University to bestow five honorary degrees at Convocation

The University of Chicago will present honorary degrees to five distinguished scholars during the 531st Convocation on June 9.

The honorary degree recipients are Fabiola Gianotti, the director-general of CERN; Charles M. Lieber, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and the Joshua and Beth Friedman University Professor at Harvard University; Michael C.A. Macdonald, research associate in the faculty of Oriental Studies and the Khalili Research Centre at the University of Oxford; Robert E. Ricklefs, the Curator’s Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis; and William S-Y. Wang, chair professor of Language and Cognitive Sciences at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Fabiola Gianotti, an experimental particle physicist who led the search and characterization of the Higgs boson, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

Gianotti led the 3,000-member ATLAS collaboration since its inception at CERN Laboratory to search for the Higgs boson, one of the most sought-after objects in scientific history. Her early career was devoted to the search for supersymmetric particles, which could provide stability to nature’s two very different fundamental energy scales—gravity and weak interaction.

Gianotti is a member of the Italian Academy of Sciences, a foreign associate of the United States National Academy of Sciences and the French Academy of Sciences, and an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy. She is the author or co-author of more than 500 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Her scientific and societal contributions have been recognized by prestigious honors, including the Special Fundamental Physics Prize of the Milner Foundation, the Enrico Fermi Prize of the Italian Physical Society, the Medal of Honor of the Niels Bohr Institute of Copenhagen, and the honor of “Cavaliere di Gran Croce dell’ordine al merito della Repubblica” by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

Charles M. Lieber, a groundbreaking scholar of nanoscience and nanomaterials, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

Lieber has defined directions and demonstrated applications of nanomaterials in areas like electronics, computing and photonics, and has pioneered the interface of nanoelectronics with biology and medicine, including his current focus on brain science. He has originated new paradigms that have defined the rational growth, characterization and original applications of functional nanometer diameter wires and heterostructures, and provided seminal concepts central to the bottom-up paradigm of nanoscience.

Lieber’s work has been recognized by a number of awards, including two National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Awards, the MRS Von Hippel Award, the Willard Gibbs Medal and the Wolf Prize in Chemistry. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. He is also a fellow of the Materials Research Society and American Chemical Society, and honorary fellow of the Chinese Chemical Society. In addition, Lieber is co-editor of the journal Nano Letters, and serves on the editorial and advisory boards of a number of other journals. He has published over 395 papers in peer-reviewed journals, and is the principal inventor on more than 40 patents.

Michael C.A. Macdonald, a leading expert in early language and civilization in the Arabian Peninsula, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Macdonald has improved knowledge of the languages, religions, cultures and history of ancient Arabia and neighboring areas, including the Hellenistic and Roman Near East, through his scholarship on the vast number of inscriptions on the Arabian peninsula that predate the language of the Quran. Macdonald created the Online Corpus of the Inscriptions of Ancient North Arabia, a database that collects more than 70,000 inscriptions, many of which were unearthed, edited and translated by Macdonald himself. He was instrumental in establishing the field of Ancient North Arabian studies as an academic field in its own right, and has been its foremost scholar for the past three decades. He has fundamentally enabled the work of scholars of Ancient North Arabia, and has contributed research and writing that has shaped and guided this field.

In addition to his many articles, Macdonald also wrote the book Literacy and Identity in Pre-Islamic Arabia (2009). Macdonald was elected to the Fellowship of the British Academy in 2016.

Robert E. Ricklefs, a leading figure in evolutionary ecology, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

Ricklefs has contributed fundamental research linking disease dynamics to macro-ecology, linking life-history evolution with macro-evolutionary patterns, and searching for commonalities in patterns of ecological communities across types of organisms and geographic areas. His research focused on history’s role in determining population densities and distributions on islands, at a time when other leading ecological researchers were emphasizing the importance of species interactions at local scales for shaping species distributions. Because of this, his work represents the modern foundation for the recent synthesis of local conditions and historical processes in shaping the composition of communities of organisms.

Ricklefs is the recipient of the 2015 Ramon Margalef Prize from the government of Catalonia, the 2011 Alfred Russel Wallace award from the International Biogeography Society and the 1999 President’s Award from the American Society of Naturalists, among other honors. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

William S-Y. Wang, a pioneer in the study of language evolution and the emergence of new languages, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Wang is an internationally renowned linguist whose scholarship and academic impact have spanned two continents across the Pacific Ocean. He has performed multidisciplinary research on the biological and evolutionary basis of language, as well as computational linguistics with a focus on the production and processing of language, the brain and computer interface, machine translation, and speech synthesis and recognition. He was one of the first to apply a combination of linguistics and acoustics to the problem of machine recognition of speech.

Wang is the founder and lead editor of the Journal of Chinese Linguistics, which is the top publication in this field. He has had full professorial careers at the University of California, Berkeley; at the City University of Hong Kong; and at National Taiwan Normal University. His wide-ranging scholarship has been written in or translated into Chinese, English, French, German, Italian and Japanese.