Led formational work in the study of ecology

Botanist Henry Chandler Cowles’s study of ecological succession in the Indiana Dunes along the southern shore of Lake Michigan in the late 1890s opened a new field of inquiry in the natural sciences: ecology. The investigation of a changing natural landscape carries increasing importance amid growing concerns about our environment.

Henry Chandler Cowles (second from the right), Professor in Botany


George Herbert Mead, Professor in Philosophy

Laid pivotal groundwork to create the field of social psychology

Philosopher, sociologist, and psychologist George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) is considered one of the founders of social psychology and the American sociological tradition. Pragmatic philosophers like Mead focused on the development of the self and the objectivity of the world, in publications that included "Suggestions Towards a Theory of the Philosophical Disciplines" (1900), “What Social Objects Must Psychology Presuppose” (1910), and “The Social Self” (1913).


Established the first sociology department in the United States

Inaugurated in 1892, the University of Chicago’s Sociology Department was the first in the United States, establishing a model of creative and foundational work. Its graduates and faculty have shaped sociological subfields from stratification and demography to deviance and urban studies, and originated methodologies from path analysis and log-linear modeling to urban ethnography.

Current College students conduct urban research in the neighborhoods near the University.


Today’s Graham School students attend an Arabic class at Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago.

Introduced extended university education in the United States

The University of Chicago Extension Division was organized in 1892. Known today as the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, it was founded on the principles of engagement with the community and accessibility to as many students as possible. By 1895, students were attending courses at 54 extension centers (39 outside of Chicago). University Extension was the first US school to organize correspondence courses at the college level, offering full credit for successful completion and using the same rigorous standards as in UChicago classrooms.


Educates largest number of theological faculty

First University of Chicago president William Rainey Harper, a distinguished scholar of Semitic languages, believed that one central occupation of the University should be the scholarly study of religion, preparing scholars for careers in teaching and research. The Morgan Park Seminary of the Baptist Theological Union became the Divinity School and first professional school of the University in 1892, the year it opened its doors. For decades, the Divinity School has been the largest institutional educator of faculty members for theology schools and programs in American higher education.


Eiji Asada, PhD 1893, scholar of Semitic languages and Old Testament biblical studies

Authored seminal English-language textbook for Japanese audiences

Eiji Asada, a Japanese student in Semitic Languages and Literatures, received the University’s first PhD in 1893. Asada was the author of the first English textbook and reader for a Japanese audience. It was used widely in Japan at the start of the 20th century.


Introduced innovative ideas in education reform

Philosopher and educator John Dewey opened an elementary school in 1896, embarking on one of the most important educational experiments of the century. That small school became the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, one of the pre-eminent pre-collegiate academic institutions in the world and one that still bases its educational experience on Dewey’s ideas. The Lab Schools now offer a quality education to more than 1,700 students from nursery through high school.

Early childhood education in Earl Shapiro Hall at today’s Laboratory Schools.


Monroe Nathan Work, AB 1902, AM 1903

Matriculated the first African American scholar to publish in a major sociology journal

As a student at the University of Chicago in 1901, Monroe Nathan Work, AB 1902, AM 1903, published “The Negro and Crime in Chicago,” the first scholarly article by an African American to be published in the American Journal of Sociology. Later, as founding director of the Department of Records and Research, Work aggressively advanced empirical research on the African American experience.


Established first US chair in Egyptology, Oriental history

Scholarship on the ancient Near East was primarily centered in Europe until 1905, when archaeologist and historian James Henry Breasted assumed the first chair in Egyptology and Oriental history in the United States, at the University of Chicago. In 1919, he founded the Oriental Institute as a laboratory for the study of the rise and development of civilization.

Colossal Statue of King Tutankhamun excavated by the Oriental Institute and on display in its Egyptian Gallery


Isolated beta cells, leading to the discovery of insulin

In a series of investigations beginning in 1906, Robert R. Bensley demonstrated that the islets of Langerhans were specialized elements of the pancreas. He developed staining methods that distinguished between alpha cells and the beta cells that produce insulin. Bensley's work was fundamental to the discovery of insulin. Bensley later developed techniques to disassemble cells and isolate cellular components by spinning them in a centrifuge, a technique he used in 1934 to isolate mitochondria and analyze them.


