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March 2007 Archives

March 2, 2007

Feed the mind


From blogs to podcasts, there is no shortage of University news on the Web. By subscribing to one of the University's 38 RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, literary types can check out the latest audio and video presentations of Poem Present readings while aspiring lawyers can read a day-in-the-life blog from law school students and staff. Bibliophiles can stay up-to-date on the U of C Press's latest offerings and journalists can track down informed sources from the University's directory of expert researchers. When content is added to a site, the feed automatically updates and displays a link to the new information in the subscriber's Web browser. Provided by sites such as the University News Office, The Maroon, the Hospitals, and, of course, UChiBLOGo, feeds keep Chicago readers in the know.


Photo: RSS feeds keep readers informed of the latest University news and events.

The Wilkins effect

Room 209, aka the Tea Room, in Eckhart Hall has seen its share of mathematics department gatherings, all presided over by a portrait of the department's founding chair, Eliakim Hastings Moore. Now afternoon tea will be consumed and theorems discussed under the equally watchful eye of J. Ernest Wilkins Jr., SB’40, SM’41, PhD’42. Wilkins entered the College in 1936 at age 13 and six years later became the seventh African American to earn a PhD in mathematics from Chicago—and quite possibly Chicago's youngest-ever PhD recipient.

Welcoming Wilkins and other guests to a Friday afternoon unveiling of a Tea Room portrait honoring his accomplishments, Physical Sciences Dean Robert A. Fefferman noted the exceptional nature of the occasion and the honoree: "Dr. Wilkins stands out among our alumni."

During his 61-year career, the South Side native worked on the Manhattan Project (where his contributions to nuclear-reactor physics included a discovery known as the Wilkins effect), designed microscopic and ophthalmologic lenses, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, and became the second African American named to the National Academy of Engineering.

Walter E. Massey, president of Morehouse College and former U of C vice president for research and director of the Argonne National Laboratory, saw a significance in the portrait that went beyond honoring Wilkins: "Students will see it and ask, Who was that? What's the story behind that? And to have a way of telling that story is a great thing."


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Photos (left to right): Ernest J. Wilkins Jr. and his wife Vera view his portrait in Eckhart Hall; Morehouse College president Walter E. Massey spoke at the ceremony; Sharon Wilkins Hill told of a math-filled childhood—from counting games to counting poker cards.

Photos by Dan Dry.

March 7, 2007

Basic training

If there was ever a place for the lab rat to shine, this was it. At a UChicagoTech event Friday afternoon, basic-science faculty, students, and researchers presented posters showing how their studies could lead to commercially viable products. Viewers, participants, and judges packed the BSLC lobby, noshing on biscotti and perusing tacked-up posters such as Fighting Fire with Fire: A Model of Antagonism between Spontaneous and Epileptic Form Acuity in Neocortical Networking.

In Fighting Fire, computational-neuroscience grad student Michael Carroll installed a flat-screen on the poster to display a colorful computer model of brain cells. As Carroll, in jeans and a ponytail, explained to one of two judges from consulting firm RPX Group, his team's research could lead to a new method to control epileptic seizures for people who don't respond to medication, in a way less intrusive than electrical brain stimulators.

"Would you and your team be interested in commercialization?" the judge asked. "Sure, yeah, I guess," Carroll answered. "I mean, I'm just a student."

The event, called From Bench to Bedside, was meant to show basic-science researchers that their work has practical applications—and that the University can help realize those uses, said UChicagoTech staff member Matt Clark. The office, formerly called ARCH and UCTech, used to pick a few projects a year to create start-up companies. Now the technology-and-intellectual-property staff hopes to encourage more patents "even for something as small as an antibody" a researcher discovers.

"This is a showcase for exciting work taking place," Clark said. "It's neat for other people in the research community to see what's going on." All 24 posters, he said, represented projects that UChicagoTech has already worked with "or would be very interested in." In addition to the two consultants, an investment banker and UChicagoTech Director Alan Thomas judged the posters and named three winners (see below), who received $500, $250, and $125, respectively.


