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Northwestern's research year in review 2016

Nobel Prize, biggest discovery in modern physics, future of data science

Colliding black holes
Scientists detect gravitational waves and observe colliding black holes.

Northwestern University researchers have had a profound impact on the world in 2016.

In October, people throughout the globe woke to an announcement that Sir Fraser Stoddart, Board of Trustees Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the design and synthesis of molecular machines.

Earlier in the year, Northwestern scientists, along with leading multinational researchers, were involved in one of the most significant discoveries in modern science, detecting the holy grail of physics: gravitational waves. The team of 1,000 scientists proved, finally and definitively, Einstein’s theory of relativity 100 years after he developed it.  

Internationally known fertility researcher Teresa Woodruff was largely responsible for a sex inclusion policy that will affect future medical treatment and diagnoses to the advantage of both women’s and men’s health. Implemented by the National Institutes of Health in the summer, the long-overdue policy mandates research funding is contingent on using female cells and animals as well as male cells and animals in the research.

Woodruff and her husband, Tom O’Halloran, professor of chemistry and molecular bioscience, also made Northwestern news this year as two of the power researchers featured in a lighthearted, informative new podcast series about couples who both work on campus.

  • Sponsored research reached nearly $650 million, up 27 percent since 2011
  • Major expansion in computer science research, education, faculty hires
  • Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center rising, opening in late 2018

In the spring, Northwestern news also focused extensively on the future of science in a special feature on how data science is transforming the University. Data science, or "big data," at Northwestern is leading to breakthroughs in precision medicine; contributing to a revolution in astronomy with profound insights about the universe; transforming the scope and depth of social science research with significant policy implications and fueling research about consumer behavior that affects how companies do business.

The University’s We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern made great strides in 2016, with significant support for discovery and creativity across the University. By nearly the end of the year, a total of 124,093 Northwestern alumni, parents and friends had contributed $3.13 billion to the University as part of the “We Will” Campaign. 

So far, the Campaign has established 282 new endowed scholarships and fellowships, enabling top students access to a Northwestern education, and University supporters have made gifts towards 56 new endowed professorships across disciplines.

In the 2015-16 academic year alone, Campaign gifts supported 1,300 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students. This spring, buoyed by Campaign support, the University announced major enhancements to financial aid for its students, eliminating loans for qualifying first-year students and expanding funding for study abroad, undergraduate research and other learning opportunities. Graduate student stipends also were increased. 

Campaign gifts made possible the construction and renovation of several facilities in 2016, including athletics and recreation facilities Rocky and Berenice Miller Park, Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium, and Chap and Ethel Hutcheson Field.

The Northwestern Alumni Association's  2016 year-in-review video.

2016 Research Highlights


Sir Fraser Stoddart wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

On Oct. 5, Stoddart was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Jean-Pierre Sauvage,
 University of Strasbourg, France, and Bernard L. Feringa
, University of Groningen, the Netherlands. The academy credited them with developing “molecules with controllable movements, which can perform a task when energy is added." 

Gravitational waves detected 100 years after Einstein’s general theory of relativity

On Feb. 11, Northwestern astrophysicists Vicky Kalogera and Shane Larsen were central to an historic announcement: gravitational waves -- ripples in the fabric of spacetime first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 -- had been detected for the first time by an international scientific team. The extremely difficult-to-detect gravitational waves arrived at Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe: two black holes merged to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. Such a collision had been predicted but never observed. 

Northwestern continues to lead the way in nanotechnology research and findings

Among other notable achievements, Northwestern nanoscientists in a 2016 study, led by nanotechnology world leader Chad Mirkin, developed the “ultimate discovery tool.” Read more about the tool in this news release. Watch an explanatory nanotechnology video

Data science’s multidisciplinary impact at Northwestern

Northwestern’s focus on data science was at an all-time high in 2016, with a special feature delineating the University’s computational ability to generate, aggregate and analyze ever-growing amounts in once-unimaginable ways. The tsunami of data pouring into Northwestern today, powered by extraordinary recent advances in computer speed and capacity, is transforming scholarship and changing the way this institution conducts research, teaches students, solves problems, promotes learning and extends the frontiers of human knowledge. Read about the full impact of data science on the UniversityWatch the explanatory video.

“Females" invade science labs and change the future of medicine

Largely because of internationally known fertility researcher Teresa Woodruff, the NIH in 2016 began for the first time requiring scientists to include female cells or female animals in their studies.

Sweat-monitoring patch developed under bioelectronics pioneer John Rogers

A Northwestern research team led by renowned bioelectronics materials scientist John Rogers developed a first-of-its-kind soft, flexible microfluidic device that easily adheres to the skin and measures sweat to show how his or her body is responding to exercise.

Kellogg launches its Trust Project

Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management in 2016 launched its Trust Project, which connected scholars and executives from diverse backgrounds to share ideas and research to create a unique body of knowledge about trust. Read more about Kellogg’s Trust Project. Watch the Trust Project’s videos.

New research from Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center

In 2016, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center, which strives for a future without ALS by accelerating leading-edge research while providing life-enhancing treatment to people living with ALS, published new research on cortical dysfunction

Numerous research grants awarded to sexual, gender minority institute

Led by Northwestern’s Brian Mustanski, the Institute of Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing expanded its scope of research and received noteworthy research grants in 2016, such as the HIV Cure grant and several early career faculty ROI grants. Read more about the institute. 

Increased emphasis placed on medical research funding

The year started with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) announcing a $2 billion increase in federal biomedical research funding (watch the video). NIH Director Francis Collins later visited Feinberg to give a talk about the importance of medical research funding.

Northwestern participates in White House precision medicine initiative

In July, the NIH awarded $4.3 million to an Illinois consortium, in which Northwestern is involved, to enroll participants in an expansive research effort -- the Cohort Program of President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative. 

Northwestern opens Center for Synthetic Biology

Opened in 2016, the center's research spans four unique themes: cell-free systems, mammalian systems, enabling technologies and ethics and societal impact. Read more about the center on its website.

Local cancer collaborative progress announced at symposium

In the fall, the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative, led in part by researchers from the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, announced six separate research projects into cancer health in Chicago's underserved communities

Multidisciplinary work through computer science

Computer scientists at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences used computer science to accelerate research and innovation exponentially in fields such as journalism, education, robotics and art at the University. Watch the explanatory video.

Understanding the ‘boy problem’ in academic achievement

Northwestern professors David Figlio and Jonathan Guryan are taking a multidimensional approach to help narrow the education achievement gap between boys and girls. Their research on the “boy problem” is working to improve family dynamics and innovative classroom strategies.

A new location for Northwestern University in Qatar campus

At Northwestern University in Qatar, faculty and students engage in pioneering research about the news and media industries in Middle Eastern and North African countries, media use among women and young audiences, media effects on national identity, journalistic practices, digital literacy and more. The campus in Doha, Qatar, will soon be moving into a new, state-of-the-art, LEED Gold-certified location in Doha’s Education City. The spring semester begins Jan. 8 in the new location, which was designed by distinguished American architect Antoine Predock. Predock traveled around the world, deriving inspiration from desert structures to give NU-Q’s new building a look and feel appropriate to Qatar’s culture, climate and location.

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