Measured speed of light, winning first Nobel for a US scientist

Precision optical experiments by physicist Albert A. Michelson led to measurements of the speed of light and support for Einstein’s theory of relativity. In 1907, Michelson became the first scientist from the United States to win the Nobel Prize.

Albert A. Michelson, Professor in Physics


Edith Abbott, PhD 1905, Inaugural Dean of the School of Social Service Administration and first female dean of any graduate school in the US

Pioneered social service scholarship in the United States

From its earliest incarnation in 1908, the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration was among the first schools of social work in the United States and a pioneer in using scientific research to identify and address the root causes of social inequity. Today, SSA alumni lead public and private welfare agencies around the world, where they tackle the major social problems of our time.


Identified the cause of Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Pathologist Howard Ricketts discovered the organism that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever before his death in 1910, providing the basis for treating the disease. Today the Howard T. Ricketts Laboratory at Argonne National Laboratory is a regional biocontainment laboratory that supports research for the detection, prevention, and elimination of anthrax, hemorrhagic fever, influenza, plague, and emerging infectious diseases.

Today’s Howard T. Ricketts Laboratory conducts research on emerging infectious diseases.


Demonstrated the atomic structure of electricity

Physicist Robert A. Millikan received the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physics for two research experiments conducted in the Ryerson Physical Laboratory on the UChicago campus—one on the elementary charge of electricity and the other on the photoelectric effect. In his 1910 “oil drop experiment,” Millikan measured the charge of the electron and showed that electrical charge came in small units called quanta. The American Physical Society named the Ryerson Physical Laboratory a historic physics site in 2006 in Millikan’s honor.


Founded avant-garde arts museum, the Renaissance Society

The Renaissance Society, an independent, non-collecting museum of contemporary art, was founded in April 1915 by a group of University faculty members. The founding faculty sought to “stimulate the love of the beautiful and to enrich the life of the community through the cultivation of the arts.” Over the museum’s 100-year history, it has consistently featured artists who later became household names—including Picasso, Miro, O'Keeffe, Chagall, and Warhol.


Zoologist Ernest Everett Just

Discovered significant aspect of cell cleavage

Ernest Everett Just, PhD 1916, worked with University of Chicago zoologist Frank Lillie at what is now the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. During dissertation research for his PhD in zoology, he made an important discovery about cell cleavage, showing that the sperm entry point determines the first cleavage plane in the egg of the marine annelid Nereis limbata.


Introduced blood preservation and blood banks

Medical scientist Oswald Robertson discovered a way to preserve blood. He pioneered the idea of blood banks in the “blood depots” he established in 1917 during service in France with the US Army Medical Corps. Robertson later became chair of the University of Chicago Department of Medicine.

Oswald Robertson, Chair of the Department of Medicine


Thomas and Znaniecki’s book is a classic work in modern sociology.

Ushered in modern empirical sociology

University of Chicago sociologists William I. Thomas and Florian Witold Znaniecki won international renown as co-authors of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918–20). The work is considered the foundation of modern empirical sociology.


Reconceptualized the study of politics as a science

In 1921, political scientist Charles Merriam outlined an alternate vision for political science, founded on behavioralism. This became the Chicago School of Political Science, which reconceived the study of politics as a scientific endeavor on the model of the natural sciences.

Charles Merriam, Professor in Political Science


Georgiana Simpson, AB 1911, PhD 1921

Conferred one of the first PhDs on an African American woman

In 1921, Georgiana Simpson, a German philology student at the University of Chicago, and two scholars at other institutions became the first African American women to receive PhDs from American universities.


Proved that an Ice Age flood shaped the Scablands in Washington State

In a 1923 paper, UChicago geologist J. Harlen Bretz, PhD 1913, theorized that unique geologic features in the state of Washington were the product of a cataclysmic flood. It wasn’t until four decades later that his theory was widely accepted. Bretz received the Penrose Medal from the Geological Society of America in 1979. In 2009, the US government passed legislation to create the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, the first such trail in the United States.


