Transformed the field of gastroenterology

After joining the UChicago faculty in 1935, gastroenterologist Joseph B. Kirsner pioneered modern understanding and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and was one of the first to show the link between ulcerative colitis and increased risk of colon cancer. Kirsner also introduced revolutionary guidelines for how physicians should care for patients and helped found the American Gastroenterological Association, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

Irving Waxman, Director of the Center for Endoscopic Research and Therapeutics, performs an endoscopy with today’s state of the art equipment.


Developed our understanding of molecular structure

Physicist and chemist Robert S. Mulliken, PhD’21, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1966 for his development of molecular orbit theory, which showed how to compute the structure of molecules. He refined molecular electronic spectroscopy in a series of papers for Reviews of Modern Physics in the 1930s. In 1952, he created one of the most important research centers in the world for theoretical chemistry and electronic spectroscopy, the Laboratory of Molecular Structure and Spectra at the University of Chicago.


Advanced influential sociological theory

Social anthropologist Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown, at the University of Chicago in the 1930s, developed the theory of structural functionalism, which holds that society is a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability.

Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown, Visiting Professor in Anthropology


Sergey Kozmin, Professor of Chemistry, leading a class in the College

Introduced a distinctive, rigorous undergraduate curriculum

After years of planning, in 1931 the College at the University of Chicago introduced its first coherent program of general education, the New Plan, which became the foundation for the Core in the later 1930s. This innovative curriculum included nondepartmental and interdisciplinary yearlong survey courses covering broad realms of knowledge, development of key analytic skills, discussion sections, and comprehensive year-end exams in the first two years. Today’s College students spend the major part of their first two years studying the foundations of modern thought in the humanities and the social, biological, and physical sciences, engaging in in-depth analysis of primary texts, and developing critical, analytical, and writing skills.


Founded the longest continuously running student film society in the nation

Founded in 1932 and named the International House Documentary Film Group in December 1940, Doc Films is on record with the Museum of Modern Art as the longest continuously running student film society in the nation. Doc has hosted such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen, and John Ford; and has nurtured and inspired such members as Ernest Callenbach, AB’49, AM’53, founding editor of Film Quarterly; Gordon Quinn, AB’65, and Gerald Temaner, AB’57, co-founders of Kartemquin Films; and filmmakers Aaron Lipstadt, AB’74, and Myron Meisel, AB’72.

Lynn Reid, the student chair for Doc Films in 1988


Benjamin E. Mays, AM’25, PhD’35

Helped advance civil rights

In 1935, the School of Religion conferred a PhD on Benjamin E. Mays, whose thesis, “The Idea of God in Contemporary Negro Literature,” was one of the first dissertations outside the field of sociology to focus specifically on African American studies. He went on to work with the National Urban League, helping to improve conditions for impoverished African Americans, and was an early member of several civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, Southern Conference for Human Welfare, and President John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Commission.


Established transaction cost economics

Economist and Nobel laureate Ronald Coase is best known for “The Nature of the Firm” (1937), which offered groundbreaking insights about why firms exist and established the field of transaction cost economics. He later published “The Problem of Social Cost” (1960), the seminal work in the field of law and economics. This paper set out the Coase Theorem, which holds that under conditions of perfect competition, private and social costs are equal. Economists have applied this theory to virtually every area of human activity.

Ronald Coase, the Clifton R. Musser Professor in Economics and editor of the Journal of Law and Economics


The field of law and economics was born at the University of Chicago Law School.

Combined the study of law and economics

Law and economics, or the application of economics to the study and practice of law, was born at the University of Chicago Law School in 1939. The first full-time professor of law and economics, Henry C. Simons, joined the University in 1939. Among the most important scholarly innovations in the legal academy in the 20th century, this area of study is widely adopted in legal scholarship and teaching across the United States and is now spreading around the world.