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Photos (left to right): First-place winner Lucy Godley stands by her poster, Cell Characterization Using Chemically Functionalized Pores; Second-place winner Katinka Vigh and her poster, Allergy Profiling With Protein Arrays; and third-place winners Nancy L. Stein and Marc W. Hernandez and their poster, Making the Invisible Visible: Elementary School Children Learning about Thermodynamics.

Photos courtesy UChicagoTech.

March 9, 2007

Bobbing for improv

Thursday night, during College reading period, the Bartlett Arts Rehearsal Space was packed with students—laughing, not studying. They had come to watch campus improv group Occam's Razor.

In the hour-long show, Occam's played eight short "games" in which performers improvised skits on outlandish premises. One game, "Swinging Pendulum of Death," required three performers to switch between three different skits every time a group member offstage clapped. With each switch, someone onstage also had to die.

Next came "Helping Hands," in which one performer stood behind another, making hand gestures and speaking for the performer in front. "What's your name?" one character asked the other. "Veeeeelllmaaa!" the other character roared, frantically stuffing her face with imaginary chicken. "Why aren't you eating the bones?" Velma shouted, her face distorted. "Velma eats the bones!"

Toward the end of the show, the performers carried out a black bucket full of water and placed it on top of two wooden blocks for the game "Oxygen Deprivation." Some students seated in the front row tucked their coats around their legs. One performer stuck her head in the bucket. When she could no longer hold her breath, she began to bang on the boxes until another performer tapped her on the shoulder to switch places. What resulted was a disjointed but laugh-inducing skit. Two characters discussed microwaving Nilla wafers and marshmallows, interrupted about every 30 seconds by another character's entry, head soaking wet.

Jenny Fisher, '07

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Photos (left to right): Zoë Thompson, '10, Natasha Sansone, '10, and Natalie Doss, '10, play "Swinging Pendulum of Death"; Matt Howard, '08, uses physical comedy; Daniel Flores, '10 and Kellen Alexander, '07, play "Oscar-Winning Moments."

March 12, 2007

Destruction of mass weapons


Former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, the Swedish diplomat who oversaw 700 searches across Iraq—and uncovered no weapons of mass destruction—before the March 2003 invasion, stepped up to a podium at Ida Noyes last Thursday afternoon. Invited by the Harris School, he had come not to say I told you so, although he couldn't resist a jab at the Bush Administration's "faith-based evidence" for war, but to urge worldwide nuclear disarmament. "Another arms race is taking place, despite the end of the Cold War," he warned, noting not only Iran's nuclear aspirations but also nuclear tests by North Korea, India, and Pakistan; new nuclear arsenals in the U.S. and U.K.; and Russia's potential countermeasures to the American missile shield. Moreover, Blix said, the Iraq war and last summer's Israel-Lebanon conflict constitute "arguments for greater restraint."

Now chair of the Stockholm-based Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, a group founded and mostly funded by the Swedish government, Blix traced 50 years of international efforts—some more successful than others—to halt the build-up of nuclear, chemical, and biological arms. The common perception that the world has become less safe, he said, is wrong. During the 1990s, the UN counted 50 armed conflicts worldwide, Blix said; today it counts half that many. And although new arms races are emerging, the U.S. and Russia have scrapped 28,000 of their 55,000 collective nukes. Widening globalization makes war among World War II foes or the U.S. and Mexico "unthinkable," he said. "And China and Russia do not really expect to be attacked by the United States." Meanwhile, the risks of global pandemics and environmental collapse intensify the need for international cooperation. Fighting terrorism requires shared police and intelligence resources, "maybe helicopters or even ground troops, but not aircraft carriers," Blix insisted. "Have you ever tried to shoot a mosquito with a cannon?"

