University to bestow honorary degrees on three distinguished scholars

University Communications

The University of Chicago will present honorary degrees to an astronomer, a historian, and a biologist during the 511th Convocation Ceremony on Saturday, June 9 on the Main Quadrangle.

The honorary degree recipients are Geoffrey W. Marcy, an astronomer and exoplanet expert and professor of astronomy and director of the Center for Integrative Planetary Science at the University of California, Berkeley; Jean Meyer Barth, a scholar of Mexican history and professor of history at Centro de Investigación y Docencia Economicas in Mexico City; and R. Bruce Nicklas, the Arthur S. Pearse professor emeritus of biology at Duke University.

A master in the field of exoplanetary systems

Geoffrey W. Marcy, a pioneer in the search for planets beyond Earth’s solar system, will receive a Doctor of Science honorary degree.

In 1992, the only known planetary system was our own. Since then, Marcy and other scientists have discovered nearly 800 exoplanets, planets that orbit stars other than the sun. Through this work Marcy fundamentally changed the scientific understanding of the formation and evolution of Earth’s solar system.

Marcy and his team discovered 70 of the first 100 exoplanets, as well as the first multi-planet system. The many other firsts to his credit include the discovery of the first exoplanet with an elliptical orbit, and the discovery of the first exoplanets with masses comparable to Saturn and Neptune.

Marcy also was the first person to discover a planet using the now highly successful transit method, which involves looking for small decreases in the light from the star due to the passage of planets in front of their host stars.

Marcy is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received the NAS Draper Medal, the American Astronomical Society’s Tinsley Prize, the AAAS/Planetary Society’s Sagan Award, and the Shaw Prize for astronomy.

Michael Turner, the Bruce and Diana Rauner Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy and Astrophysics and director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, will present Marcy at Convocation.

Native of France becomes expert on Mexican Revolution

Jean Meyer Barth, one of the most influential scholars of Mexican history and a professor of history at Centro de Investigación y Docencia Economicas in Mexico City, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Meyer, a native of France and a naturalized Mexican citizen, has written more than 20 books on various aspects of Mexican history. He is an expert on the Revolutionary period of Mexican history, as well as the 19th-century Mexican empire of Maximilian.

His three-volume work, La Christiade: l’Etat et le peuple dans la revolution mexicaine, 1926-1929, has significantly changed scholars’ understanding of the Mexican Revolution. La Christiade began as Meyer’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Paris Nanterre, where he completed his PhD in 1971. The work examines the complicated relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Mexican government, a critical aspect of the Mexican Revolution that was largely overlooked or misunderstood before publication of La Christiade.

Meyer helped to establish El Colegio de Michoacán, one of the world’s leading institutions in the study of popular movements and traditions, anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, and history. He also is the founder and editor of Istor, the only Spanish-language journal devoted to world history.

A public intellectual, Meyer has published on many topics, ranging from Perestroika to the theology of liberation in Latin America. He also is a regular contributor to Mexico’s equivalent of The New Yorker, Letras Libres, and Harpers, Nexos. Currently, Meyer is studying Yiddish documents and literature to examine the Catholic-Jewish debates over Ritualmord in the 19th century. 

Mauricio Tenorio, professor in history and the College and director of the Center for Latin American Studies, will present Meyer at Convocation.

A skilled scholar of genetic ballets

In a series of breakthrough experiments, R. Bruce Nicklas, who will receive the degree Doctor of Science, painstakingly dissected the motion of chromosomes to reveal the intricate choreographies of mitosis and meiosis.

When a cell divides, a delicate ballet unfolds. Chromosomes carrying the parent cell's genetic information duplicate, and the two copies are pulled by spindles to opposite ends of the cell, delivering a complete chromosome set to two newly created daughter cells. The slightest mistake in this complex procedure can produce critical genetic errors and diseases such as Down syndrome.

Nicklas, the Arthur S. Pearse professor emeritus of biology at Duke University, used micro-dissection to poke, prod and tug at chromosomes during mitosis. Through this work, Nicklas has identified the chemical signals that tell cells when it is safe to divide, measured the forces at work in pulling chromosomes toward cell poles, and located the motors for chromosome movement. His experiments have unraveled how the spindles attach and segregate chromosomes accurately.

An award-winning teacher and scholar, Nicklas received the E.B. Wilson Medal, the most prestigious honor the American Society of Cell Biology awards. The honor recognized his far-reaching contributions to cell biology over the course of his career. Nicklas also has received the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award from Duke University and has been a Guggenheim fellow. 

Prof. Douglas Bishop, representing the Committee on Genetics, Genomics and Systems Biology, will present Nicklas at Convocation.

Nominations for honorary degrees are submitted each year by schools and divisions or their departments, are reviewed and approved by the Committee on Honorary Degrees and by the Council of the University Senate, and are finally confirmed by the Board of Trustees. The University’s statutes dictate that honorary degrees are granted for specific achievements in “… such fields as scholarship, discovery, or administration.”

For more information about the University’s 511th Convocation on Saturday, June 9, please refer to the following website: http://convocation.uchicago.edu.