A cat, a dog, and a mysterious ancient monster made YaleNews headlines in 2016, as did research on topics ranging from Zika to climate change to opioid addiction. All told, YaleNews published upwards of 1,900 articles in 2016. Here — in no particular order — are 20 of our most popular and important stories.
In the quest to create a reliable quantum computer, Yale researchers took Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s paradox involving a box, a poison, a radioactive substance, and a cat that can be both alive and dead at the same time, and took it a step further. Their work was named by Physics World magazine as one of the top physics breakthroughs of 2016. Also this year researchers developed a formula for understanding where quantum objects land when they are transmitted.
Yale scientists have taken the lead in tackling the opioid overdose epidemic — from exploring how better quality care could reduce the risk of death from opioid abuse to new ways to help avoid overdose and beat addiction. Yale experts also developed a strategic plan to address the epidemic in the state of Connecticut.
Yale researchers made strides in solving the Zika puzzle, identifying how the virus infects the placenta and causes fetal brain damage, as well as Zika’s link to glaucoma. A study of the genes of the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus also revealed the insects’ odd migrations.
David Friend Hall, the Peabody’s new gem and mineral gallery, opened on Oct. 23 as part of the museum’s 150th birthday celebration. A student-designed app offers visitors with detailed information about six of the hall's signature pieces. The Peabody also celebrated the milestone with a birthday bash, a “Treasures of the Peabody” exhibit and another about Yosemite National Park, the unveiling of a new dinosaur mural on a city fuel tank, the opening of a “satellite gallery” and more. YaleNews also looked at how the Peabody engages Yale undergraduates in scientific discovery.
The public now has the chance to puzzle over the manuscript that continues to baffle scholars in a photo facsimile edition, published by Yale University Press. It is housed in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which reopened this fall after a 16-month renovation.
The campus community was saddened when the news of the death of Handsome Dan XVII was announced in August, but let out a collective “Aww!” when the photo of his successor was revealed in November. In other sports news, 2016 also saw the first-ever night game at the Yale Bowl, and the defeat of Harvard at The Game. Outside the arena, Yale scientists suggested that Henry VIII might have suffered the same traumatic brain injury as NFL players.
A new study by Yale scientists concluded that warming in the world’s coldest places could trigger a massive release of carbon trapped in the soil. Other Yale studies looked at the impact of volcanoes on climate change and at the rising health risks from wildfires in the U.S. West. In addition to promoting research on climate change, Yale took direct action, becoming the first university to join the Global Pricing Leadership Coalition and releasing a new sustainability plan for the campus.
One of six wall paintings discovered in the ancient city of Dura-Europos, and now part of Yale’s collections, shows a woman drawing water from a well; this might be the earliest image of Jesus’ mother, argues a scholar from Fordham University. Another famed renowned museum, the Yale Center for British Art, reopened in May with refurbished and reconfigured public galleries, including a Long Gallery, part of architect Louis Kahn’s original design.
Among the international experts and scholars who came to Yale in 2016 to study the university’s vast collections and learn from the university’s faculty (and each other) were chefs from six countries who came to New Haven for the inaugural MAD Yale Leadership Summit. Other visitors to campus included Chinese university leaders, Zimbabwean philanthropists, and women leaders from Africa.
Yale researchers discovered that the female orgasm, which currently plays no obvious role in human reproduction, originated as a way to stimulate ovulation. Another study showed that testosterone therapy can boost sexual function and mood in older men. Yet another, non-human-focused study revealed that road salt can change the sex ratios in frog populations.
The Yale Divinity School honored James W.C. Pennington, an escapee from slavery who took classes at the school, by naming a classroom after him and establishing a scholarship and international conference to honor his legacy. The Yale School of Music also paid long overdue recognition to Helen Hagan, believed to be the school’s first female African American student, by installing a headstone at her previously unmarked grave in Evergreen Cemetery. Also this year, the Calhoun College dining hall was named after alumnus Roosevelt Thompson, who was killed in a car accident during his senior year.
