Top 15 stories of 2015

There was no shortage of news at Yale in 2015 — with YaleNews publishing more than 1,700 articles in the past 12 months. This year saw the appointment of new deans of the Schools of Architecture and Nursing; the discovery of the farthest galaxy in the cosmos; the dedication of the Yale-NUS permanent campus and the launch of a Yale-University of Puerto Rica partnership to create new M.D.-Ph.D.s; the revelation that sunlight continues to cause damage to the skin long after exposure (as well as the development of a sunscreen that doesn’t penetrate the skin).

Also this year, the university hosted the Connecticut’s largest-ever naturalization ceremony and joined with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to bring teens to campus summit to talk about the importance of emotions in school and life.

The following are among the most-read stories of 2015.

1. Yale senior wins the Individual World Poetry Slam Championship

The story of Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud ’16, whose poetry explores the devastation in her native Sudan and the strength of its women, inspired readers and garnered headlines around the world. In fact, the BBC included her in its “100 Women” series for 2015 (watch her perform the poem she wrote for the BBC).

Other Yale students who garnered accolades this year included four Rhodes Scholarship winners (three from the United States and one from Germany), and a senior who received a “junior Nobel Prize.”

2. Working Toward a Better Yale

The university launched a number of initiatives designed to expand diversity and inclusion at Yale. This fall, the university announced a five-year, $50 million commitment to increase faculty diversity. Yale also met or exceeded all of its goals as part if the White House’s Call to Action on College Opportunity; joined an initiative with Service to School to strengthen the pipeline of veterans to college; and most recently announced changes in undergraduate financial aid.

3. Landmark gift from alumnus Stephen A. Schwarzman to establish first-of-its-kind campus center at Yale

The historic Commons and Memorial Hall will be transformed into a state-of-the-art campus center, thanks to a $150 million path-breaking gift from Stephen A. Schwarzman ’68, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone. Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP will lead the transformation of the 88,300-square-foot complex into a central hub of student life with versatile performance, exhibition, meeting, dining, and gathering spaces.

Yale also announced a gift to transform the Hall of Graduate Studies into a new center for the humanities; its central tower will be named in honor of Yale investments guru David Swensen. In addition, alumnus David Friend gave a $4 million gift to create a state-of-the-art mineral gallery and programming venue; the construction of the new residential colleges continued; and, with the push of a symbolic button, the university launched the Yale Quantum Institute.

4. Yale center extends teaching’s reach

The changing landscape of education in a changing world is the focus of the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning, which is using evidence-based methods and new technologies to strengthen the university’s teaching, mentoring, and writing programs. Yale teachers also had the opportunity to hone their pedagogical skills via the Faculty Bulldog Days program and the Teach Better Podcast. Also popular were stories about the Yale School of Art's dedication of a classroom in honor of one of its most influential teachers, Robert Reed; and a Q&A with Professor Robert Stepto on his four decades of teaching at Yale; and profiles of this year’s winners of Yale College Undergraduate Teaching Prizes.

5. A postal ‘piggybank’ from the 17th century sheds light on the culture of that time

Readers were intrigued by Yale music historian Rebekah Ahrendt’s discovery of a trove of letters (many of them unopened) in a trunk that once belonged to postmaster at The Hague; the letters are now the focus of an international project titled “Signed, Sealed, and Undelivered.”

YaleNews also featured stories about the Frequencies website exploring the nature of spirituality; a project exploring the “marvelously diverse” ways we speak English; and another project to create a 3-D-printed train based solely on descriptions from Emile Zola’s 1890 novel, “The Beast Within.” We also featured a Q&A with professors Hazel Carby and Michael Denning, winners of lifetime achievement awards in American studies.

6. Tweaking the beak: Retracing the bird’s beak to its dinosaur origins, in the laboratory

Also popular this year was the story about Yale scientists who successfully replicated the molecular processes that drove the evolution from dinosaur snouts to the first bird beaks — work that could help provide insights into a host of great evolutionary transformations.

Other discoveries about the ancient world included the discovery of a giant sea creature, a new species of parasite, and a fossil of an anklebone that proved the earliest primates were tree-dwellers. Scientists also determined that early snakes also lived in trees and that mosasaurs gave birth in the deep ocean, not near the shore as previously believed. And 2015 marked the return of brontosaurus to the Yale Peabody Museum.

7. Hidden secrets of Yale’s 1491 world map revealed via multispectral imaging

A team of researchers and imaging specialist used modern technology to uncover the details of a map in Yale’s collections that is believed to have influenced Columbus’ voyage to the New World.

