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More than a century of discovery

When the University of Chicago was founded in 1891, William Rainey Harper, the University’s first President, envisioned a university that was “‘bran splinter new,’ and yet as solid as the ancient hills.” His institution would be a modern research university, combining an English-style undergraduate college and a German-style graduate research institute. The University of Chicago fulfilled Harper’s dream, quickly becoming a national leader in higher education and research.

In fact, Frederick Rudolph, professor of history at Williams College, wrote in his 1962 study, The American College and University: A History, “No episode was more important in shaping the outlook and expectations of American higher education during those years than the founding of the University of Chicago, one of those events in American history that brought into focus the spirit of an age.”

Harper’s visionary spirit continues to inspire the work performed at the University of Chicago. Its scholarship is marked by a willingness to challenge conventional thinking and a desire to explore uncharted territory. As a result, the University has always been on the leading edge of discovery. John D. Rockefeller, the University’s founder, called the University “the best investment I ever made.”

Distinguished Chicago scholars include:

  • The 73 Nobel laureates who have been at some time faculty members, students or researchers at the University, including economists James Heckman, who was cited for his work in the field of microeconomics; Milton Friedman, who was cited for his study of monetary policy; Theodore Schultz, who showed the relationship between education and economic development; George Stigler, who was cited for his research on government regulation; Merton Miller, who assessed the use of debt as a source of corporate capital; Gary Becker, who applies an economic approach to diverse aspects of human behavior; Robert Fogel, who applied economics and statistics to the analysis of history; and Robert Lucas, who developed and applied the hypothesis of rational expectations and transformed traditional macroeconomic analysis.
  • Enrico Fermi and his colleagues, who conducted the first controlled, self-sustaining, nuclear chain reaction on Dec. 2, 1942, and initiated the modern nuclear age.
  • Meteorologist Tetsuya “Ted” Fujita, who devised the Fujita Tornado Scale, or F-scale, the internationally accepted standard for measuring tornado severity.
  • Meteorologist Carl-Gustaf Rossby, who discovered the atmosphere’s jet stream.
  • 1999 National Medal of Science winner Dr. Janet Davison Rowley, who discovered the first consistent chromosomal abnormalities linked to cancer, demonstrating that cancer is a genetic disease.
  • James Henry Breasted, who established the Oriental Institute, a pioneer institution in the study and exploration of the
    ancient Near East.
  • John Hope Franklin, the nation’s leading scholar of African-American history whose work changed the way American history is studied and taught.
  • Willard Libby, who developed Carbon-14 dating and revolutionized archaeology.
  • John Dewey, whose theories of education stressed the need to relate teaching methods to children’s experiences. Dewey established the Laboratory Schools in 1896.
  • Nathaniel Kleitman, who identified REM sleep, the stage when most dreaming occurs.
  • Albert A. Michelson, whose measurements of the speed of light made him in 1907 the first scientist from the United States to win the Nobel Prize.
  • Paleontologist Paul Sereno, who in 1998, announced the discovery of Suchomimus tenerensis, a new species of sail-backed dinosaur with a crocodile-like skull, and in 1999, announced the discovery of Jobaria tiguidensis, a primitive, long-necked dinosaur.
  • Nobelist Dr. Charles B. Huggins, who pioneered hormonal treatment of prostate and breast cancers.
  • Dr. Alf Alving, who developed the standard malaria preventive pill.
  • Dr. Howard Ricketts, who showed that Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is caused by an unusual microbe spread by ticks.
  • Dr. Oswald Robertson, who discovered a way to preserve blood and established the first blood bank.

The University’s achievements include:

  • The fields of research that originated at the University of Chicago and are now known as “Law and Economics” and the “Chicago Schools” of Economics, Sociology and Literary Criticism.
  • Women and minorities accepted in all academic programs since the University opened.
  • The first-ever chemical analysis of native Martian rock during the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997 with the Alpha Proton X-Ray Spectrometer, which was designed and built at the University.
  • A commitment to a general education or “core” curriculum for undergraduates that has been a model for colleges throughout the United States for more than 65 years.
  • The first successful live-donor liver transplant in the country, performed at the University’s Medical Center in 1989.
  • The second-oldest graduate school of business in the nation and the first to offer a Ph.D. and a mid-career program for business executives.

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