YaleNews looks back on 2018

A collage of YaleNews top stories from 2018.

Over the course of 2018, YaleNews published more than 1,200 stories — from news of awards and honors to groundbreaking discoveries, campus events, Q&As, student and faculty profiles, book publications, videos, and more. Many of these stories marked a significant event in the year for the individuals and organizations involved.

For that reason alone, it is hard to designate a handful of these stories as the “top” ones of 2018.

Looking over the landscape of headlines in 2018, however, certain ones do stand out as representing highlights of the year or major campus trends during that time. In compiling the following list, we also took into consideration the stories’ popularity with our readers.

Here are our selections for top YaleNews stories in 2018.

Yale physicists find signs of a time crystal

The most-read story of 2018 described how Yale scientists uncovered hints of a time crystal — a form of matter that “ticks” when exposed to an electromagnetic pulse — in the last place they expected: a crystal you might find in a child’s toy.

Other discoveries in the quantum realm included “teleporting” a quantum gate and developing a fault-tolerant system for stopping “leaks” in quantum computers. Another study by Yale particle physicists suggested that, even in the quantum universe, there is a size limit for undiscovered subatomic particles.

Also of note, Yale received a $16 million grant to bolster its quantum computing research.

Yale’s William Nordhaus wins 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences

William Nordhaus accepts flowers from students on the day of his Nobel Prize award announcement.
William Nordhaus accepts flowers from students on the day of his Nobel Prize award announcement. (Photo credit: Mara Lavitt)

William Nordhaus ’63 B.A., ’72 M.A., Sterling Professor of Economics — who earlier in the year received the Frontiers of Knowledge Award for his work on climate change — was co-winner of the 2018 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences for “integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis.” The morning of the announcement, when Nordhaus arrived to teach his undergraduate class in intermediate macroeconomics, he was greeted by his students with cheers and roses.

It was also an award-winning year for four Yalies who received the Pulitzer Prize, and a faculty member and four other alumni who received MacArthur Fellowships. Other notable prize winners included Joan Steitz, who was honored for lifetime achievement in studying RNA biology by the Lasker Foundation; Ronald Coifman, who received the Schock Prize in Mathematics, one of the highest honors in the field; and Günter Wagner, who was awarded the 2018 Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences for his fundamental contributions to our understanding of the evolution of complex organisms.

The enemy within: Gut bacteria drive autoimmune disease

The discovery that bacteria found in the small intestines of mice and humans can travel to other organs and trigger an autoimmune response was the second-most popular story among readers this year. Just recently, scientists also discovered that sugar targets gut microbes linked to lean and healthy people.

Other top-ranking health-related headlines in 2018 included the news that diversity, health care, and cycling to work are the biggest factors linked to well-being and the quality of life; Yale dermatologists successfully restored skin color in vitiligo patients; a bacteria-hunting virus fished from a Connecticut lake was used to treat an infected Yale doctor; heart attack symptoms are often misinterpreted in younger women; complementary medicine for cancer can decrease survival; nut consumption may aid colon cancer survival; and low- or no-calorie soft drinks were linked to improved outcomes in colon cancer. Two studies offered surprising findings, even to the researchers: the discovery that a topical antibiotic triggers unexpected antiviral response, and a lab “failure” that led to a potential treatment for obesity.

Even 4-year-olds dislike freeloaders

This, the third most popular story among readers, revealed that children as young as age 4 express dislike of and are willing to punish those who freeload off the work of other group members. Other insights into human behavior in 2018 included studies showing that sad, lonely people make “natural” social psychologists; do-gooders don’t do so good when it comes to dates; newspaper op-eds can change minds; and three is not good company for women job seekers.

Yale’s most popular class ever to be available via Coursera

Professor Laurie Santos lectures in Woolsey Hall.
Professor Laurie Santos lectures in Woolsey Hall.

By the time Professor Laurie Santos gave her last lecture for her new course, “Psychology and the Good Life” interest in the class had overflowed Woolsey Hall and gone global. A record 1,200 undergraduates enrolled in the Yale course, and 78,000 people in more than 168 countries signed up for its Coursera version, “The Science of Well-Being,” in its first month — making it the most popular online course launch in school history. The course, said Santos, “really hit a nerve, and I’m not totally sure why.”

New university report recommends science priorities for the decade ahead

A university committee made strategic recommendations to bolster Yale’s position as a leading global research university and nurture scientific discoveries with the potential to improve the world. It identified as top science priorities for the future: integrative data science and its mathematical foundations; quantum science, engineering, and materials science; neuroscience; inflammation science; and environmental and evolutionary sciences. President Peter Salovey responded to the report on Nov. 27, and Vice President for Research Peter Schiffer announced the initial steps in advancing the key priorities.