Quoting from a report the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission released last summer, Blix urged obedience to existing test-ban and disarmament treaties and "multilateral guarantees of security" for countries like North Korea and Iran. He also argued for eliminating double standards that condemn countries such as India for behaving the same way as the U.S. and the U.K.

During the Q&A that followed Blix's talk, one student raised the theory that today's "peaceful world is built on a balance of nuclear weapons" and asked whether disarmament might reopen the possibility of bloody conventional war. Blix responded by advocating a corresponding reduction in conventional arms and by saying that "more nukes in more countries means more fingers on more triggers." At the same time, as nations continue to rely on each other, economically and otherwise, "the more absurd a military solution will be."


Photo: Introduced by Harris School professor and deputy dean Charles L. Glaser (at right), Hans Blix called for renewed nuclear disarmament.

Photo by Beth Rooney.

March 14, 2007

High seas, high Cs


The bass drums, trumpets, and singing sailors inside Mandel Hall echoed throughout the Reynolds Club on Saturday night. To benefit the Department of Music Performance Program, Hyde Park’s Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company partnered with the music department to produce HMS Pinafore, the company's 48th production and its 23rd annual U of C collaboration. Typical of Gilbert and Sullivan’s brand of comedy, the show’s combination of cheerful music and social commentary lightheartedly focused on class status—fitting for the start of finals week. The show was set on the ship against a painted blue sky, and the score was performed by the University's Chamber Orchestra, conducted by musical director William C. White, AB’05.

Directed by Thrisa Hodits, Pinafore spotlights a love triangle between Josephine, the captain's daughter (played by Rebecca Prescott), young sailor Ralph Rackstraw (Matt Edlen), and Sir Joseph, the "ruler of the Queen's Navee" (Howard Timms). Although the cocky Sir Joseph, who claims that “a British sailor is any man’s equal, excepting mine,” hopes to marry Josephine, she is in love with “ignobly born” Ralph. Ralph also loves Josephine, “a lass above his station,” and the characters meander through the concerns of social rank before reaching the requisite happy ending.

First performed in 1878, the opera drew laughs from the mixed-generation audience, and children’s heads bobbed to the music. At the show’s conclusion, a rousing rendition of “God Save the Queen,” the audience rose to salute the British flag.

Ruthie Kott

Photo: Josephine runs into the arms of Ralph Rackstraw while ladies and sailors look on.

March 16, 2007

Rugby's kinder, gentler side


“It’s a sport that’s more touchy-feely than others,” said women’s rugby team captain Karyl Kopaskie, ’07, as she kneaded another student’s shoulders Tuesday afternoon. This past Monday through Wednesday, the team offered free ($2 suggested donation) massages to weary exam-takers passing through the Reynolds Club. “We have strong hands,” added team member Laurel Buchi-Fotre, ’10. The team, started in 1995, has held a massage fundraiser for the past five years. Though the masseuses don’t have formal bodywork training, said team member Laura McFarland, ’08, their heavy-contact sport—and the self-administered shoulder rubs that often follow a game—have taught them much about muscles. Students taking advantage of the team’s know-how agreed: “These guys know how to massage,” said a male student, leaning back into the dark wood chair.


Photo: Rugby players Laura McFarland (left) and Karyl Kopaskie (right) set up a mini-spa, loosening tight muscles in Reynolds Club.

Flyin’ high


Pearl Cleage’s 1992 play, Flyin’ West, tells the story of four African-American women who escape the racial violence of the post-Civil War South by homesteading in the all-black settlement of Nicodemus, Kansas. The plot mixes melodrama (the youngest sister’s abusive husband tries to sell her share of the homestead she and her sisters earned to white speculators) with humor and bite.

As staged by Court Theatre’s resident director Ron OJ Parsons—who orchestrated last year’s award-winning production of August Wilson’s Fences—Cleage’s play is as uplifting as the wide prairie sunsets that provide a backdrop to the characters’ daily lives.

