Voices of the College
Fossil remains of a cricket. Photo by Dena Smith
Among a number of research interests, paleontologist Roy E. Plotnick of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences has been studying the fossils of crickets and katydids, researching the development and evolution of insect hearing.
During his 2010 sabbatical Plotnick worked at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center with Dena Smith, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the University of Colorado’s Museum of Natural History. Their study was published in their article, “Exceptionally Preserved Fossil Insect Ears from the Eocene Green River Formation of Colorado” in the January 2012 issue of the Journal of Paleontology.
Roy Plotnick. Photo courtesy of Plotnick
“Spring and summer nights are filled with the sounds of crickets and katydids calling to each other; the insects make their chirps by rapidly rubbing specialized parts of their wings together. The ears that detect these sounds are not found on the head of the crickets, however, but on their legs, in particular near the ‘knee’ of their front legs at the top of the joint known as the tibia,” said Plotnick. “These drum-like tympanal organs have now been found in 50-million-year-old cricket and katydid fossils from Colorado. Not only are these the best-preserved ears of ancient insects, but they are found in the same rocks that have yielded the oldest bats, which are nighttime hunters of flying insects. Many insects have evolved the ability to hear hunting bats and to take evasive maneuvers. Unfortunately, the ancient relationship between bats and their insect prey may be ending, as bats fall victim to the rapidly spreading white-nose syndrome, which is wiping out entire populations of bats in the Eastern U.S.”
Prize-winning team, left to right: Anne E. Parsons, Jennifer Brier, Morgan W. Valenzuela. Photo by Micki Leventhal
Jennifer Brier, associate professor in the departments of Gender and Women’s Studies and History, has received the 2012 Alan Bérubé Prize for outstanding work in public or community-based lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer history. Brier and her colleagues received the recognition for the groundbreaking Out in Chicago exhibit at the Chicago History Museum. Brier co-curated the exhibit with CHM curator Jill Austin. LAS undergraduate Morgan W. Valenzuela and Anne E. Parsons, a PhD candidate in history and graduate fellow of the Institute for the Humanities served as research and curatorial associates along with Jessica Herczeg-Konecny, Emily H. Nordstrom, Daniel Oliver and Mark Ramirez. The Bérubé Prize is awarded by the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, an affiliated society of the American Historical Association. The exhibition also received honorable mentions from the National Council on Public History for its Outstanding Public History Project Award and the American Association of Museums for its Media and Technology MUSE award.
Out in Chicago, which ran from May 2011 to March 2012, was the first exhibit of its kind in a mainstream museum. It examined the experiences of individuals—especially African Americans, Latinos, transgender people and the leather community—through four sections: family, home, community and activism.
“Serving as a curator on Out in Chicago opened up new areas of inquiry in public history and the public humanities,” said Brier. “None of the work would have been possible were it not for the amazing work of UIC students Anne Parsons and Morgan Valenzuela. Together we were able to create an exhibition that not only spoke to the connections between LGBT history and Chicago’s history, but also one that spoke to a wide audience.”
Zizi Papacharissi. Photo by Kathryn Marchetti
Zizi Papacharissi, head of the Department of Communication, authored a study that analyzed the use of Twitter as a news source during the Arab Spring of 2011. “Affective News and Networked Publics: The Rhythms of News Storytelling on #Egypt,” examines the ways in which Egyptian citizens relied on Twitter for disseminating news and information when the Egyptian government restricted access to mainstream media and cut Internet access. The study, co-authored by Maria de Fatima Oliveira of Prime Research, appears in the April 2012 issue of the Journal of Communication. Using an online archive service and computerized content analysis, the authors examined 1.5 million messages with the #Egypt hash tag that were tweeted between January 25 and February 25, 2011.
