University to bestow five honorary degrees at 515th Convocation

The University of Chicago will present honorary degrees to five distinguished scholars during the 515th Convocation on Saturday, June 15 on the Main Quadrangle.

The honorary degree recipients are mathematician Luis Caffarelli, paleontologist Jennifer Clack, ethnomusicologist Nicholas Cook, scholar of Roman religion John Scheid, and petrologist and geochemist E. Bruce Watson.

Luis A. Caffarelli, a universally acclaimed forefront authority on nonlinear elliptic PDEs (partial differential equations), will receive a Doctor of Science honorary degree. Caffarelli is Professor of Mathematics and the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.


Scholars have studied PDEs since the days of Isaac Newton, but the subject became especially important during the 19th century. Caffarelli, who served as a professor in mathematics at UChicago from 1983 to 1986, has introduced PDE tools that have ramifications extending to geometry, probability, physics, biology and engineering.

Caffarelli’s contributions to mathematics have been profound and revolutionary. Among his numerous and deep contributions are the theories of free boundary problems, regularity of nonlinear equations, mass transport, homogenization, combustion and fluids.

His papers always present complicated theories flowing from elementary arguments filled with beautiful geometric intuition and a mastery of analytic methods.

Caffarelli is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He also is the recipient of the Bôcher Prize of the American Mathematical Society, the Rolf Schock Prize in Mathematics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Leroy P. Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Mathematics and the Wolf Foundation’s Wolf Prize.

Panagiotis Souganidis, the Charles H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics, will present Caffarelli at Convocation.

Jennifer Clack, an internationally preeminent paleontologist whose research has profoundly changed the understanding of the origin of terrestrial vertebrate life, will receive a Doctor of Science honorary degree. Clack is Professor and Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at University Museum of Zoology, in Cambridge, U.K.


How animals made the transition from aquatic to land-based environments is a key episode in the deep evolutionary past of humans and a pivotal event in the history of life on Earth. Clack reinvigorated studies on the origin of terrestrial vertebrates, a long-ignored field.

Clack has parlayed a childhood interest in geology, paleontology, ornithology and botany into a pioneering scientific career in the study of fish and the fossils of early tetrapods (four-legged creatures), recreating the evolutionary steps that led to this important transition in the blueprints of organisms.

In recent work, she has applied sophisticated micro-computed tomography and synchrotron computed tomography techniques to uncover previously unsuspected anatomical diversity among these creatures.

In pursuing her scholarship, she also directly influenced the careers and research of many UChicago faculty members.

Clack is a fellow of the Royal Society, a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a recipient of the Daniel Giraud Elliott medal of the National Academy of Sciences.

Michael Coates, professor in organismal biology & anatomy and chair of the committee on evolutionary biology, will present Clack at Convocation.

Nicholas Cook, who will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, studies a wide range of topics in music theory, analysis, history, composition and ethnomusicology. He is the 1684 Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge.


In addition to his transformative scholarly work, Cook also has worked to make musicology accessible to a broader public through his involvement with the British Academy and general interest publications like Music: A Very Short Introduction, which is published or forthcoming in 12 other languages.

His other books include Music, Imagination, and Culture; Beethoven: Symphony No. 9; and Analysing Musical Multimedia. He co-edited the Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Music and The Cambridge Companion to Recorded Music.

His most recent book, The Schenker Project: Culture, Race, and Music Theory in Fin-de-siècle Vienna, received the Wallace Berry Award of the Society for Music Theory in 2010.

A former editor of the Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Cook was chair of the Music Panel in the Higher Education Funding Councils’ 2001 Research Assessment Exercise. He is a fellow of the British Academy and of the Academy of Europe.

Thomas Christensen, the Avalon Foundation Professor in Humanities, Music and the College, will present Cook at Convocation.

John Scheid, whose work has transformed scholarly approaches to ancient religion, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.


Scheid, a native of Luxembourg, holds the chair in Religion, Institutions and Society of Ancient Rome and is currently vice-president of the Collège de France. He is known for innovative use of archeological and epigraphic data in his research on Roman religion and political culture.

His books in English include An Introduction to Roman Religion and, with Jesper Svenbro, The Craft of Zeus: Myths of Weaving and Fabric. The Craft of Zeus earned acclaim for its exploration of the significance of weaving and fabric in classical culture.

He also has published on topics that include the logic of ritual sacrifice in ancient Rome and the Arval Brethern, a priesthood responsible for offering public sacrifice to ensure the fertility of the fields.

Scheid is a corresponding fellow of the British Academy and a corresponding member of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres. From 1983 to 2001 he was Director of Studies in Ancient Studies at the École pratiques des hautes études. He joined the faculty of the Collège de France in 2001.

He received his doctorate from the University of Strasbourg in 1972.

Clifford Ando, the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor in Classics and the College, will present Scheid at convocation.

E. Bruce Watson, the leading experimentalist working on problems related to early Earth history and the continental crust, will receive a Doctor of Science honorary degree.


Watson, the Institute Professor of Experimental Geochemistry at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is widely regarded as his generation’s most creative and effective experimental petrologist whose studies of the origin, composition, evolution of rocks and minerals have become foundational works in both petrology and geochemistry.

Watson has provided data of unprecedented precision on chemical diffusion in many of the most important earth materials, including minerals, metal alloys, glass and melts. He also has used experiments to calibrate the conditions under which minerals formed and survive in the geologic record. He used these results to reach surprising conclusions such as that the conditions on the very early Earth, a period called the Hadean, implying hellish conditions, were in fact not much different from those of today.

Watson is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His many other honors include the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London, the W.H. Bucher Medal of the American Geophysical Union, the V.M. Goldschmidt Medal of the Geochemical Society, and the Arthur C. Day Medal of the Geological Society of America.

Frank Richter, the Sewell Avery Distinguished Service Professor in Geophysical Sciences, will present Watson 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 515th Convocation on Saturday, June 15, please refer to the following website: