2000

Highlighted relationship between early childhood education and economic inequality

Policy makers have benefited from important new insights into the impact of social programs and the economics of early childhood from 2000 economics Nobelist James Heckman. His work supports early childhood education as a leading force for addressing economic inequality and improving the outcomes of individuals over their lifetimes. His pioneering research questioning the benefit of the GED degree received national attention.

James Heckman, the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, reads to children at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

2001

Wendy Freedman, University Professor in Astronomy and Astrophysics

Determined the age of the universe

Astronomer Wendy Freedman became world-renowned for her leadership of the 30-member Hubble Key Project team, which measured the current expansion rate of the universe. The project’s final results resolved a long-standing debate in 2001, determining the age of the universe as 13.7 billion years with an uncertainty of 10 percent. Freedman joined the UChicago faculty in 2014. 

2002

Measured cosmic microwave background radiation

Measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation—the 14-billion-year-old light from the big bang—by cosmologist John Carlstrom in the early 2000s verified the framework that supports modern cosmological theory. His work and devices have led to more accurate measurements of the rate of cosmic expansion, motivated revisions of current cosmological models, and advanced the field of experimental astronomy.

John Carlstrom used the degree angular scale interferometer (DASI) at the NSF Scott-Amundsen South Pole Station to measure the cosmic microwave background radiation.

2002

Wei-Jen Tang, Professor in the Ben May Department for Cancer Research

Revealed anthrax toxin structure

In the early 2000s, cancer researcher Wei-Jen Tang discovered the structure of edema factor, one of the three toxins that make the anthrax bacterium deadly, an essential step in finding treatment for the infection.

2004

Used noninvasive modern technology to study ancient artifacts

In 2004, Sumerologist Christopher Woods and colleagues at the Oriental Institute used industrial CT scanners to image the interior of 5,000-year-old clay balls from Iran that contain tokens that may be the earliest accounting system. The nondestructive research method has allowed examination of many more such artifacts and will advance a clearer understanding of their relationship to the emergence of accounting and writing.

Ancient clay balls containing tokens were used to record commercial transactions before writing was developed.

2004

Cathy Cohen, the David and Mary Winton Green Professor in Political Science

Launched interdisciplinary research into race, politics, and culture

In 2004, scholar and activist Cathy Cohen began the Black Youth Project, a national research project devoted to examining the attitudes, resources, and culture of African American youth. Cohen’s major contributions linking academics with activism earned her the University of Chicago’s inaugural Faculty Diversity Leadership Award in 2014.

2005

Advanced clinical electrophysiology

Cardiologist Harry A. Fozzard pioneered modern understanding of chemical and electrical signaling in heart muscle cells, helping to lay the foundation for modern clinical electrophysiology by mapping out the structure and function of the voltage-gated ion channels in heart muscle. His accomplishments were recognized by the American Heart Association in 2005.

Harry A. Fozzard, the Otho S. A. Sprague Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Medicine

2006

A model of Tiktaalik roseae

Discovered evolutionary link between fish and land animals

In 2006, paleontologist Neil Shubin discovered fossils of Tiktaalik roseae, the missing evolutionary link between fish and the first animals that waddled out of water onto land 375 million years ago. Shubin’s key discovery advanced evolutionary biology, and his best-selling book and television series sparked popular interest in the subject.

2007

Helped lay the foundation of mechanism design theory

2007 Nobel laureate Roger Myerson radically advanced the field of mechanism design, tackling the problem of how to best design markets with the right incentives to induce brokers, investors, and other actors to reveal information to one another truthfully. This work has led to a branch of scholarship investigating effective trading mechanisms, regulations, and voting procedures.

Roger Myerson, the Glen A. Lloyd Distinguished Service Professor in Economics

2008

The Iron Age funerary monument recovered at Zincirli, Turkey

Illuminated the Iron Age concept of afterlife

An Iron Age stela excavated at Zincirli in southeastern Turkey in 2008 by archaeologist and historian David Schloen revolutionized scholars’ understanding of the conception of the afterlife in that era. The monument’s lengthy inscription states that the soul of the deceased literally lived in the stone of the stela and that food should be brought to it annually.

2008

Developed new programs to prevent crime

The University of Chicago Crime Lab, launched in 2008, partners with policy makers in Chicago and across the country to carry out large-scale policy experiments to identify effective and cost-effective ways to help prevent crime and violence. The city of Chicago has provided additional funding to the violence reduction program Becoming a Man (BAM), which Crime Lab research showed to be effective. One innovative BAM program, which addresses non-academic barriers to school success, decreased violent crime arrests of participants by 44 percent.

Chicago Public Schools students participating in the BAM program

2009

Ngô Bao Châu, the Francis and Rose Yuen Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics

Solved a long-standing mathematics problem

Mathematician Ngô Bao Châu’s proof of the fundamental lemma of the Langlands Program, a problem that had vexed mathematicians for three decades, was listed as one of the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2009 by Time magazine. Ngô’s work won him the highest professional honor in mathematics, the Fields Medal.