“Through Twitter, stories were told about this event that played a part in how Egyptians viewed themselves and the potential for political change. These stories also played their part in how publics watching reacted and responded,” said Papacharissi. “Once told, the impact of these stories remained and resonated, and turning the Internet on or off did little to curtail the effect. The social media engine functioned as an ambient, always-on news environment with a pulse of its own that was organic and collective.” While Twitter use during the events reflected some traditional news values, the use of social media also “pushed forward a new form of news that combined news, fact, drama, opinion and emotion all into one, to the point where distinguishing one from the other was difficult, and doing so missed the point.”
Marya Schechtman. Photo by Micki Leventhal
Marya Schechtman, associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a professor in the Department of Philosophy, was in San Francisco February 2-3 to present at the eighth meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. The Commission is comprised of leaders in medicine, science, ethics, religion, law and engineering; their role is to advise the President on bioethical issues arising from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology. The February meeting was convened to discuss issues of privacy and access related to human genome sequence data as well as neuroscience and related ethical issues. It was to the latter that Schechtman spoke, addressing Notions of Self in the context of her work on the Narrative View of Personal Identity.
“Modern questions of bioethics invite the input of philosophers who have studied the question of personal identity because longer life spans and advances in medical technology challenge our traditional understanding of personality and identity,” said Schechtman. “How do we deal with the fact that a formerly-independent and self-reliant person has become a completely-dependent Alzheimer’s patient? Who is the ‘real’ person—the one before, the one now, some combination? There are more and more interventions available for psychiatric and brain-related problems; many of these have a major impact on personality. There are very serious questions about how we ought to think about this when we are weighing costs and benefits. Philosophers have a real contribution to make to this discussion.”
Dick Simpson and team announce release of the corruption report. Photo by Thomas J. Gradel
Dick W. Simpson, head of the Department of Political Science and a former Chicago alderman, joined his team of professors and students at Chicago City Hall on February 15 to announce the release of their report Chicago and Illinois Leading the Pack in Corruption. Research and analysis for the report was conducted by Simpson and Jim Nowlan, senior fellow with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs, Thomas J. Gradel, Melissa Mouritsen Zmuda, David Sterrett and Doug Cantor. The team analyzed recently-released 2010 public-corruption statistics and data from the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section going back to 1976. The report, which garnered a host of media coverage, concluded that Illinois is the “third most corrupt” state in the nation, while the Northern Illinois District—which consists primarily of the Chicago metropolitan area—is the most corrupt federal district in the entire country. The report findings were also presented to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Ethics Task Force.
“When you search beyond the tally of convictions, you discover that the two worst crime zones in Illinois are the Governor’s mansion in Springfield and the City Council Chambers in Chicago. No other state can match us,” said Simpson. “Many people have asserted that Chicago is the most corrupt city in the nation and we have had a very negative image from the days of Al Capone. But our study proves that we really are the most corrupt metropolitan region in the United States and this should be a call to action. We have submitted our findings and our recommendations to the Mayor’s Ethics Reform Task Force but there is no silver bullet. Reform will take decades to achieve and will need to include putting civics—and the costs of and cure for corruption—back into the public school curriculum.”
Irina Nenciu, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award. This award is given in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.
Nenciu’s research interests include integrable systems, random matrices and mathematical physics. Her $500,000 NSF award, which began in May 2012 and runs over five years, will fund her study of long-time asymptotics of completely integrable systems with connections to random matrices and partial differential equations.
“Partial differential equations emerge in a variety of physical contexts as mathematical models for the time evolution of certain physical quantities. A particular class of such equations are the so-called completely integrable systems, which satisfy a sufficiently large number of conservation laws and are obtained as models of fluid dynamics,” she said. “The models also have close connections with many fields of pure mathematics. My work will expand and deepen the understanding of these connections and also gain insights into real-life phenomena.”
Nenciu will also use her award to organize an annual summer school for advanced graduate students and recent PhDs and she will work to promote the advancement of women in mathematics. Nenciu is the 12th MSCS faculty member to receive the NSF CAREER Award.
Christian Rosendal, associate professor in mathematics, statistics and computer science, has been awarded a Simons Foundation Fellowship in support of his 2012-13 sabbatical. The Simons Foundation seeks to extend the frontiers of basic research by providing support to the fields of mathematics, computer sciences and theoretical physics.
