November 15, 2007
Vol. 27 No. 5

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    Chicago in the News

    The Chronicle’s biweekly column Chicago 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. Chicago faculty members are some of the most frequently quoted experts, so space allows publishing references to only selected examples. To read many of the full newspaper articles mentioned in this column, visit the In the News column at the University News Office Web site: http://www-news.uchicago.edu.

    The Auger Observatory in Argentina comprises an array of detectors that cover 1,200 square miles. Each detector consists of a plastic water tank like the one shown above.

    Chasing high-energy cosmic rays

    James Cronin, University Professor Emeritus in Physics and Astronomy & Astrophysics and the College, was quoted in articles that were published in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times on Friday, Nov. 9. Cronin, who is one of the co-authors of a paper published in the journal Science about a recent discovery of the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina, discussed the significance of the find: super massive black holes are a source of high-energy cosmic rays. “The age of cosmic-ray astronomy has arrived,” said Cronin in the New York Times story. “We're really just getting started.” Not only have the researchers who are part of the Pierre Auger Collaboration traced the origin of high-energy cosmic rays, but they also have found for the first time that the high-energy rays do not come uniformly from all directions in the sky.

    Identifying new MRSA strains

    Robert Daum, Professor of Infectious Diseases in Pediatrics, was photographed and interviewed for a front-page story published in the Sunday, Nov. 4 Chicago Tribune. The article reported on how MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, has become a threat to communities. The article described how the bacteria has changed and adapted to new environments, evolving into resistant strains that have triumphed over antibiotics developed to kill them. Resistant strains of MRSA have evolved steadily over the years and acquired the ability to spread through the community. Daum helped identify a new strain that was developing in the community instead of in hospitals, where it first occurred in the United States in 1968 in Boston. In 1998, Daum and a team of researchers reported a 25-fold increase in community-acquired MRSA between 1993 and 1995. Susan Boyle-Vavra, a University researcher, also was quoted. Daum also appeared in a report on CBS News/60 Minutes on Sunday, Nov. 11.

    Sensitive counter-insurgents

    Richard Shweder, the William Claude Reavis Distinguished Service Professor in Comparative Human Development and the College, wrote an op-ed that was published in the Saturday, Oct. 27 New York Times. Shweder wrote about the Pentagon's experimental program to embed anthropologists in combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide troops with cultural sensitivity training. Shweder wrote that during a radio talk show, which had featured the anthropologists who had been working in Iraq, they referred to themselves as “angels on the shoulders” of soldiers. The program revealed that one anthropologist carries a gun during these sensitivity missions, wrote Shweder. “This brought to my increasingly skeptical mind the unfortunate image of an angelic anthropologist perched on the shoulder of a member of an American counter-insurgency unit who is kicking in the door of someone's home in Iraq, while exclaiming, 'Hi, we're here from the government; we're here to understand you.' ”

    Environmental impact on genes

    Suzanne Conzen, Associate Professor of Hematology/Oncology in Medicine, and Sarah Gehlert, Professor in the School of Social Service Administration and Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research, were interviewed for a Chicago Public Radio public affairs series called DNA Files. The two researchers discussed gene-environment interaction. “We know that small changes in the interactions of the proteins and the genes are very, very important,” noted Conzen. Gehlert added: “I don't think people really do have a good idea of how social circumstances, just the quality of your neighborhood, things that are less morphous, impact health.” The work that Conzen and Gehlert are doing at the University, to better understand why African-American women in Chicago are 68 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, was featured during the program. They are studying women's living conditions in 15 South Side neighborhoods to find out if these conditions are affecting women's genes.

    Meeting of the minds

    Raphael Lee, Professor of Plastic Surgery in Surgery, was interviewed and photographed for a story that appeared in Crain's Chicago Business Monday, Nov. 5. Lee will soon succeed David Truitt as chairman of the Quadrangle Club on the University's campus. Lee plans to memorialize its distinctive history of scientists, Nobel laureates and other distinguished faculty who conceived some of their most significant work over lunch at the Quad Club. “There are few museums in this country that could put up a more interesting display. If you walked in there now and walked out, you would have no idea. It really should be a city recognized monument, given what's gone on there,” said Lee. As plans for restoration continue for the building, designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw, Lee expects the club to continue to provide a place for a meeting of minds. “That's where the discoveries are really made. You do the experiment in the lab. But you get the idea in your conversations.” The article also quoted Ted Cohen, Professor in Philosophy and the College.

    Rational, calculated self-interest?

    In a Monday, Oct. 29 Chicago Sun-Times article, Andreas Glaeser, Associate Professor in Sociology and the College, commented on how people's beliefs are often formed. The article examined some of the conclusions political analysts have made regarding former Gov. George Ryan and his moratorium on executions. The columnist writing the article said he does not accept the explanation that Ryan made the decision to call for a moratorium purely for political gains. People are more complicated than that, he noted. “There are always analysts who come up with a primitive kind of Marxism, who say that all we do is governed by rationally calculated self-interest,” said Glaeser. “But I find that too primitive. I suspect your hunch is right about somebody like Ryan. I have met politicians, and I was shocked to see the human being in front of me. You have to look at their social networks. Their social contracts, experiences in their jobs, who talks to whom, and what can you talk about when you talk.”

    Old recipe for good business

    Jeff Wilcoxon (M.B.A.'04) and his business partner Chris Hill, who were finalists in the University's 2003 New Venture Challenge competition, were photographed and interviewed for an article that appeared in the Sunday, Oct. 28 Chicago Tribune. The article described how many new businesses begin in the classroom and how business students have furthered their ideas through venture capitalists. Wilcoxon and Hill are experiencing continuing growth for their winning concept, Bobtail Ice Cream Co., which opened first at 2951 N. Broadway and has now expanded to seven locations. “My grandfather started an ice cream company in 1950 in Columbus, Ohio, and it is still operated today by my dad and brother,” said Wilcoxon. Their old-fashioned ice cream parlor has an urban twist with unique ice cream flavors such as merlot-chocolate chip.

    Jewish micro-communities

    Dan Libenson, Executive Director of the Hillel Center on the University campus, was featured in a blog posted Wednesday, Nov. 7 at the Jerusalem Post online. “Hillel needs to become like Israel, a Jewish place where you don't have be religious. It has to become an engine so powerful and an experience so incredible that it launches them [college students] into an adulthood that will keep them close to Jewish life,” said Libenson. One of Libenson's goals is to form micro-communities of 10 to 12 people who will create a dynamic of personalized communities.