Tag Archives: University of Chicago

Jew of the Week: Lynn Margulis

The Rebel Evolutionist

Lynn Petra Alexander (1938-2011) was born in Chicago to a prominent Jewish (and passionately-Zionist) family. She got accepted to the University of Chicago when she was just 15 years old, and graduated with a BA four years later. That same year, she married (former Jew of the Week) Carl Sagan, then on his way to becoming a world-renowned scientist himself. She then went to the University of Wisconsin and earned her Master’s in genetics and zoology, followed by a PhD from UC Berkeley. Around that time, she divorced Carl Sagan and later married another scientist, Thomas Margulis. Although she divorced him as well, she kept the last name and is best known today as Lynn Margulis. In 1966, she became a biology professor at the University of Boston and remained there until 1988, when she became Distinguished Professor of Biology and Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts. Her 1967 paper “On the Origin of Mitosing Cells” was initially rejected by fifteen journals and stirred a great deal of controversy before being confirmed experimentally in 1978. Much of her research (and the opposition to it) was based on demonstrating major flaws within Darwin’s evolutionary theory. She would say that “Natural selection eliminates and maybe maintains, but it doesn’t create.” Margulis offered one hypothesis of her own, endosymbiosis, now a widely-accepted theory in biology and a key mechanism of evolution. Margulis also co-authored the first paper on the now-famous Gaia hypothesis regarding the intricate interactions between living things and the planet. Margulis worked tirelessly to the last days of her life. She co-authored another big (and controversial) paper in 2009—at the age of 71! Margulis has been called a “scientific rebel” and won countless awards, including a National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton and a NASA Public Service Award for Astrobiology. She also has 15 honourary doctorates and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. In 2002, she was ranked among the 50 most important women in science.

Words of the Week

We never judge a statement by its author, but only on its own merit.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1746), Derekh Tevunot 

Jews of the Week: Lederman and Ashkin

Two 96-Year Old Nobel Prize Winners

Leon Lederman in 1988

Leon Max Lederman (1922-2018) was born in New York to Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants. After serving in World War II, he returned to work on a PhD in physics at Columbia University. He would become a distinguished physics professor there before taking a leave to join the world-renowned CERN in Switzerland. There, he discovered the muon neutrino in 1962. For this, as well as developing the “neutrino beam method”, he would later win the Nobel Prize in Physics. Lederman also discovered the bottom quark. In 1979, Lederman became the director of the prestigious Fermilab, running the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. After retiring in 1989, he was an occasional teacher at the University of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was also president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1993 he published his bestselling book, The God Particle (coining that now-famous term). Lederman won countless awards and inspired a generation of physicists. Sadly, he was diagnosed with dementia, and the illness took a toll on both his health and his finances. He was forced to sell his Nobel Prize gold medal in order to pay for his medical bills. He passed away last week, at age 96.

Arthur Ashkin

Another 96-year old Jewish scientist who made headlines last week is Arthur Ashkin (b. 1922). He won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of optical tweezers. Like Lederman, Ashkin was born in New York to Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants, and also attended Columbia University. During World War II, he was asked to stay in his lab to build magnetrons for US Army radars. After earning his PhD in nuclear physics at Cornell, Ashkin was hired by Bell Labs. He first worked on microwave technology, then moved on to lasers. After some two decades of work, Ashkin created a working optical tweezer, described as “an old dream of science fiction”. This allows tiny things like atoms, viruses, and cells to be grabbed, moved and manipulated. Today, it is an indispensable tool for countless research facilities around the world. Ashkin also co-discovered the photorefractive effect, and holds a whopping 47 patents. In addition to his many awards, he has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. His Nobel at age 96 makes him the oldest person ever to win the prize.

Words of the Week

An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that, in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle.
– Francis Crick, Nobel Prize-winning biologist

Jew of the Week: Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Bernard Sanders (b. 1941) was born in Brooklyn. He studied political science at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, and was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement on campus, for which he was once arrested. After graduating, he spent some time in a kibbutz in Israel. In 1971, Sanders joined the socialist, anti-war Liberty Union Party. He ran for governor and senator many times, but never won. In 1981, he was elected mayor of Burlington, the largest city in Vermont. Sanders brought Burlington back to life, balancing the city’s budget, rebuilding its downtown area, and making Burlington the first city in US history to finance community housing. Sanders was an extremely popular mayor, and was re-elected for four terms. He then briefly taught political science at Harvard before finally winning a Congressional seat in 1990. This made him the first independent to be elected to the House of Representatives in 40 years. He served as a Representative until 2007, and as a Senator since then. That makes him the longest-serving independent Congressman in American history, as well as the only Congressman to openly identify as a socialist. Sanders opposed both wars in Iraq, the bailout of banks in 2008, the NSA, and the unpopular Patriot Act, along with many other bills aimed at expanding government powers. As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, he has focused on “rebuilding the middle class” and is working towards raising minimum wages and social security. He has also been voted the top senator with regards to environmental action, and won an award for his support of war veterans. Not surprisingly, Sanders has won essentially all of his elections by huge landslides, and holds a very high approval rating, making him among the most popular senators in the US. In 2010, following his incredible 8.5 hour speech to Congress that focused on helping the disadvantaged, many began urging Sanders to run for president. On April 30, 2015, he finally announced his candidacy. True to his beliefs, he rejected large “Super PAC” donations, and said he will finance his campaign through small individual contributions. Within 24 hours of this announcement, he raised $1.5 million through small donations averaging $43. By July 2nd, his campaign already raised $15 million through 400,000 donors (nearly triple the number that Obama had, and in less time). The day before, his speech in Wisconsin was attended by over 10,000 people, making it the largest turnout thus far for any presidential candidate. Among other issues, Sanders’ platform is focused on wealth inequality, “getting big money out of politics”, free university education, Wall Street reform, media reform, and investing in more renewable energy sources. He is now considered a top candidate for winning the presidency, which would make him the first Jewish president in American history.

Words of the Week

A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.
– Bernie Sanders