Arno B. Luckhardt, Professor in Physiology

Discovered use of ethylene gas as an anesthetic

In 1923, University of Chicago physiologist Arno B. Luckhardt, SB 1906, PhD 1911, MD 1912, discovered the anesthetic use of ethylene gas. In the 20 years following his discovery, ethylene came into general use as an anesthetic in major operations.


Discovered the universe is expanding

In the 1920s, astronomer Edwin Hubble, SB 1910, PhD 1917, made discoveries showing that the universe consists of more than just our galaxy and that the universe is expanding, which provided the basis for the big bang model.

Images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, named for Edwin Hubble, have led to important discoveries in astrophysics.


Carter G. Woodson, AB 1908, AM 1908

Created forerunner of Black History Month

Known as the father of black history, historian Carter G. Woodson, AB 1908, AM 1908, announced the creation of Negro History Week at the Wabash YMCA in Bronzeville in February 1926. Negro History Week was the forerunner of the nation’s annual commemoration of Black History Month, established in 1976. Woodson helped to transform how people think about black history, creating the peer-reviewed Journal of Negro History, establishing the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), and starting the ASALH Press.


Inspired the field of urban sociology

With The Ghetto (1928) and Urbanism as a Way of Life (1939), sociologist Louis Wirth proposed a new academic paradigm for city life as a sociological construct, which was central to the establishment of urban sociology as a field of study. Wirth’s contributions, along with groundbreaking research by sociologists Ernest Burgess and Robert Park, provided the foundation for the Chicago School of Sociology, which emerged in the 1920s and 1930s. University researchers explored the urban environment by combining theory and ethnographic fieldwork in Chicago; this approach is now applied to many other urban areas.

Ernest Burgess, Professor in Sociology


Interior of the Charles M. Harper Center, home of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Published the first business-focused scholarly journal

Founded in 1928 and published by the University of Chicago Press, the Journal of Business is believed to be one of the first scholarly journals to highlight business-themed research. The journal—which ceased publication in 2006—covered business finance and investment, money and banking, marketing, international trade and finance, and administration.


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


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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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

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.


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.

Julian H. Lewis, PhD 1915


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.


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


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.


Discovered the basic mechanism in chemical reactions

Henry Taube developed an interest in coordination chemistry after choosing it as a topic for an advanced course he offered at the University of Chicago. His key research, published in 1952, related the rates of chemical reactions to electronic structure and showed how molecules build a chemical bridge to transfer electrons, rather than simply exchanging electrons, as previously thought. Taube received the 1983 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work.


Researchers at the University of Chicago continue to establish the importance of sleep to our health.

Introduced modern sleep research

Modern sleep research began at the University of Chicago. In 1953, Nathaniel Kleitman and Eugene Aserinsky identified REM sleep, the stage when most dreaming occurs. This was the first clear indication that sleep was composed of many stages. Today, UChicago sleep researchers are making important contributions to our understanding of sleep’s relationship to body weight, disease, learning, memory, mood, and more.


Revolutionized legal education, services

Founded in 1956, the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic was one of the first of its kind. It revolutionized both how law students gained practical skills and how high-quality legal services were provided to clients. Through the clinic, students gain hands-on experience and provide pro bono legal aid to low-income residents.

The University of Chicago Legal Aid Group, the precursor to the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, was housed at the University’s Settlement House.


Sol Tax, Professor in Anthropology

Established the field of action anthropology

Anthropologist Sol Tax, PhD’35, helped establish the field of action anthropology, an approach in which the researcher has two coordinate goals: to help a group of people in the culture being studied solve a problem and to learn in the process. Tax founded the journal Current Anthropology in 1957 as a vehicle to communicate about anthropology worldwide.


Discovered the hormone-cancer mechanism

Building on the work of cancer researcher Charles B. Huggins, Elwood Jensen and fellow medical researcher Eugene Desombre identified the precise mechanism through which hormones drive cancer—by binding to a receptor protein in cells. The 1958 finding opened a new therapeutic front in breast cancer, leading to targeted treatments credited with saving many lives each year.

Cancer researcher Elwood Jensen (right), the Charles B. Huggins Distinguished Service Professor, with Nobel laureate Charles B. Huggins


Hans Zeisel, Professor in the Law School and Sociology

Changed understanding of the jury system

The Chicago Jury Project, the 1950s effort of law professors Harry Kalven and Hans Zeisel, was the first large-scale empirical study of the jury system, revolutionizing the use of social science techniques in legal scholarship. The project changed the American understanding of the role of the jury.


Revolutionized archaeology and paleontology with carbon-14 dating

The discovery that ancient organic materials could be dated based on the abundance of an isotope of carbon—called carbon-14 dating—has had revolutionary implications for archaeology and paleontology. Chemist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize for this work in 1960.

Willard F. Libby, Professor in Chemistry


The Charles M. Harper Center, home of Chicago Booth

Established the first business school scholarship for minorities

In 1964, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business became the first business school to establish a minority scholarship program.


Developed the efficient market hypothesis

The efficient market hypothesis, the early 1960s brainchild of economist and Nobel laureate Eugene Fama, MBA’64, PhD’64, posits that prices in the market reflect all available information, as rational investors seek and quickly respond to that information. This idea has contributed greatly to the creation of indexed funds as an effective strategy of investment.

Nobel laureate Eugene Fama, the Robert R. McCormick Distinguished Service Professor of Finance in Chicago Booth


Donald F. Steiner, the A. N. Pritzker Distinguished Service Professor in Medicine and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Discovered proinsulin, advancing diabetes treatment

Biochemist Donald F. Steiner, SM’56, MD’56, discovered proinsulin, the first “pro-hormone” and precursor to insulin. The 1965 finding led to the synthetic production of human insulin, markedly improving therapy for diabetes sufferers, and laid the groundwork for improved understanding of how other proteins in the body are made.


Awarded top international mathematics medal for developing a mathematical technique called forcing

Mathematician Paul Joseph Cohen, MS’54, PhD’58, was awarded the Fields Medal in 1966 for his development of a mathematical technique called forcing, which he used to prove the independence of the continuum hypothesis from the other axioms of set theory. The Fields Medal is given every four years to the most distinguished mathematician age 40 or under. It is regarded as the highest professional honor a mathematician can attain.

Paul Joseph Cohen, MS’54, PhD’58


Surveyor V probe on Earth

Determined the moon’s surface composition

In 1967, the University’s alpha scattering experiment aboard the robotic Surveyor V probe bombarded the moon’s surface with subatomic particles to determine the composition of the lunar surface—two years before Apollo 11 returned lunar samples to Earth.


Inaugurated the first Jewish president of a major US university

Law professor Edward H. Levi, LAB’28, AB’32, JD’35, who had served as dean of the Law School and University Provost, was inaugurated president of the University of Chicago in 1968, becoming the first Jewish president of a major university in the United States. In February 1975, Levi became Attorney General of the United States in the Ford Administration.

Edward H. Levi, President of the University of Chicago, 1968–75


Members of the University of Chicago Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) take part in the 1991 Chicago Pride Parade.

Founded influential gay liberation organization

In 1969, UChicago students formed the University of Chicago Gay Liberation Front, establishing one of Chicago’s first gay liberation organizations. The group helped organize the city’s first Pride Parade in June 1969 and was instrumental in the passage of the 1988 Chicago Human Rights Ordinance, which protects lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation.


Devised the international standard for measuring tornado severity

The Fujita Tornado Scale, or F-scale, devised by meteorologist Tetsuya “Ted” Fujita in 1971, became the internationally accepted standard for measuring tornado severity.

Tetsuya “Ted” Fujita, the Charles Merriam Distinguished Service Professor in Geophysical Sciences


Soia Mentschikoff, first woman president of the Association of American Law Schools

Home to the first woman president of the Association of American Law Schools

Soia Mentschikoff was elected president of the Association of American Law Schools in 1972 and was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences the same year. The first woman to join the University of Chicago Law School faculty, in 1951, she headed a project that applied quantitative research methods to the study of arbitration decisions. In 1964, she represented the United States at The Hague, where she advocated for a uniform law that would govern international sales and arbitration.