The production runs through April 8, with playwright Cleage holding a post-play discussion at Court immediately following the 8 p.m. performance on Saturday, March 24.


Photos: Taking flight in Court’s production of Flyin’ West: Tyla Abercrumbie as Fannie, TaRon Patton as Sophie, and Monét Butler as Minnie; Cheryl Lynn Bruce as Miss Leah and Patton. Photos by Michael Brosilow.

March 21, 2007

Attention job hunters

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“Leave your interview suit in the closet!” suggests a flyer advertising Career Advising & Planning Services’ (CAPS) latest job-hunting opportunity. Through March 31, U of C students and alumni can log in to an online “eCareer” fair sponsored by the Nationwide Internships Consortium (NIC). Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, and 13 other institutions are part of the NIC group, which posts full-time job and internship positions. Job seekers can view up-to-date postings and submit résumés to employers around the country—from software developer 1010data in New York to Blank Theatre Company in Los Angeles—all from the comfort of home.


Photo: The NIC eCareer Fair is open to all U of C students and alumni with a username and password from CAPS.

March 22, 2007

Spring pruning

The whir of chainsaws and the thud of branches hitting the ground filled the quads this Thursday as tree-service company The Care of Trees gave the University's greenery a spring trim. On a balmy morning a seven-man crew donned hard hats and pruned oaks in the quads' northwest corner. After hoisting heavy-duty ropes around the trunks, workers climbed to the treetops using harnesses. At the top, the crew chopped off branches injured by the winter elements. According to The Care of Trees' Web site, such routine pruning is particularly important for city-dwelling trees, which must "contend with air pollution, road salt, confined roots, trunk damage, compacted or poor quality soils, improper pruning, and other stresses." Operations and maintenance director for University Facilities Services Bob Tiberg notes that the University has become "much more attentive" to arboreal care over the past few years. Since the trees are not yet in full bloom, he adds, now is the ideal time for trimming.

Such seasonal maintenance also prepares trees to deal with weather like last October's violent lighting storm that felled more than 40 campus trees. Discussions are underway to determine how many of the lost crop will be replaced, and Tiberg expects to see new trees planted late summer, when the environment is "most cooperative" for growth.


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Photos (left to right): Tree maintenance on the northwest quad; a tree-service employee trims branches; Wheeling, IL–based company The Care of Trees descends on campus; more members of the tree-maintence crew.

March 26, 2007

A house in New Orleans

Wanting a break from our keyboards and books, four friends and I went down to New Orleans last week to volunteer for local relief organization Common Ground. We were among approximately 20,000 college students to help in New Orleans over spring break, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Joining us at Common Ground were students from Howard University, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke, the University of Illinois, DePaul University, Wesleyan University, and Barnard College, among others. Howard sent more than 500 students to New Orleans through its Alternative Spring Break program, approximately 200 of whom worked at Common Ground. Other schools came in smaller numbers.

At 6:30 each morning, volunteers awoke to clanging pans, a trumpet, or shouts. By 8:30, we began suiting up for a day of gutting houses, donning Tyvek suits, rubber boots, garden gloves, goggles, and respirators to block toxic mold spores from the floodwater that had sat in houses for weeks. Then we loaded a wheelbarrow, shovels, rakes, brooms, crowbars, and hammers into our car for the short drive to the house we would work on for the next few days, located in the Upper Ninth Ward, one of the most badly affected areas in New Orleans.

On the first day, we carried out a faded couch, rusty lamps, fans, and chunks of fallen plaster. Most of the smaller personal belongings had already been removed. With crowbars and sledgehammers, we knocked down the plasterboard covered in black mold, leaving only the wooden supports. Then we shoveled up the plaster pieces, a layer of rotting carpet, and the linoleum beneath, making giant piles on sidewalk.

