Chicago's Nobel economy boom

October 13, 1995

Chicago University's long-running success in producing Nobel laureates continued this week with the award going to Robert Lucas for his theory dealing with the "rational expectations" that underpin economic decision-making, at the level of households, firms or organisations.

Professor Lucas is the fifth Chicago researcher in recent years to win the Nobel prize in economic sciences either outright or jointly with other researchers.

Richard Freeman, professor of economics at Harvard University and a visiting researcher at the London School of Economics, says that Chicago's virtual stranglehold on the award is an indication of the "extraordinary seriousness" with which economics is approached at the institution. He questions why several others at Chicago have not also won in the past.

Professor Freeman, also a former Chicago University lecturer, says that a key strength of the institution is its refusal to treat economics as a largely mathematical discipline: "The Chicago researchers are ideas people really and that, I think, is an important reason for their success. If you look at the winners from Chicago over the past 15 years, you will see they are based in a variety of departments - business, law and sociology. The field is just very pervasive at the university and different perspectives are always being developed."

The Nobel prize for medicine this year was awarded to three researchers for their work on the genetic control of early embryonic development. The scientists, the United States-based Edward Lewis and Eric Wieschaus and Germany's Christiane Nusslein-Volhard, used the fruit fly as their experimental system. The principles found in the fruit fly also apply to higher organisms, including man.

Discoverers from the US of two sub-atomic particles shared this year's Nobel prize for physics. Martin Perl discovered the tau lepton in the late 1970s while Frederick Reines made contributions in the 1950s that led to discovery of the neutrino.

The Nobel prize for chemistry has been given to a Dutchman, Paul Crutzen and two US-based scientists, Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland, for their work on atmospheric chemistry, the formation and decomposition of ozone in particular. Most importantly, they have shown how sensitive the ozone layer is to the influence of man-made emissions of certain compounds.

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