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Here’s what happened at Northwestern in 2021

Reflecting on an amazing year, we celebrate our return, the ways we’ve enhanced our community and so much impactful research

As we prepare to close out 2021, Northwestern Now looks back at a year made full by the joyous return of campus life and its beloved traditions, memorable moments on our stages and playing fields, as well as the many impactful achievements and discoveries made by our faculty, students and staff.

We celebrated our return 

Two times the welcome
In addition to the traditional Wildcat Welcome orientation for the Class of 2025, Northwestern hosted its first-ever Wildcat Welcome Back giving second-year students the chance to build connections and community after the challenging remote 2020 and 2021.

‘Try that risky thing’
Highlighting a jubilant Commencement and a celebration of the resilient Class of 2021, alumna Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX urged Northwestern graduates to set goals, grow and “be part of something exciting.”

Curtains up for performers
This fall, Northwestern students began performing again before live audiences through the American Music Theater Project, Imagine U, holiday concerts and more.

field hockey
The NCAA field hockey champs.

Field hockey wins it all
The Wildcats capped a thrilling run through the tournament by beating Liberty University to win the NCAA field hockey championship. The program became Northwestern’s third to bring a national title back to campus.

Make your ‘bucket list’
In September, during his convocation address, President Morton Schapiro encouraged new students to take risks, try new things and embrace diverse perspectives during their years at Northwestern. Last spring, President Schapiro announced his 2022 departure.

Introducing Rebecca Blank
Rebecca Blank, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was named Northwestern’s next president. An internationally renowned economist, she will become Northwestern’s 17th president in the summer of 2022.

We improved campus and community

The Black House reopens
After a two-year renovation, Northwestern’s historic Black House reopened as a new space that is both welcoming and true to its original sense of character and community.

‘We Will’ Campaign tops $6 billion
Northwestern announced its ambitious fundraising campaign, We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, raised over $6 billion from more than 174,000 members of the University community.

Block’s 40th anniversary
The Block Museum of Art celebrated 40 years and a full reopening this fall by asking how artists, artworks and museums shape and challenge our understanding of the past with its newest exhibition “Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts: Thinking about History with The Block’s Collection.”

Advancing racial equity
Through the Racial Equity and Community Partnership Grants program, Northwestern provided $500,000 in funding to support ideas which seek to solve the systemic problems of racial inequity in our local neighborhoods of Evanston and Chicago.

canoe builder
Building a birchbark canoe.

Canoe builder teaches his craft
One of only a handful of Native birchbark canoe builders remaining in the U.S., artist-in-residence Wayne Valliere shared the traditional Native American art, unchanged in three millennia, with a group of Northwestern students.

Reducing our carbon footprint
A new partnership with Ameresco, Inc., will contribute to the University’s carbon reduction goals, support paid internships and create a student sustainability fellowship program.

Strengthening bonds between universities and the U7
Northwestern was elected the first Secretariat of the U7+ Alliance of World Universities, leading a global coalition of higher education institutions spanning six continents and seeking to find solutions to the greatest global challenges by coordinating with G7 governments and beyond.

We made impactful discoveries

Research activity continues to grow
Despite obstacles brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Northwestern research funding hit a record-high $893 million for the year, spurring many bold discoveries and breakthroughs across an array of disciplines.

Real-time dialogue in your dreams
Northwestern researchers showed that individuals in the midst of dreams are capable of comprehending questions, engaging in working-memory operations and producing answers.

Spinal cord injuries repaired
A new injectable therapy harnessed “dancing molecules” to reverse paralysis and repair tissue after severe spinal cord injuries to mice.

star simulation
A 3D star simulation.

A star is born
A team including Northwestern astrophysicists developed the most realistic, highest-resolution 3D simulation of star formation to date.

Can AI reduce time to cancer diagnosis?
A study from Northwestern Medicine and Google explored whether artificial intelligence models can reduce the time to diagnosis for women whose mammograms show a higher likelihood of breast cancer.

Life and death of hair follicles
A new study shows as hair stem cells age, they lose the stickiness that keeps them lodged inside the hair follicle.

Smart cement for better roads
By introducing nanoparticles into ordinary cement, Northwestern researchers have formed a smarter, more durable and highly functional cement designed to withstand the harsh forces of nature.

Build your own battery-free device
Northwestern engineers have introduced a new platform for makers, hobbyists and novice programmers to build their own battery-free electronic devices that run with intermittent, harvested energy.

Scientists’ powerful new sponge.

‘Swiss Army knife’ for water cleanup
Inspired by Chicago’s many nearby bodies of water, a Northwestern-led team has developed a way to repeatedly remove and reuse phosphate from polluted waters. 

Shelf stable vaccines cut waste
Northwestern researchers have developed a new manufacturing platform that can quickly make vaccines at the point of care, ensuring they will not go to waste and expanding access to potentially life-saving medications.

Get vaccinated while pregnant
On behalf of the two leading organizations representing specialists in obstetric care, Dr. Emily Miller helped write a statement recommending that pregnant individuals get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Only minutes to a COVID-19 antigen test
A novel antigen-based COVID-19 detection method developed in a Northwestern lab demonstrated 100% accuracy in a blind test in five or fewer minutes from swab to signal.