Statistician, physicist, geologist, and a South Asian scholar and poet will receive honorary degrees at 500th Convocation

As part of the celebration of the University’s 500th Convocation on Friday, Oct. 9, President Robert Zimmer will present honorary degrees to four outstanding scholars whose research ranges from Sanskrit poetry to Bose-Einstein condensates, from statistical analysis to the geology of Eurasia.

The honorees are David Donoho, a Professor of Statistics at Stanford University; Deborah Jin, a fellow of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and an Adjoint Professor of Physics at the University of Colorado; A. M. Celâl Șengör, a Professor of Geology at Istanbul Technical University; and David Shulman, Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

Donoho’s work in statistics has addressed the problem of sparse effects in data analysis, in which a small sample behaves differently than most of the data. In addition to its theoretical importance, his research has spawned practical uses, such as the detection of potential errors in databases with many different kinds of information.

Donoho co-founded the network management software company BigFix, and served as a member of the research staff at Western Geophysical Company and Renaissance Technologies. His undergraduate degree in statistics is from Princeton University, where he graduated summa cum laude, and he received his Ph.D. in statistics from Harvard University. He is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Sciences, and is a former MacArthur fellow.

Chairman of Statistics Stephen M. Stigler, the Ernst DeWitt Burton Distinguished Service Professor in Statistics and the College, will introduce Donoho at the ceremony on Friday.  

Jin has done groundbreaking work in the study of ultracold atomic systems. In 1999 she was co-author of a landmark study that produced a new form of matter with ultracold Fermi gas, also called a quantum gas. The work extended the techniques that had first been used in 1995 to make Bose-Einstein condensates, in which quantum effects normally confined to the subatomic realm can be observed on a larger scale.

A fellow of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Jin received her B.S. in physics from Princeton University, where she graduated magna cum laude. She received her Ph.D. in 1995 from Chicago, where her thesis advisor was Thomas Rosenbaum, now Provost of the University.

Jin’s honors include a MacArthur fellowship and the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics. She also is a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society.

Kathryn Levin, Professor in Physics and the College, will introduce Jin.

Șengör, a multilingual scientist who studies geology and the history of geology, has brought the earth sciences into the 21st century through his knowledge of global geology. His writings on both historical developments and contemporary issues bring the lessons of the past to ongoing problems in science.

Șengör’s most significant contribution to geology has been his elucidation of the once poorly understood structure and geological evolution of the earth’s largest continent, Eurasia. He played a major role in bringing Turkish geology into the modern era and is possibly the most respected voice of modern science in his native Turkey.

From 2004 to 2005, he held the Chaire International in the Collège de France, where he taught a lecture course on the history of tectonics. He received his undergraduate degree and Ph.D. from the State University of New York, Albany. Șengör is a member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences and a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

David B. Rowley, Professor in Geophysical Sciences and the College, will introduce Șengör.

Shulman has inspired a generation of scholars to find new meanings in the poetry, folklore, religion and history of South Asia in general, and South India in particular, while promoting a new kind of collaborative interdisciplinary scholarship.

Shulman has collaborated with other scholars―most recently with scholars in history and anthropology―on South Indian philology and cultural history, the history of South Asian religion, Sanskrit poetry and poetics, and other related topics.

He received his undergraduate degree in Islamic History from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and his Ph.D. in Tamil literature from the University of London. The author of Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine, Shulman is a former MacArthur fellow and director of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University.

He is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and is a published poet in Hebrew and English.

Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School and the College, and one of Shulman’s former Tamil and Sanskrit teachers at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, will introduce Shulman.

The University traditionally awards honorary degrees only for outstanding scholarship conducted outside of the University and for service to the University by its former presidents or board chairmen.

A key characteristic of the Chicago honorary degree is that nominations for the honor originate with members of the faculty, beginning with faculty members of degree-granting units. Once the recommendations reach the Board of Trustees, its members give the final approval. This year, Edward Laumann, the George Herbert Mead Distinguished Service Professor in Sociology, chaired the University-wide honorary degree committee.

For more information about the upcoming 500th Convocation, visit: