University to bestow three honorary degrees at Convocation

The University of Chicago will present honorary degrees to three distinguished scholars during Convocation on June 10.

The honorary degree recipients are Robert MacPherson, the Herman Weyl Professor of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study; Shaul Mukamel, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Irvine; and Craig B. Thompson, president and CEO of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and professor at the Weill Cornell Medicine Graduate School of Medical Sciences.

Robert MacPherson, a mathematician whose prolific work has impacted many different areas in his field, will receive the honorary degree of doctor of science.


His early work was devoted to singularities. In his first work in topology, MacPherson defined Chern classes for singular varieties. After that he contributed to the Riemann-Roch formula for singular varieties, the definition of intersection homology, and the idea of a perversity. This work had large implications for mathematics, including algebraic geometry and representation theory.


MacPherson also developed the idea of deformation to the normal cone, and worked on its application to intersection theory. He made numerous other contributions throughout the field of mathematics, including the development of stratified Morse theory, and his work has had a great impact in pure topology. Also, as one of the leading pure mathematicians, he is working to break down barriers between pure and applied mathematics.


The University’s honorary degree is based on his later, less recognized work pertaining to locally symmetric spaces and the trace formula leading to the Fundamental lemma, stratified Morse theory and its many applications, combinatorics, and, most recently, applied topology.


MacPherson was recognized with the National Academy of Sciences Award for Mathematics and the AMS Steele Prize. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.


Shaul Mukamel, a theoretician whose groundbreaking work has changed and advanced the field of spectroscopy, will receive the honorary degree of doctor of science.


Mukamel has played a seminal role in research on molecule-light interactions and their consequences, with contributions to understanding complex electron and nuclear dynamics in molecules. His research has a great impact on the field of ultrafast nonlinear spectroscopy, with applications in physics, chemistry and biology.


His work has additionally created new subfields of ultrafast nonlinear spectroscopy, and provided ways to interpret essentially all experimental research in this field. Over a 40-year career, he has led the introduction of new concepts that illuminate the complexities associated with molecular electronic processes.


His research provided, for the first time, a framework and predictive theory that allowed for the unified description of many nonlinear experiments. His theory was also the first step in developing multidimensional optical and infrared spectroscopy, which revolutionized the way in which molecular spectroscopy has been performed in the 21st century.


Mukamel has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is fellow of the American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America. He has received the Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics, the Zewail Award of the American Society, the Meggers Award of the Optical Society of America and the University of Chicago’s Mullikan Prize Medal.


Craig B. Thompson, a leader in the field of cancer metabolism, will receive the honorary degree of doctor of science.


Thompson’s discoveries relating to the mechanism of cell metabolism have led to advances in the understanding of tumor growth and metabolic pathways. He served as director of the Gwen Knapp Center for Lupus and Immunology Research at the University of Chicago from 1993-99. Since then, he has focused on human cell epigenetics and, most recently, the identification of mutations that can be targeted in drug development.


In 2003, Thompson began studying the role of protein kinase B in cell growth and transformation. His research resulted in a detailed understanding of the mechanisms and consequences of metabolic reprogramming in cancer cells.


This groundbreaking work revealed that the major function of most cancer genes is to control cellular metabolism, and has led to new therapeutic approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. His most recent work has investigated oncogenic mutations in metabolic enzymes.


Thompson has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences and is a recipient of the American College of Physicians Award for Medical Science. He has published, or has in press, more than 250 original articles, with over 60,000 citations for his work since 1999.