The toughest part of gutting was removing the fridge. Common Ground workers warned all volunteers never to open one. The smell, they said, was unbearable, and what was inside was highly toxic. To make matters more difficult, the fridge in our house had fallen on its door. After shoving paint cans and bricks beneath to hold it up, the five of us slowly worked duct tape under and around the sides, hoping it would hold the door shut. Gingerly, we pushed it upright, as reeking water gushed out, then wrestled the box on a dolly to the front door, where we pushed it down the steps on its back.

On the last day, we pulled out nails, tore up more carpet, and swept, and swept, and swept. As we were collecting our gear to leave, a man living in a FEMA trailer down the block came by to look at our progress. Wandering through the empty rooms, he said, "You guys have done a lot of work. But there's a lot left to do."

Jenny Fisher, '07

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Photos (left to right): Trash quickly piled up in front of the house; Rachel Berg, '08, wields a shovel; Laura Eberly, '10, tears up rotting carpet.

March 28, 2007

The right thing

Pop-icon film director-producer Spike Lee, whose credits include He Got Game, Do the Right Thing, and Malcolm X, visited the South Side Wednesday afternoon to speak with some 300 Chicago Public School students, including 75 enrolled in the University’s Collegiate Scholars Program.

In his talk—part of this year’s four-city “Inspiration Tour,” sponsored by the Electronic Arts Corporation—Lee urged the students, gathered at the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men in Ingleside, to thank their teachers and staff for all they do for them on a daily basis: “their riches come with the richness of your mind.”

In an after-lecture reception, Lee fielded the students’ questions on topics from film-making to college to sports. The New Yorker, an avid sports fan, closed the session by teasing the students about the past performances of the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cubs.


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Photos (left to right): Director Spike Lee prepares for his talk; at the podium; attentive listeners; and a thank-you gift, presented by Collegiate Scholar José Choto.

Photos by Dan Dry.

March 30, 2007

Santa Claus and lederhosen


Down the chimney came old Saint Nick, which
was weird, because it was noon on a hot July day.

—from James Tate’s “The Special Guest”

Everyday people in the midst of bizarre events populate James Tate’s poems in his newest collection, return to the city of white donkeys (Harper Collins, 2004). Pulitzer prize-winner Tate, an English professor at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, teamed up with U Mass colleague and poet Dara Wier on Thursday night for a reading from their respective collections. The mostly student audience filed into Rosenwald 405 and filled up on Rajun Cajun and red wine at 5:30 p.m.; the poets, detained by flight delays, arrived an hour later.

Sharing from her collection Remnants of Hannah and a book-length poem, Reverse Rapture, Wier peppered the reading with personal anecdotes. After seeing a baby in a stroller left alone in a parking lot, Wier mused, for the first time in her life, “I thought I could steal.” This baby, with “no one in earshot patrolling or guarding,” inspired a character in her poem “Limestone of the continent consists of Infinite Masses.” Another poem, “That Vagrant Minstrel,” is written in the voice of her daughter’s Chinese friend who moved to Amherst with her family at age two. Her parents’ plan, Wier explained, was to put her through university and then return to China. The poem expresses Wier’s concern about the girl, who knew her parents would be leaving: “I no longer had friends, no sister, no brother / They left me no instructions.”

Wier proclaimed she has a love-hate relationship with prose poems and often writes in fragments and lists; Tate takes a different approach. To control the length, he limits each poem to one page, which, he says, can lead to “very cramped pages.” Deadpan, Tate read a selection of poems, each drawing laughs. In “The Rules,” a hold-up in a candy store is thwarted because the owner asserts the “candy store protection plan.” In “The Radish,” a trip through a supermarket produce aisle brings about a strange turn of events in which the narrator, after being “jostled” and “rammed” by other shoppers, is separated from his cart and encounters “a man dressed in lederhosen and an alpine hat.” Remarking that his poems seemed long when read aloud, Tate concluded, “I think that’s good.”

Ruthie Kott

Photos: Tate reads from his work (top) then chats with students (bottom) after the reading.

About March 2007

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in March 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2007 is the previous archive.

April 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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