University of Chicago announces recipients of honorary degrees

Four distinguished scholars have been named recipients of honorary degrees this year from the University of Chicago.

Those who will be honored June 15 at the University’s annual Convocation include David Charbonneau, professor of astronomy at Harvard University; Pierre-Louis Lions, professor at the Collège de France in Paris; and Amy Richlin, distinguished professor of classics at UCLA. Jennifer A. Doudna, professor of chemistry and molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, has been named a recipient but due to scheduling considerations, she will receive her honorary degree in June 2021.

David Charbonneau, a renowned astronomer who studies the planets that orbit other stars, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

Charbonneau’s research focuses on the detection and characterization of these exoplanets, with the goal of studying inhabited worlds. He was the first to observe a planet eclipse its parent star; this method, known as transits, is now the means by which most planets outside the solar system have been identified. He also developed the first methods which astronomers use to study the atmospheres of these distant worlds.

Using data from the NASA Kepler Mission, Charbonneau and his student Courtney Dressing determined the galactic frequency of planets that were similar to Earth in both size and temperature. He leads the MEarth Project to search for nearby Earth-like worlds, and he is a co-investigator on the NASA TESS mission, which launched in April 2018.

Charbonneau has received the David and Lucile Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, the Alan T. Waterman Award from the National Science Foundation, the Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement from NASA, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Pierre-Louis Lions, one of the world’s most prominent experts on the theory of nonlinear partial differential equations, will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

Lions is chair in Partial Differential Equations and Applications at the Collège de France. He has made profound and lasting contributions to the mathematical analysis of the Boltzman equation, the compressible Navier-Stokes equations, the Hamilton-Jacobi equations, the Hartree-Fock equation, image processing, viscosity solutions, concentration compactness, mean field games and stochastic partial differential equations.

Lions is commandeur in the National Order of the Legion of Honor in France. He is a member of the French Academy of Sciences, the Accademia dei Lincei, the Academies of Sciences of Argentina, Chile and Brazil; the Academia Europaea, the Istituto Lombardo Accademia di Scienze e Lettere, the Accademia di Napoli, the French Academy of Technologies, the World Academy of Sciences and the Royal Academy of Belgium.

Lions has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Fields Medal in 1994, the Grand Prize Ampère from the French Academy of Sciences, the Grand Prize from the INRIA, the IBM Prize and the Philip Morris Prize.

Amy Richlin, a path-breaking historian of the Roman empire, will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Richlin is a feminist pioneer who fought for women and gender equity in the conservative field of classics. Her work makes audible the voices of outgroups and muted groups in Rome, from the mid-Republic to the end of the empire. She deals with materials once ignored: obscene poetry and graffiti; hate speech directed against men considered deviant; the jokes told by Julia, daughter of Augustus, and the songs of poor women paid to lament the dead; why Pliny wore a brassiere on his head; the sexual abuse of slave children; the love letters between the young Marcus Aurelius and his teacher, the African orator Cornelius Fronto.

In 2019 she won the C.J. Goodwin Award from the Society for Classical Studies for Slave Theater in the Roman Republic: Plautus and Popular Comedy, a book that finds the voices of slave actors and freed-slave playwrights speaking truth to power.

Her work as a mentor of students has been recognized by the Leadership Award of the Women’s Classical Caucus.

Jennifer A. Doudna, an internationally renowned biochemist who helped pioneer gene-editing technology, will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in 2021.

In 2012, Doudna and her colleagues made a breakthrough discovery in describing a simple way of editing the DNA of any organism using an RNA-guided protein found in bacteria. This technology, called CRISPR-Cas9, has opened the possibility for human and non-human applications of gene editing, including assisting researchers in the fight against HIV, sickle cell disease and muscular dystrophy.

Doudna is an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Inventors, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is also a foreign member of the Royal Society, and has received many other honors including the Kavli Prize, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Heineken Prize, the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award and the Japan Prize.

She is the co-author of A Crack in Creation, a personal account of her research and the societal and ethical implications of gene editing.