A Yale-led team of paleontologists linked this oddly shaped 300-million-year-old sea creature — for years one of the great fossil enigmas — to the modern lamprey. Yale scientists also studied the fossil claw of a 212-million-year-old Drepanosaurus and determined the animal was a cross between a chameleon and an anteater. The results were less prehistoric, however, when a Yale analysis showed that meat served at the Explorers Club in 1951 was not — as proclaimed at the time — either woolly mammoth or giant ground sloth.
Provost Benjamin Polak presented a report in March about current and future projects on campus, including the two new residential colleges that will open in the fall of 2017. The heads and deans of Pauli Murray College and Benjamin Franklin College have been named. Also underway are plans to construct the Yale Science Building, a cross-disciplinary center for teaching and research, will be constructed. In addition, the university received a $50 million gift to fund the transformation of the former Hall of Graduate Studies into a hub for the humanities. In November, President Peter Salovey looked to the future, outlining the university priorities and plans for academic investment. Another guideline for the future was the report by the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming.
Protect cultural heritage and the environment, and respect differences, urges U.N. Secretary-General
Citizens of the world must be as fierce in their passion to protect and preserve culture and cultural heritage as extremists are in their desire to destroy it, said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at a Yale talk that was part of the Global Colloquium of University Presidents, held on campus in April. The event, on the theme “Preservation of Cultural Heritage: Challenges and Strategies,” included talks on recovering culture amid catastrophe, the looting and destruction of antiquities as a calculated strategy, and the 3,800-year journey of a Babylonian tablet from classroom to classroom.
The Office of Undergraduate Admissions made changes on the freshman application form designed to shed new light on applicants’ unique experiences with the communities to which they belong, their intellectual pursuits, and their diverse passions. In related news, Yale College students will benefit from enhancements to financial aid; two new programs to help students transition to Yale were announced; and the university helped found an alliance to expand the number of talented lower- and middle-income students at the nation’s top-performing colleges and universities.
Film shot by Yale alumnus John G. Magee Sr. (1906) during his time as a missionary in Nanking capturing the atrocities that occurred during the Japanese invasion of the capital city of Nationalist China is now in the holdings of the Divinity School Library. Other additions to Yale’s collections include the Famous Photographers School archive, images by pioneering photojournalist Lucien Aigner, and a “playful” map of Harlem nightlife in 1932.
A new analysis by Yale School of Public Health researchers confirmed that numerous carcinogens involved in the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing have the potential to contaminate air and water in nearby communities. In another study, researchers from Yale’s Department of Chemical & Environmental Engineering found that oil sands operations in Canada pose risks to both health and climate.
Six Yale affiliates — including poet Claudia Rankine and Sarah Stillman of Yale’s English Department — were honored for their creative contributions and talent in 2016. In addition, National Humanities Medals were awarded to two Yale affiliates; four students and recent alumni won Rhodes Scholarships (three representing the United States, and one representing Bermuda); and eight Yalies were named 2018 Schwarzman Scholars.
Sociologists mapped the Chicago gangster’s criminal and social networks in the pre-Facebook and Twitter era, providing insights into how the boundaries between the criminal and legitimate worlds dramatically shifted. In another study, political scientists suggest that doctors’ political beliefs influence their treatment decisions on politicized health issues like marijuana use, gun safety, and abortion.
Appointments and a departure
Three new vice presidential posts were created in 2016 — v.p. for global strategy and deputy provost for international affairs (Pericles Lewis), senior v.p. for operations (Jack F. Callahan), and for v.p. for communications (Eileen O’Connor). There were new deans appointed at the Schools of Art (Marta Kuzma), Forestry & Environmental Studies (Indy Burke), and Public Health (Dr. Sten H. Vermund). Also this year it was announced that Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway would leave Yale to become provost at Northwestern University.