Teams at the newly dedicated Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage also shed new light on the paintings that decorated wooden shields discovered in modern-day Syria and tackled a sticky fossil puzzle.

Yale’s collections also inspired stories about the anniversaries of the Civil War, the sinking of the Lusitania, the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary and John Audubon’s “Birds of America"; the history of photography; the art legacy of alumnus Vincent Price; Yalies in the “Guinness Book of World Records”; and the zombies and monsters in the basement of Sterling Memorial Library.

8. Yale launches expansion of the Department of Computer Science

In acknowledgement of the growing importance of programming in higher education, research, and the college experience, Yale

plans to increase both faculty and classroom resources devoted to the Department of Computer Science with the goal of creating a “world-class” program. The department and the seven-year-old computing and the arts major are now part of the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science.

This fall Yale and Harvard joined forces to create a new introduction to computer science course, which spawned a number of innovative programs created by students. One example of the potential of this field was demonstrated in our story about lecturer Donya Quick’s computer program that creates original musical compositions that have fooled experts into thinking they were written by humans.

9. Cold virus replicates better at cooler temperatures

The news that bundling up and keeping your nose warm might actually deter a cold earned an “I told you so” from many a mother.

Yale researchers also delved into the workings of the viruses associated with hepatitis C, gut infections, HIV, brain tumors, and more.

10. Two Yale alumnae win MacArthur Foundation grants

Among our many stories about alumni this year was the announcement that historian Marina Rustow ’90 and set designer Mimi Lien ’97 won 2015 MacArthur Fellowships, informally known as “genius grants.”

Alumni gatherings this year included an assembly focused on innovation and impact in public health, the first cluster reunion, and a special weekend celebrating 150 years of Yale baseball. For a more in-depth look at alumni activities in 2015, watch the “Inspired by Yale” video.

11. University renews Yale Homebuyer Program for another two years

More than 1,130 staff and faculty have already benefited from the Yale Homebuyer Program, one of the most prominent and longstanding parts of the university’s community investment in its hometown of New Haven.

In other town-gown news, the university and the city dedicated a home in the West River; Yale launched a health survey to curb chronic disease in New Haven, a group of Yale scientists and New Haven residents joined to address the environmental and social impact of stormwater runoff; and Yale School of Management students partnered with the city to launch the Small Business Academy, which provides consulting services to local businesses.

12. Yale introduces innovative carbon charge program with 20 ‘living laboratories’ around campus

The university continued its leadership in climate change research and sustainability by developing this first-of-its-kind pilot program designed to prompt behavior changes at the individual and organizational level. In 2015 Yale also installed a solar array that generates 1.6 kilowatt hours of electricity annually and dedicated a room to nitrogen processing — both at the university’s West Campus; launched a Climate Change and Health @ Yale program at the School of Public Health; hosted the first Yale Environmental Sustainability Summit; and took part in the White House’s Climate Day of Action. Yale students and staff also took part in the recent Paris climate talks.

Yale researchers also mapped world opinion on climate change, studied how corporate funding influences skepticism about the issue, and determined the effects of human civilization on the world’s trees.

13. A shape-shifting navigation device for both the sighted and visually impaired

Among the popular stories about Yale-developed innovations was this one about a cube that changed shape to guide both sighted and visually impaired audience members through a darkened church in England during a theatrical production.

Equally innovative were student projects to bake a sailboat, to harness the power of photosynthesis to generate renewable fuels, and to develop online teaching programs. In 2015, Yale also revised its patent policy to encourage student innovation.

14. A living artifact from the Dutch Golden Age: Yale’s 367-year-old water bond still pays interest

Yale’s many world travelers this year included library curator Timothy Young, who demonstrated the relevance of the items in Yale’s collections by travelling traveled to Amsterdam to collect interest on a 1648 Dutch water bond housed at the Beinecke Library — receiving a whopping $153.

On a more serious note, Yale students traveled to Nicaragua to work on real-world problems, to Ethiopia to test a low-cost infant respirator, and to Rwanda for a clinical rotation.

This year also saw the expansion of programs focusing on Africa. These included the launch of a network of African women leaders, a partnership with the Higherlife Foundation to mentor African high school students, and a graduate student-led effort to establish the first English language-preparatory school and public library in Burundi.

15. The adolescent brain develops differently in bipolar disorder

This story about how the key areas of the brain that help regulate emotions develop differently in the adolescent brain gained widespread attention.

Other popular brain-oriented research stories in 2015 included efforts to solve autism’s mysteries, detect brain abnormalities before the onset of schizophrenia, discover the mechanism behind the marijuana munchies, and link the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease with an individual’s negative beliefs about aging.