2018 Environmental Performance Index: Air quality top public health threat

The biennial report, now in its 20th year, ranks 180 countries on 24 performance indicators across 10 issue categories covering environmental health and ecosystem vitality. The 10th EPI report concluded that Switzerland leads the world in sustainability, followed by France, Denmark, Malta, and Sweden.

The growing interest in climate change sparked several university initiatives: the launch of the Max Planck-Yale Center for Biodiversity Movement and Global Change; the move to offer a climate change and health certificate at the Yale School of Public Health; and a collaboration between Yale School of Architecture and UN Environment to unveil a new eco-housing module designed to spark public discussion on how sustainable design can provide decent, affordable housing while limiting the overuse of natural resources and climate change.

Researchers also reported this year that “archived” heat has reached deep into the Arctic interior; there’s more to what’s in the air than once thought; and climate change will alter water resources for the Atlantic circulation system.

VideO: Discussing the EPI report at the World Economic Forum in Davos

In the video below, President Salovey talks with Hillouse Professor and Director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy Daniel C. Esty (click to play):

Incoming Class of 2022 sets record for socio-economic diversity and yield

Even before they moved in, this year’s crop of first-year students set several Yale College records: The students were chosen from a record 34,000 applicants; there was a 72.4% yield; and the class boasted the largest number of Pell Grant recipients and a record number of students who will be the first in their families to graduate from college. (Incidentally, the online Affordable Yale tool to estimate families' costs has proven very popular since it was launched in January.)

Diversity was a university-wide focus this year. In the fall President Peter Salovey and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews announced measures designed to promote a safe, diverse, and open Yale, including the launch of the Belonging at Yale website, which includes information on policies supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as resources for those wishing to report discrimination, harassment, and misconduct.

Yale joined with other institutions this year to champion diversity on a national scale, filing amicus (friend of the court) briefs supporting diversity in college admissions, maintaining the DACA program, and opposing the Trump administration’s third travel ban.

New home for Yale’s Digital Humanities Lab opens in Sterling Library

The Franke Family Digital Humanities Laboratory opened in Sterling Memorial Library on Oct. 9. The space assists scholars in applying technology and quantitative methods to humanistic questions, and serves as a collaborative space for projects that combine STEM fields with the arts and humanities, efforts known as “STEAM.” A Yale scholar described how he would use the space in his future research.

This year also marked the launch of a campus-wide initiative that takes a humanities approach to energy and environment, and the news that historian Alan Mikhail won a research award for his work on the history of empires and environments.

Other humanities headlines included the discoveries of ancient Egyptian graffiti and burial sites by Yale archaeologists; 19th-century Khmer-language documents by a scholar of Cambodia; and a lost city in Iraq by a Yale Assyriologist. In addition, a new English course lineup debuting next year will give students broader literary exposure.

Edward P. Bass ’67 makes lead gift toward renovating Yale Peabody Museum

The alumnus’ $160 million contribution toward the renovation of the Peabody Museum of Natural History ranks among the most generous gifts to Yale and is the largest known gift ever made to a natural history museum in the United States.

A artist rendering of the planned renovations at the Peabody. (Rendering by Centerbrook Architects and Planners)
An artist’s rendering of the renovations at the Peabody.

This year the Peabody transferred the remains of Māori ancestors to representatives from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and completed its transfer of artifacts to the Mohegan Tribe.

Two dinosaur-related discoveries announced this year included the news that scientists found the first bird beak, right under their noses; burnt toast and dinosaur bones have a common trait; and evolutionarily speaking, dinosaurs put all their colored bird eggs in one basket.

Data science at Yale takes shape

The Department of Statistics and Data Science was busy building up its program, with more students, more faculty, a new major, and an assortment of new classes. Among these is “YData: An Introduction to Data Science,” which aims to “demystify” data science for all students.

A new Center for Biomedical Data Science was announced in February. The CBDS will be responsible for ingesting large amounts of data from labs and researchers across the university and performing calculations with the information in order to detect anomalies and hidden patterns. A two-year project titled “The Order of Multitudes: Atlas, Encyclopedia, Museum,” announced in October, will bring together Yale humanities, social science, and science scholars to think about the long histories of information management across the globe dating back to the late medieval period.

Yale names Victoria Chun new director of athletics

In the spring, Yale announced that its next director of athletics, physical education, and recreation would be Victoria M. Chun, formerly vice president and director of athletics at Colgate University. Chun joined the university on July 1.