“Descriptive set theory originates in the work of the French, Polish and Russian schools of real analysis in the early 20th century, but was mainly continued by logicians in the second half of the century,” explained Rosendal. “Recently, however, the deep methods and results of the theory have increasingly been applied to other branches of mathematics such as functional analysis and ergodic theory, which are two of my own interests. The Simons Foundation Fellowship will allow me to spend an entire uninterrupted year dedicated to my research.”
Stephen Smith. Photo by Kathryn Marchetti
Stephen D. Smith, professor emeritus in mathematics, statistics and computer science, and his coauthors Michael Ashbacher, Richard Lyons and Ronald Solomon, have been awarded the 2012 American Mathematical Society Leroy P. Steele Prize for Expository Writing for their paper “The Classification of Finite Simple Groups: Groups of Characteristic 2 Type.”
“The book provides an outline of one of the great mathematical projects of the time period from roughly the 1970s and 80s, continuing through about 2004. This project is the classification of finite simple groups—the mathematical structures which model symmetry. The simple groups are the basic ‘building blocks’ of which they are composed. So, the classification determined all such simple groups, which in fact can be quite complicated,” said Smith. “Our project involved hundreds of researchers and thousands of published journal pages. Late in 2005 the four coauthors, who had all been active on the classification project, felt the need of an expository outline in order to make the huge project more understandable to non-experts. Our book was developed over the next few years and appeared in early 2011. We are greatly honored that the Society recognizes the importance of the classification project, and the need for an approachable exposition of it.”
Marya Schechtman (at podium) moderated the discussion. Photo by Roberta Dupuis-Devlin
Faculty and graduate students in the College of LAS gathered for a Meeting of the Minds on March 6 to hear colleagues discuss aspects of identity and identity formation from their respective vantage points. Associate Dean and Professor of Philosophy Marya Schechtman organized the event and served as moderator and facilitator of the Q&A that followed the presentations. Welcoming remarks were given by Astrida Orle Tantillo, dean of LAS.
Lynette Jackson. Photo by Roberta Dupuis-Devlin
Lynette Jackson, associate professor in the Departments of African American Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies discussed “Constructing and Contesting Identities in Diaspora.” She looked at different types of diaspora and their effects on identity. While many studies of diaspora focus on the point at which those who have lost their homeland are resettled in a new and different culture, much of the renegotiation of identity takes place earlier, for instance in refugee camps. She observed that while displacement is often traumatic, it also provides an occasion to rethink cultural identity. Beginning in the fall, Jackson and Gayatri Reddy, associate professor in GWS and the Department of Anthropology, will be organizing an Institute for the Humanities Working Group on Diasporas and Transnational Formations.
Steve Jones. Photo by Roberta Dupuis-Devlin
Steve Jones, professor in the Department of Communication and a UIC Distinguished Professor, spoke on “Me, Myself and i: Why Identity Online Matters.” He examined why identity is important in computer-mediated communication, and how identity is parsed by humans and algorithms. Jones addressed issues of social media, privacy and deception in relation to identity. Jones is a co-principal investigator of a UIC team engaged in developing a new IGERT—Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program—which will focus on creating solutions for electronic security and privacy from a range of disciplinary perspectives.
Mike Ragozzino. Photo by Roberta Dupuis-Devlin
Michael Ragozzino, associate professor in the Departments of Psychology and Neuroscience, explored “Autobiographical Memories and Identity” in which he took a neuropsychological approach to identity. Ragozzino argued that our remembered experiences, as well as experiences that we forget, play a fundamental role in defining who we are as individuals. He described two extremes of autobiographical memory: individuals with superior autobiographical memory, including the actress Marilu Henner, who appear to remember almost in entirety all episodes in their life, as opposed to individuals who have normal memory and intelligence but cannot describe any episode in their life. If personal experiences are fundamental to defining us as individuals, he asked, then what does it mean for some individuals to remember all of their experiences and for others to remember none of their experiences?