University of Chicago to award six honorary degrees at 2021 Convocation

The University of Chicago will present honorary degrees to six distinguished scholars at its Convocation ceremony in 2021. 

The University will bestow degrees upon Paul Brumer, professor of chemical physics at the University of Toronto; Dominique Charpin, a scholar of Mesopotamian civilization at the Collège de France; Jeff Cheeger, a mathematician at New York University; Jennifer A. Doudna, a molecular and cell biologist and chemist at the University of California, Berkeley; Charles L. Kane, a physicist at the University of Pennsylvania; and Françoise Lavocat, a literary scholar at Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle.

Paul Brumer, a leading expert in theoretical chemical physics, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

In over 300 publications and two monographs, he has used formal and computational tools to address a number of fundamental problems in chemical physics, including the role of nonlinear mechanics in chemical dynamics, and how to utilize lasers to control molecular processes. He helped develop “Coherent Control,” control scenarios based on quantum mechanical interference effects that are designed to alter dynamical pathways in molecules. In addition, Brumer has contributed to studies on quantum coherence, incoherence and decoherence in numerous processes, including seminal work on biomolecular processes induced by natural light.

Brumer is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Chemical Institute of Canada and the Royal Society of Canada. His awards include the Palladium Medal of the Chemical Institute of Canada, the Noranda Award of the Canadian Society for Chemistry, and the Killam Memorial Prize for Natural Sciences.

Dominique Charpin is a specialist on ancient Mesopotamia, focusing on cuneiform documents in their archival and historical contexts, with a holistic approach bringing together political, economic, social, cultural and religious history. He will be receiving the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

He is the creator and editor-in-chief of the open-access database ArchiBab; an epigrapher for the archaeological excavations of Mari, Larsa and Ur; and the principal investigator for the project “EcritUr: the city of Ur according to the texts of the Old Babylonian period.” He is a correspondent of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, a Chevalier des Palmes académiques and a recent honorary member of the American Oriental Society. He also serves as the co-editor of two journals, Revue d’Assyriologie et d’Archéologie Orientale (Review of Assyriology and Oriental Archaeology) and Nouvelles Assyriologiques Brèves et Utilitaires (Brief and Utilitarian Assyriological News), and of four series.

Charpin’s publications on the Old Babylonian period include Le Clergé d’Ur au siècle d’Hammurabi (The Clergy of Ur in the Century of Hammurabi), and he has had other works translated into English, including Writing, Law and Kingship in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia and Hammurabi of Babylon.

Jeff Cheeger, a renowned mathematician specializing in differential geometry, topology and analysis, will be receiving the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

Cheeger pioneered the development of structure and convergence theories for manifolds whose curvature is bounded in various senses. His proof of the Ray-Singer conjecture led to his subsequent independent discovery of Poincaré duality for singular spaces. In addition, his lower bound for the spectrum of the Laplacian has impacted a vast array of pure and applied fields, and he gave a seminal differentiability theory for Lipschitz functions on metric measure spaces.

Cheeger is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. He has received the American Mathematical Society’s Oswald Veblen Prize in Geometry and its Leroy P. Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement.

Jennifer A. Doudna, an internationally renowned biochemist who helped pioneer gene-editing technology, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

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.

Charles L. Kane, theoretical physicist known for his work characterizing quantum electronic states of matter, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

Kane has worked to characterize quantum Hall states, Luttinger liquids, carbon nanotubes and topological insulators, and recently his research has focused on the theory of topological phases of matter. He received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Chicago in 1985, where he worked in the laboratory of former UChicago provost Thomas Rosenbaum, who introduced him to condensed matter physics—the field of study that later became his career.

Kane is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His work on topological insulators has been recognized by several awards, including the Oliver Buckley Prize, the P.A.M. Dirac Medal, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, the Breakthrough Prize and the BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award.

Françoise Lavocat, is a renowned voice in comparative literature and fiction with a focus on fictionality, population of characters and the memory of catastrophes. She will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Lavocat’s publications include Fait et fiction: pour une frontière (Fact and Fiction: In Defense of a Border) and Sciences cognitives et interprétation littéraire (Cognitive Sciences and Literary Interpretation).

Lavocat is a senior member of the Institut Universitaire de France, a member of the European Academy, and the founder and president of the International Society for Research in Fiction and Fictionality. She is an honorary president of the French Society of General and Comparative Literature, and has received the Adrien Duvant Prize from the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques for her work Arcadies malheureuses, aux origines du roman moderne (Unhappy Arcadias: At the Origin of the Novel).