Three members of UChicago faculty awarded Guggenheim Foundation fellowships

The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation awarded 177 fellowships on April 10 to a diverse group of scholars, artists and scientists, including three members of the University of Chicago faculty—professors Lainie Ross, Haun Saussy and Joe Thornton.

Lainie Ross is the Carolyn and Matthew Bucksbaum Professor of Clinical Ethics and a professor of pediatrics, medicine and surgery. She’s also an associate director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics and the co-director of the Institute of Translational Medicine. She is planning to spend her Guggenheim Fellowship term writing a book tentatively titled “From Peapods to Whole Genomes: Incidental Findings and Unintended Consequences in a Post-Mendelian World.”

Through her work, Ross has addressed ethical issues raised by genetic testing and shortages of available donor organs, including unintended consequences from an NCAA policy to screen football players for sickle cell anemia, how residents on the South Side of Chicago feel about contributing blood and tissue samples to biobanks and a proposal for a more efficient allocation of donor kidneys.

“I am very honored to have been selected,” Ross said. “It is even more special because I am following in the footsteps of my two mentors, Paul Ramsey (a 1977 Guggenheim Fellow) and Jay Katz (a 1980 Guggenheim Fellow). It helps to stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Joe Thornton, professor of human genetics and ecology and evolution, is known for resurrecting ancestral genes and tracing the mechanisms by which proteins evolve new functions. He said he also plans to write a book during his fellowship.

"I will use it to write a book on the functional synthesis of molecular biology and evolution—the recent, and exciting, union of these disciplines to uncover the mechanisms by which genes and proteins evolved new functions and to understand the historical causes of the structure and function of modern-day molecules,” he said.

Thornton’s work includes a 2012 study in which he used a form of “molecular time travel” to observe a crucial event in the evolutionary history of life on Earth, and again last year when he used a similar technique to find two genetic mutations that set the stage for how our reproductive systems work today.

Haun Saussy, University Professor of Comparative Literature, will use his fellowship to complete a new book, Zhuangzi Inside Out: Translation as Citation. It explores the Zhuangzi, an ancient philosophical text full of animal fables, paradoxes and riddles.

Over time, the Zhuangzi’s distinctive language and parables made their way into many other texts. In particular, Saussy notes that Chinese translations of texts from outside groups or forces—among them, early Buddhist texts, Christian texts brought by Italian Jesuit priests and poems by Baudelaire—made heavy use of phrases, stories and ideas lifted from the Zhuangzi.

“I’m not writing about [the Zhuangzi], but about the way people used that book when they observed something coming from the outside,” Saussy explained.

Saussy is the 17th person to hold the title of University Professor. He is renowned for the breadth of his expertise in the literatures of many languages and cultures. Saussy’s first book, The Problem of a Chinese Aesthetic, a study of commentary on the Chinese Book of Songs, received the 1996 René Wellek Prize from the American Comparative Literature Association. He is also the author of a collection of essays, Great Walls of Discourse and Other Adventures in Cultural China and editor of Sinographies: Writing China and Chinese Women Poets: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism from Ancient Times to 1911.

The Foundation has posted a complete list of the 2014 fellows on their website.