Developed predictor of the value of derivatives

Economists Myron Scholes, MBA’64, PhD'70, and Fischer Black developed an equation that could predict the value of derivatives. The Black-Scholes options pricing model, published in 1973, enabled the growth of futures and options markets and remains key to modern investment strategy.

Nobel laureate Myron Scholes addresses students at Chicago Booth.


A reconstruction of Lucy at the Warsaw Museum of Evolution

Discovered a previously unknown hominin

On a survey in Ethiopia, in 1974, paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson, AM’70, PhD’74, discovered “Lucy,” a 3.2 million-year-old bipedal hominin skeleton that was 40 percent intact. Classified in 1978 as the first known member of Australopithecus afarensis, Lucy is a direct ancestor of the modern human. The discovery changed our understanding of human evolution.


Confirmed that cancer is a genetic disease

Presidential Medal of Freedom winner and geneticist Janet Davison Rowley, LAB’42, PhB’45, SB’46, MD’48, identified the genetic basis for leukemia, confirming that cancer is a genetic disease. She later was a key player in the development of the first precisely targeted anti-cancer drug.

Janet Davison Rowley, the Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor in Medicine, Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, and Human Genetics, in her laboratory


Milton Friedman, the Paul Snowden Russell Distinguished Service Professor in Economics

Introduced the modern monetarist school of economics

Economist Milton Friedman’s examination of the history of US monetary policy led to monetarism, a radical rethinking of the sources of inflation that overturned conventional Keynesian thinking. He showed that the money supply, not government spending, influenced output and the price level. This strongly influenced Federal Reserve policy in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1976, the Nobel Prize committee cited Friedman also for his seminal theory on consumption, which is the precursor to modern models of consumption-savings decisions.


Discovered source of red blood cell formation

Biochemist Eugene Goldwasser isolated erythropoietin (EPO), the hormone behind red blood cell formation. The 1977 discovery led to the development of the first blockbuster drug of the biotech age, which has since treated millions with anemia.

Eugene Goldwasser, the Alice Hogge and Arthur A. Baer Professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


Cast of the Laetoli footprints on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC

Identified earliest evidence of early hominids walking upright

Russell Tuttle, a leading expert on early humans, analyzed 3.66-million-year-old footprints discovered in Laetoli, Tanzania, in 1978. He determined that they were left by creatures who walked bipedally in a fashion almost identical to human beings. These “Laetoli footprints” are the oldest evidence that early hominids came down from trees and began walking upright.


Inaugurated the first female president of a major private US university

When historian Hanna Holborn Gray was inaugurated president of the University of Chicago in 1978, she became the first female president of a major private university in the United States. She served for 15 years and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 for “devoting her abundant talent and energy to the causes of excellence, truth, and freedom.”

Hanna Holborn Gray walks to her presidential inauguration with Robert W. Reneker, chair of the University's Board of Trustees.


Mark Siegler, the Lindy Bergman Distinguished Service Professor in Medicine and Surgery

Pioneered clinical medical ethics

Physician Mark Siegler began teaching clinical medical ethics at the University of Chicago in the late 1970s. The MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, founded in 1984 as the first academic institute dedicated to clinical medical ethics, supports the study of ethical issues raised during everyday care. Its work aims to improve physicians’ skills and performance in decision-making and caring for patients.


Posited the existence of black holes

A University of Chicago faculty member for more than half a century, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was the first to propose the existence of black holes and to discover the maximum mass of a white dwarf star. Chandrasekhar won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 for these and other contributions that are now central to the field of astrophysics.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the Morton D. Hull Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy and Astrophysics


Students learning through games, an integral part of the Everyday Mathematics curriculum.

Instituted breakthrough math curricula

With the goal of improving mathematics education in elementary and secondary schools throughout the United States, the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) was founded in 1983. It is now the nation’s largest university-based curriculum project for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade mathematics. An estimated 3.5 to 4 million students—in every state and virtually every major urban area—now use UCSMP materials such as Everyday Mathematics.


Performed the country’s first living-donor liver transplant

In 1989, UChicago physicians performed the country’s first successful living-donor liver transplant. Since the initial transplant, the University of Chicago Medicine has performed more than 150 successful living-donor liver surgeries, mostly to help young children in need of a liver.

