June 7, 2007
Vol. 26 No. 18

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    Five honorary doctorates of science to be given at Convocation Session II

    The University will confer honorary degrees on five distinguished scholars—Roger Blandford, Pieter Timotheus de Zeeuw, John Hopfield, Scott Shenker and Grace Wahba—in recognition of the significant contributions they have made to their fields of study through research and scholarship. The honorary degrees will be presented to the scholars at Session II of the University’s Friday, June 8 Convocation. All five honorary degree candidates will receive the Degree of Doctor of Science.

    Theoretical astrophysicist Roger Blandford, the Luke Blossom and Pehong and Adele Chen director at the Kavli Institute of Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University, studies phenomena that originate under conditions of strong gravity and extremely high temperatures or densities in objects such as neutron stars and black holes. Though the observational manifestations of these phenomena are spectacular, they also are baffling and mysterious because of their underlying physical conditions.

    The results of Blandford’s research include the nature of extragalactic radio sources, electromagnetic extraction of rotational energy from black holes and their surrounding gas disks, the shock acceleration mechanism of cosmic rays and cosmological applications of gravitational lensing.

    Because of Blandford’s insights and research, which have helped lay the theoretical foundations of high-energy astrophysics, scientists have gained a better understanding of the Universe. Arieh Kšnigl, Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics and the College, will introduce Blandford during the Convocation.

    Pieter Timotheus de Zeeuw, professor and scientific director of the Leiden Observatory at the Universiteit Leiden, The Netherlands, is a leading theorist in the study of the dynamics and structures of galaxies, de Zeeuw found solutions to a classical problem in dynamical astronomy, which he reported in his doctoral dissertation. His subsequent investigations of stellar orbits in galaxies helped to establish the theoretical foundation for the study of triaxial galaxies. He also has enriched the understanding of the shapes of galaxies and the complex role that orbits play in determining them.

    As a leader of the project SAURON, a survey of the structures and kinematics of nearby galaxies, de Zeeuw has advanced the use of dynamical principles as diagnostic and interpretive tools in the analysis of photometric and spectroscopic data. His work has contributed substantially to refining the study of black holes and dark matter in galaxies.

    Peter Vandervoort, Professor Emeritus in Astronomy & Astrophysics and the College, will present de Zeeuw at the Convocation.

    John Hopfield, the Howard A. Prior professor of molecular biology at Princeton University, is an expert in the organized behavior of inanimate matter. His work has influenced both physics and biology by revealing connections between simple physical materials and sophisticated cognitive function.

    Hopfield has shown that randomly constructed inanimate matter can be trained, thus opening a new conception of how networks of neurons might store and recall memories. The organizing power of the Hopfield training mechanism came from known behavior of random metal alloys called spin glasses. Hopfield’s conception led to new models of associative memory and recall from incomplete cues.

    Hopfield also has been a pioneer in recognizing physical limitations to the accuracy of genetic inheritance and developed the concept of DNA proofreading to address these limitations. He also has revealed new forms of interaction between light and matter that foreshadowed modern optoelectronics.

    Thomas Witten, Professor in Physics and the College, will present Hopfield at the Friday, June 8 Convocation.

    Scott Shenker, professor in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, has achieved an unprecedented record of fundamental contributions to the core architecture that underlies the Internet, a tool that is an engineering achievement of the first order, as well as a social revolution.

    The expansion of the Internet—from a research tool connecting a few dozen universities to a vast fabric connecting hundreds of millions of hosts throughout the business world and society—is a testament to the importance and effectiveness of Shenker’s work.

    Among his peers, Shenker is considered “the dominant intellectual force” behind the evolution of the Internet architecture to address the challenges inherent in its global scale. His work has influenced both the academic discipline of networking and the practical engineering of the Internet.

    Ian Foster, the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor in Computer Science and the College, will introduce Shenker at the Convocation.

    Grace Wahba, the I. J. Schoenberg professor of statistics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, represents the very best of the modern synthesis of applied statistical, mathematical and computational science. Her most influential work has concerned problems in the estimation of curves and surfaces from large, high-dimensional data sets, such as occur frequently in geophysics.

    Wahba has introduced the use of reproducing kernel Hilbert spaces in the formulation of nonparametric smoothing problems to reveal general patterns without obscuring local features. Her pioneering methods include the introduction of Generalized Cross-Validation, now a generally adopted approach to making a principled trade-off between smoothness and attention to detail.

    In recent years she and her students have applied these same statistically based theories to a diverse group of classification problems known in computer science as “machine learning.” Diverse areas in applied science have benefited from Wahba’s research, including satellite imaging, magnetic resonance imaging, meteorology, climatology and DNA micro-arrays.

    Stephen Stigler, the Ernest DeWitt Burton Distinguished Service Professor in Statistics and the College, will present Wahba during the Convocation.