May 15, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 16

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    The Chronicle’s biweekly column In the News offers a digest of commentary and quotations by a few of the University faculty members, students and alumni who have been headlining the news in recent weeks.

    Steven Levitt, the Alvin H. Baum Professor in Economics and the College, was the subject of several news stories that reported on his recent honor, the John Bates Clark Medal, which the American Economics Association awards every two years to the most outstanding economist under age 40. The medal was awarded to Levitt for his research on corruption and crime, including his study of the corrupt practice of teachers changing test scores to boost their reputations and those of their schools. “What we are doing is using statistics to search for suspicious patterns on the answer sheets. One suspicious pattern would be if half the students in the classroom gave the same answer to seven questions in a row.” Stories on Levitt’s honor were published in the Saturday, April 26 Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times and The Wall Street Journal. He also was recently interviewed on WBEZ Radio’s 848 program.

    A profile on Priscilla Frisch, Senior Scientist in Astronomy & Astrophysics, was published in the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday, May 7, about research she has been involved in at the University and which was published in the May issue of Scientific American magazine. Frisch, who studies the heliosphere and clouds from outer space, has with her colleagues discovered two new clouds that the solar system may pass through in the next millennia. If the sun moves into the cloud that Frisch suspects it will, that cloud’s higher velocity will reduce the size of the heliosphere by 30 percent. That in turn could allow more cosmic rays to penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere, seed the creation of low-altitude clouds and cause a colder climate. But Frisch also pointed out that bitter cold temperatures resulting from more penetrating cosmic rays are simply scientific speculation.

    A study by Merle Erickson, Associate Professor of Accounting in the Graduate School of Business, was cited in an article published in The Wall Street Journal Friday, May 2. The story reported that a number of companies that had inflated their earnings during the stock market boom of the 1990s now are filing for tax refunds or credits from the Internal Revenue Service for tax payments made on their falsely claimed earnings. The story reported that companies typically continue paying the proper amount of taxes on their improper numbers so as not to be found out. In the study Erickson conducted on 27 companies charged with fraud, he found that, on average, companies “sacrificed” 11 extra cents in taxes for each dollar of fraudulent earnings.

    David Galenson, Professor in Economics and the College, was interviewed for a Thursday, May 8 Chicago Tribune story about an academic conference in Paris he has organized. The conference, titled Measuring Art: A Scientific Revolution in Art History (Saturday, May 31 and Sunday, June 1), will present Galenson’s recent research, which was published in his book, Painting Outside the Lines: Patterns of Creativity in Modern Art, and research by artist David Hockney and University of Arizona professor Charles Falco in their book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Techniques of the Old Masters. Falco and Hockney revealed that some artists, such as Vermeer, used optical devices to create their works, while Galenson used statistical methods to analyze artists’ success. Both books have drawn criticism for their scientific methods of measuring and analyzing art, concepts that some art historians strongly dispute.

    Recent research by David Grier, Professor in Physics and the College, was noted in a news article published Monday, April 28 in BusinessWeek. The article described how Grier, emulating M.C. Escher’s 1960 lithograph Ascending and Descending, is developing optical vortices, or corkscrews of light, that can be applied to micromachines being created with silicon. An optical-vortex system would not wear out, as do micromachine motors. Like Escher’s staircase, the optical-vortex system has quantum steps leading both up and down. It can apply force to a tiny “gear” suspended in a fluid, descending a quantum step down the corkscrew, and then recover enough energy from the fluid’s heat to descend another level–or move back up to the top.

    The new programs being offered to students in the Graduate School of Business by the Office of M.B.A. Career Services were highlighted in an article that appeared in the April 30 Chicago Tribune. Michaela Murphy, Class of 2003, Kara Fudge, Class of 2004, and Julie Morton, Associate Dean for M.B.A. Career Services in the GSB, were quoted in the article, which appeared on the front page of the business section. In addition to more programming to help students in their job searches, 36 companies that never had recruited at the GSB arranged on-campus interviews this year, the article reported.

    Michael Millis, Associate Professor in Surgery, was featured in the Chicago Sun-Times Friday, April 25. Millis, who is Section Chief for Transplant Surgery, is using the University Hospitals’ cellular and tissue processing facility, the first of its kind, to extract cells from organs, modify them and inject them into patients to fight life-threatening diseases. Millis is extending the lives of many patients who are waiting for organs. “I’ve been looking toward cellular therapies in ways to either change the course of disease or find ways to bridge patients while they’re waiting for transplants,” said Millis. He also was featured in the Wednesday, May 7 Chicago Sun-Times for receiving the American Liver Foundation’s Physician Recognition Award for his contributions to the advancement of liver transplantation.

    Dali Yang, Associate Professor in Political Science, discussed the SARS outbreak in China as a guest on WBEZ-Radio’s Worldview program Monday, April 21. A portion of the interview with Yang was rebroadcast on All Things Considered later that same day. Yang also discussed SARS and its impact on China as a guest on National Public Radio’s program The Connection on Tuesday, May 6.

    The University’s new Employer Assisted Housing Program was the subject of a story published Tuesday, May 6 in the Chicago Tribune. Sonya Malunda, Assistant Vice President and Director of Community Affairs, was quoted in the story, which described the program that offers employees “forgivable” housing loans to use for down payments on homes purchased in Hyde Park and its surrounding neighborhoods. “Only about 30 percent of our staff lives near campus right now, and this is an opportunity for our moderate- and middle-income employees to purchase a home in the area,” said Malunda. Hank Webber, Vice President for Community and Government Affairs, also was interviewed for this story.