Alyssa Riggan, recipient of the first successful living-donor liver transplant, and her parents


Pitohui dichrous

Discovered the first known poisonous bird, revealing evolutionary insights

As a graduate student, John Dumbacher, SM’95, PhD’97, discovered that the Pitohui bird in Papua New Guinea carried batrachotoxin, a highly potent neurotoxin. When Dumbacher returned to the University of Chicago, he brought Pitohui feathers with him to an event. A sample was passed along to National Institutes of Health chemist John Daly, who identified the poison in the feathers as the same poison found in the Colombian poison dart frog in 1963. Together, Daly and Dumbacher unraveled a gap in evolutionary understanding. That two animals from different corners of the world would carry the same poison implied that the poison was coming from another creature altogether. And, as it turns out, it was: Both animals fed on a beetle from the genus Choresine and had evolved to carry batrachotoxin and use it in their own defense.


Reshaped the study of gene function

James Dewey Watson, SB'47, the University of Chicago alumnus who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA, launched the Human Genome Project in 1990. Today, UChicago scientists are building on Watson’s achievements and reshaping our understanding of gene function and the role genes play in disease causation.

The DNA double helix, the structure of which James Dewey Watson, SB’47, and Francis Crick discovered in 1953


Paul Sereno, Professor in Organismal Biology and Anatomy

Discovered previously unknown dinosaur species

Beginning in the 1990s, paleontologist Paul Sereno’s discoveries of previously unknown dinosaur species on several continents have contributed to the understanding of the dinosaur family tree and to the larger question of how evolution works over millions of years.


Opened the social sciences to economic analysis

Many current economists follow 1992 economics Nobelist Gary Becker, AM’53, PhD’55, in exploring aspects of modern life through the lens of markets and incentives. Becker expanded the scope of inquiry in economics to include human capital, the family, crime, discrimination, and other topics previously in the domain of sociology or psychology.

Gary Becker, University Professor in Economics and Sociology, speaks at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics.


Vivian Gussin Paley, MacArthur Fellow

Shaped our understanding of early childhood classrooms

Early childhood education pioneer Vivian Gussin Paley, PhB’47, recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant,” published her acclaimed book You Can’t Say You Can’t Play in 1992. Lessons from the book, which looks at the social and moral landscape of the classroom, have helped shape the educational approach at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and many other schools. In 2010, Paley was honored for her nearly four decades of teaching and research by New York’s 92nd Street Y, which endowed and named an award for a living person for the first time.


Among the first universities to offer domestic partnership benefits to LGBT couples

In 1992, the University of Chicago moved to offer domestic partnership benefits to gay and lesbian couples, becoming one of the first universities to adopt such a policy.

Members of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance demonstrate for the right to receive domestic partnership benefits during Weddstock 1992.


Robert Fogel, the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of American Institutions

Changed the tools used to study historical economies

1993 Nobel laureate Robert Fogel shifted the course of how economic historians analyze past economies, using the theoretical tools and quantitative methods rigorously developed to answer modern economic questions as a lens through which to view the past. This radically changed the insights scholars could glean from historical data.


Promoted the study of contemporary Chinese art in the West

Art historian Wu Hung, who came to the University of Chicago in 1994, is widely considered the first person to introduce contemporary Chinese art to the West and open it as field of critical study. Wu’s work has shaped a generation of curators and scholars, both here and in China, and exposed Western audiences to a deeper understanding of Chinese art at a time of great economic and social change.

This Smart Museum of Art exhibit of contemporary Chinese photo-based art was curated by Wu Hung, the Harrie A. Vanderstappen Professor in Art History, and Christopher Phillips, Curator at New York’s International Center of Photography.


Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940

Tenured award-winning historian of gay history

In 1994, pioneering scholar of gay history George Chauncey published Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940. The book dispelled notions about pre-1960s gay culture and won several prestigious prizes, including the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for the best first book in any field of history, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Lambda Literary Award. UChicago hired Chauncey in 1991, becoming the second university in the country to offer a tenure-track position to someone with a gay history thesis.


