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University of Chicago scientists account for six of Chicago's top 10 scientific achievements

Oct. 4, 2007

The first controlled nuclear chain reaction, which took place beneath the west stands of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago and led to the establishment of Argonne National Laboratory, tops the list of Chicago’s top 10 scientific achievements, Mayor Richard Daley announced Oct. 2 at the kick-off of Science in the City 2007.

University of Chicago scientists accounted for six of the top 10 scientific achievements, while a seventh occurred at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. The list was assembled by a panel of scientists and educators in connection with the second annual Chicago Science in the City celebration.

Sponsored by the City of Chicago and various partner organizations from Oct. 2 to 13,
 Chicago Science in the City offers exhibits, demonstrations, lectures and other activities throughout the city.

“On December 2nd, 1942, a team of scientists under the direction of Enrico Fermi demonstrated the first controlled sustainable nuclear chain reaction. This single event transformed a scientific theory into a technical reality and ushered the world into the nuclear age,” said the Chicago Science in the City citation.

Also on the list, with excerpted citations:

No. 3, the hormone treatment of prostate and breast cancer developed by the University of Chicago’s Charles Huggins, who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1966. “His work led to an anti-hormone therapy for treating metastatic prostate cancer in men, and advanced breast cancer in women.”

No. 5, the malaria treatment developed by the University of Chicago’s Lowell Coggeshall and Alf Alving. “This insect-borne disease infected more than half a million U.S. soldiers in the Pacific during World War II. Using chloroquine, they were able to develop a safe and effective method to treat malaria.”

No. 7, the discovery at Fermilab of the top quark, one of the fundamental building blocks of matter. Physicists had predicted its existence in the early 1970s. Scientists—including some from the University of Chicago—working at Fermilab verified its existence in 1995. “Using a high-energy particle collider, Fermilab Tevatron, physicists found this rare particle in the debris from the collision of protons and antiprotons moving near the speed of light.”

No. 8, the discovery by Janet Rowley, the Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor in Hematology/Oncology at the University of Chicago, that gene translocations can be linked to human leukemia.

“When certain cancerous genes on chromosomes change positions, their associated cancer can become activated and progress more aggressively. While Dr. Rowley discovered the effect in leukemia, it has been identified in other types of cancer such as sarcoma, myeloma, lung cancer, and others. Tracking these abnormalities can help scientists and pharmaceutical companies develop new and effective drugs.”

No. 9, the development of the carbon-14 dating technique by Willard Libby, who received the 1960 Nobel Prize in chemistry. “Dr. Willard Libby from the University of Chicago measured the amount of carbon-14, a rare radioactive isotope of carbon present in organic material, and used that information to determine its age. Commonly known as carbon dating, this powerful technique is effective in determining the age of carbon-containing objects up to 50,000 years old.”

No. 10, the discovery of how the body makes insulin, an essential protein that regulates blood sugar and energy production in virtually every cell in the body. “In the early half of the 20th century, Professor R.R. Bensley of the University of Chicago performed key fundamental work to show that insulin is made by beta cells in the pancreas. This work has allowed modern scientists to focus on the structure of the molecule and develop effective treatments of diabetes, which afflicts nearly one out of every 14 Americans.”

For the complete list of Chicago’s top 10 scientific achievements, see:

As part of Chicago Science in the City, the University’s Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education (CEMSE) in collaboration with the Illinois Science Council planned a series of science talks for the public. For a complete listing of the science talks, see: Science Talks 2007.

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Last modified at 03:40 PM CST on Monday, October 08, 2007

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