1940s

Determined the properties and technology of plutonium and uranium

In 1943–44, Cyril Smith determined the properties and technology of plutonium and uranium. Instrumental in developing the methods for transforming these elements into solid metal form, in 1946 Smith joined the University of Chicago, and became head (1946–56) of its Institute for the Study of Metals.

1941

Nobel laureate Charles B. Huggins, the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor in Surgery, working in his laboratory

Introduced hormonal treatment of cancer

In 1941, cancer researcher Charles B. Huggins treated patients suffering from advanced prostate cancer by removing the hormone the cancers needed to grow. Hormonal treatment has since become a mainstay of care for several types of cancer, including breast and gynecological cancers.

1941

Founded Committee on Social Thought

The innovative, interdisciplinary Committee on Social Thought was established at the University of Chicago in 1941. Not centered on any specific topic, it instead draws together noted academics and writers to “foster awareness of the permanent questions at the origin of all learned inquiry.” Distinguished members have included Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, J. M. Coetzee, T. S. Eliot, François Furet, Friedrich Hayek, A. K. Ramanujan, Paul Ricoeur, Charles Rosen, Harold Rosenberg, and John U. Nef, for whom the committee is now named.

Political theorist Hannah Arendt

1942

Julian H. Lewis, PhD 1915

Debunked race-based blood typing

Julian H. Lewis, PhD 1915, the first African American to hold both an MD and a PhD, conducted groundbreaking research on race and blood typing that led to his hallmark book, Biology of the Negro, in 1942. His book was a precursor to the field of anthropathology, which looks at racial differences in the expression of disease, and is credited with changing many people’s perspectives on race. Lewis was also the first African American to teach at the University of Chicago, where he was a noted expert in immunology.

1942

Conducted the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction

The modern nuclear age began when Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi and his colleagues conducted the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction on December 2, 1942, on the University of Chicago campus.

The sculpture “Nuclear Energy” by Henry Moore commemorates the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

1946

J. Roy Blayney, director of the Walter G. Zoller Memorial Dental Clinic

Determined that fluoride reduces cavities

Starting in 1946, dental researcher J. Roy Blayney conducted a 15-year public health experiment in the Chicago suburbs of Oak Park (no fluoride) and Evanston (fluoride) that demonstrated the cavity-fighting properties of fluoride in drinking water. The study led to widespread fluoridation of municipal water supplies.

1947

Influenced how history of American slavery is studied and taught

Historian John Hope Franklin, best known for From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans (1947), influenced the way American history is studied and taught. His work aimed to accurately represent African Americans in American history “so that,” he said, “the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly.” Franklin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.

John Hope Franklin, the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor in History

1949

Leon O. Jacobson, the Joseph Regenstein Professor in Medicine, in his laboratory

Performed the first bone marrow transplant

In 1949, medical researcher Leon O. Jacobson, MD’39, performed the first bone marrow transplant. He discovered he could save a mouse whose bone marrow and spleen had been destroyed by transplanting donated spleen tissue into the mouse. The procedure now helps thousands of patients with cancer and other diseases each year.