Invented grid computing

Grid computing, co-invented by computer scientist Ian Foster in 1999, paved the way for modern cloud computing, allowing large-scale computing services to be delivered reliably and securely on demand, and enabling the formation and operation of virtual organizations that link people and resources worldwide.

Ian Foster, the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor in Computer Science and Director of the Computation Institute


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

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.


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. 

Wendy Freedman, University Professor in Astronomy and Astrophysics


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

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.


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.

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


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

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.


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.

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


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

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.


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.

A model of Tiktaalik roseae


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

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.


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.

The Iron Age funerary monument recovered at Zincirli, Turkey


Chicago Public Schools students participating in the BAM program

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.


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.

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


The Xiangtangshan Caves in China

Used imaging technology to reconstruct ancient monuments

Art historian Katherine Tsiang digitally reconstructed the sixth-century Buddhist cave temples of Xiangtangshan by combining art historical research with archeological knowledge and emerging imaging technologies. This technique provided a new model for reassembling and restoring context to cultural monuments that have been scattered across the globe or destroyed. The related exhibit appeared at the Smart Museum of Art and four other museums in 2010–13.


Premiered stage adaptations of classic novels by African Americans

Court Theatre at the University of Chicago first brought Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Richard Wright’s Native Son to the stage. Oren Jacoby’s adaptation of the 1952 novel by Ralph Ellison, who was Alexander White Visiting Professor of Literature at UChicago in 1961, won a 2012 Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Adaptation. Nambi E. Kelley’s critically acclaimed adaptation of Native Son premiered in 2015. These productions further solidified Court’s strong reputation for staging compelling African American drama.

Invisible Man, 2011


Martha T. Roth, the Chauncey S. Boucher Distinguished Service Professor of Assyriology, supervised the completion of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary.

Created a cultural encyclopedia of ancient Mesopotamia

The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, a 90-year project begun in 1921 and completed in 2011, collected a wealth of information about ancient Near Eastern civilization. In essence a cultural encyclopedia of ancient Mesopotamian history, it is one of the most important contributions to knowledge of ancient Near Eastern civilizations.


Created the library of the future

In 2006, as universities across the country were moving their collections to off-site storage, the University of Chicago chose to keep its invaluable physical holdings available in the heart of campus. The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, opened in 2011, gives users access to any holding, digital or print, within minutes of finding it online. Designed by architect Helmut Jahn, the library includes high-density underground storage space for up to 3.5 million volume-equivalents.

The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library


A 2013 panel discussion at the University entitled “Critical Mass: How the Higgs Boson Discovery Swept the World.”

Contributed key expertise to the Higgs boson discovery

University of Chicago physicists played a key role in developing electronics that led to the celebrated discovery of the long-sought Higgs boson, the particle that endows all elementary particles in the universe with mass, in 2012.


Developed first NIH-approved cloud-based computing system to process cancer data

In 2013, data scientist Robert Grossman developed the Bionimbus Protected Data Cloud, the first cloud-based computing system approved by the National Institutes of Health to process data from the Cancer Genome Atlas, the agency’s flagship cancer genetics study. In late 2014, Grossman became director of the Genomic Data Commons, an NIH-funded project based on Bionimbus that will be the nation’s most comprehensive data facility when completed.

Robert Grossman, Professor in Medicine


Students from the Chicago Public Schools participate in a workshop offered at the University of Chicago.

Improved high school graduation rates

More than 5,000 schools nationwide use Urban Education Institute (UEI) tools and training. Chicago Public Schools adopted the UEI’s Consortium on Chicago School Research’s “on-track” indicator—a metric that predicts which ninth-grade students will graduate high school—to identify and monitor students who need targeted support. The CPS freshmen-on-track rate rose from 57 percent in 2007 to 82 percent in 2014, increasing across racial and ethnic groups.


Helped solve the puzzle of Spinosaurus, the first dinosaur known to swim

One hundred million years ago, the Sahara was home to the largest predatory dinosaur known to have existed: Spinosaurus. German scientist Ernst Stromer unearthed the original bones of Spinosaurus at the turn of the 20th century, but they were lost in World War II. The giant dinosaur—larger than a T. rex—then eluded scientists until 2014, when an international team, including UChicago paleontologists Nizar Ibrahim and Paul Sereno, analyzed newly acquired fossils, remains from museum collections, and historical records to render the dinosaur’s skeleton and reveal it as the first truly semi-aquatic dinosaur.

