found the two states actually become entangled at a quantum level, and so reinforce each other,” said Prof. Mazziotti.
Computer science can help fight COVID-19 through explorations of health disparities and machine learning. Three UChicago research groups were awarded seed funding to apply AI to the response.
In July, 2020, the National Science Foundation awarded $15.5 million to launch a math institute at UChicago: the Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation (IMSI). The institute comprises a collaborative group of mathematicians and statisticians from UChicago, Northwestern, UIC, and UIUC who seek to bring powerful mathematical ideas to bear on key contemporary scientific and technological challenges.
UChicago computer scientists proposed Fawkes, a system that allows individuals to inoculate themselves against unauthorized facial recognition models. The software tool “cloaks” photos to trick the deep learning computer models that power facial recognition, without noticeable changes visible to the human eye.
Readers, likely fans of sloths and narwhals, continued to search for this story from 2019 about the unique method that found two-toed sloths are the last members of an ‘extinct’ ancient family.
Prof. R. Stephen Berry was remembered as a scientist renowned for his original and pioneering work across chemistry as well as for his generosity and sunny disposition. He co-taught a class last year on climate change and energy policy. He died July 26, 2020 at the age of 89.
The first images from NSF’s Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii showed a remarkable, close-up view of the sun’s surface. Robert Rosner, the William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, said seeing the amazing surfaces of its structures has been a forty-year endeavor.
The Doomsday Clock has its roots in the University Chicago, where a group of Manhattan Project scientists created the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in the aftermath of WWII. The group has been dedicated to informing the public about technologies “with the potential to end civilization" ever since. To this day, the Bulletin is housed at the University of Chicago, though its mission has expanded to address such global threats as terrorism, cyberattacks and climate change.
At age 97, John B. Goodenough, SM’50, PhD’52, became the 92nd scholar associated with the University of Chicago to receive a Nobel Prize (joining several of his professors, including Enrico Fermi). He was honored for pioneering breakthroughs that led to the widespread use of the lithium-ion battery—and helping spark the wireless revolution. The descendants of his batteries now power modern smartphones and hold the potential to one day sustainably harvest solar and wind power.
Scientists with the University of Chicago and Field Museum discovered stardust that formed 5 to 7 billion years ago—the oldest solid material ever found on Earth. The grains of stardust were trapped inside meteorites long ago—even before the sun formed—where they remained unchanged for billions of years, until one such meteorite fell 50 years ago in Australia. These “time capsules” offer clues about what was going on in our patch of the universe before the sun formed; for example, the grains suggest a surprising boom in star formation.
With the help of NASA’s TESS satellite, scientists from the University of Chicago and other institutions around the world discovered multiple new interesting worlds beyond Earth—including its first potentially habitable Earth-size world and another that is a ‘Star Wars’-type system with two suns.