Reconstructed Spinosaurus skeleton


Theaster Gates, Professor and Director of Arts + Public Life

Demonstrated art’s ability to transform

Artist Theaster Gates received the Artes Mundi prize in 2015, a major honor for contemporary artists. The prize, among the world’s largest, honored Gates for his piece “A Complicated Relationship between Heaven and Earth, or When We Believe.” The judges praised Gates as an activist, urbanist, facilitator, and curator. The professor of visual arts and director of arts and public life at the University is an innovator in using art to reshape and revive formerly neglected neighborhoods. His Dorchester Projects created small-scale artist residencies throughout Greater Grand Crossing in Chicago.


Launched initiative to solve urban dilemmas

In 2015, the University of Chicago launched the UChicago Urban Labs to address some of the world’s most daunting urban problems and help realize the promise of cities in an era of global urbanization. Urban Labs partner with civic leaders and practitioners in Chicago and around the world to design and test the most promising urban policies and programs across five key areas: crime, education, energy and environment, health, and poverty.

UChicago Urban Labs conduct action-oriented research aimed at improving urban life.


Produced new type of glass that improves the efficiency of electronic devices

Molecular engineer Juan de Pablo and collaborators unexpectedly discovered a new kind of glass that could offer a simple way to improve the efficiency of electronic devices such as light-emitting diodes, optical fibers, and solar cells. It also could have important theoretical implications for understanding the still surprisingly mysterious materials called glasses.


Introduced a strategy for making better use of the fossil record

Research from geologist Susan Kidwell has “transformed our view of how the history of life is encoded in the rock record . . . and yielded powerful insights to the evolution and ecology of ancient life on Earth,” according to the National Academy of Sciences, which awarded Kidwell the 2015 Mary Clark Thompson Medal. Kidwell’s work points to a recent ecological shift instigated by human activities, shows how humans affect ecosystems and biodiversity, and contributes to a new field of science—conservation paleobiology.

Susan Kidwell, William Rainey Harper Professor in Geophysical Sciences


Octopus bimaculoides

Sequenced the octopus genome for the first time

UChicago neurobiologist Clifton Ragsdale and Caroline Albertin, PhD’16, along with a team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, sequenced the genome of the California two-spot octopus (Octopus bimaculoides), the first cephalopod ever to be fully sequenced. “With a few notable exceptions, the octopus basically has a normal invertebrate genome that’s just been completely rearranged, like it’s been put into a blender and mixed,” said Albertin. “This leads to genes being placed in new genomic environments with different regulatory elements and was a completely unexpected finding.”


Discovered earliest-known arboreal and subterranean mammals

In 2015, UChicago biologist Zhe-Xi Luo and doctoral student David Grossnickle, along with a team of other researchers from UChicago and the Beijing Museum of Natural History, discovered fossils of the earliest-known tree-dwelling and subterranean mammals in China. Agilodocodon scansorius is the earliest-known tree-dwelling mammaliaform (extinct relative of modern mammals), and Docofossor brachydactylus is the earliest-known subterranean mammaliaform. The fossils of these shrew-sized animals suggest that early mammals were as ecologically diverse as modern mammals.

Reconstructions of Agilodocodon scansorius


Carla Hayden, AM’77, PhD’87, 14th librarian of Congress

Educated the first woman and African American to serve as librarian of Congress

Carla Hayden, AM’77, PhD’87, was named the 14th librarian of Congress in July 2016. The first woman and first African American to serve in the role, she is also the first professional librarian in more than 60 years to lead the Library of Congress, the nation’s largest library and oldest federal institution. Hayden earned her PhD from the University of Chicago’s Graduate Library School in 1987.


Enrolled Haiti’s first female Olympic swimmer

Naomy Grand’Pierre, College Class of 2019, became Haiti’s first female Olympic swimmer when she competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, finishing second in her heat in the women’s 50-meter freestyle event.

Naomy Grand'Pierre at the 2016 Summer Olympics