Other appointments announced in 2018 included a new senior trustee, alumni fellow, and successor trustees on the Yale Board of Trustees; the next director of the Yale University Art Gallery; the inaugural executive director of the Schwarzman Center; and the first dean of science on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Where the brain processes spiritual experiences

Another popular story with readers told of the Yale scientists who identified a possible home for the spiritual experience — the sense of connection to something greater than oneself. 

A psychedelic illustration of a man buried up to his nose in sand in a desert.
Yale researchers have provided new insight into the psychedelic effects of LSD on the brain and potential therapeutic uses of the drug to treat depression and more. (Illustration by Michael S. Helfenbein)

In other studies, researchers reported that the brain loses memory a STEP at a time; is engulfed by an electric wave at first blush of consciousness; and is primed for learning when we experience uncertainty. They also discovered how LSD changes perception; identified early warning signs of psychosis; and developed a test for Alzheimer’s disease that directly measures synaptic loss.

Salovey extends Yale research and educational partnerships in Ghana

President Peter Salovey and a delegation of Yale faculty members and staff traveled to Ghana and Kenya March 10-16 to mark the five-year anniversary of the Yale Africa Initiative (YAI), an ongoing effort to prioritize and further expand Yale’s collaborations on the continent. YaleNews compiled stories about Salovey’s trip, as well as information about many of the ongoing initiatives in Africa, on a special In Focus page titled “Yale and Africa: Empowering through Partnership.”

In January, the university announced that it would create the Yale Institute for Global Health, a university-wide effort to address global health issues that will serve as the focal point for research, education, and engagement with global partners to improve the health of individuals and populations worldwide. In other international news, the Yale Young Global Scholars program announced new humanities and arts sessions; the inaugural Yale-NUS Summer Institute brought students to campus to learn about grand strategy and leadership; the Y-RISE initiative enlisted faculty expertise to fight against poverty; Yale expanded its teaching and research on Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia; and a committee advised converting the Jackson Institute into a school of global affairs.

Yale announces $26 million initiative to recruit, retain preeminent faculty

President Peter Salovey and Provost Ben Polak announced in September that the university would earmark $26 million over the next five years to recruit and retain outstanding scholars in every field. Three years since Yale announced its $50 million initiative to build on faculty excellence and diversity, it reasserted its commitment to the university-wide priority. In addition, a major gift from an anonymous donor helped launch a pathbreaking program to provide members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences with a suite of opportunities to support their growth as scholars, teachers, and university citizens.

New academic center to advance economic policy research

The Tobin Center for Economic Policy at Yale will advance rigorous, evidence-based research intended to define and inform policy debate. It is named for the late Nobel laureate Yale economist James Tobin. The center’s inaugural faculty director will be Yale economist Steven Berry.

Other initiatives launched this year included a new Master of Environmental Management curriculum at Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and the Yale/Signature Theatre Initiative, which gives budding Yale composers a leg up professionally.

Yale Law School clinic receives ‘historic’ decision from veterans court

Members of WIRAC, Connecticut Legal Services, and other advocacy groups at a press conference announcing the reunification.
Members of Yale Law School’s Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, Connecticut Legal Services, and other advocacy groups at a press conference announcing the reunification on July 17, 2018.

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School was successful in its bid to secure the right of veterans to bring class action suits against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Earlier in the year, the clinic’s advocacy also helped lead to a new Connecticut law expanding disability benefits for former service members. Other Law School clinics were equally busy, helping to reunite immigrant families, launch the Connecticut Legal Food Hub, and argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In November Yale joined the world in marking the centennial of the armistice ending World War I with a Veterans Day ceremony and series of other special events, including a concert also celebrating the 100th anniversary of Yale Bands. In a related story, three current students reflected on their military service and life now at Yale.

What did ancient Babylonians eat? A Yale-Harvard team tested their recipes

Using recipes from culinary-themed clay tablets in Yale’s Babylonian Collection, the team made three dishes — two stews and a vegetarian dish — as part of the “An Appetite for the Past” event at New York University in June. This story was among the top 10 most popular stories, thanks in no small part to the video that accompanied it.

Other favorite story-connected or stand-alone videos of 2018 include “Engineering meets the arts with Michaelangelo’s ‘David’”; “Celebrating Yale Bands’ centennial year”; “The plural of hippo is, well, one very dirty river”; “Yale School of Nursing stages ‘disaster simulation’”; “Milky Way’s supermassive black hole may have ‘unseen’ siblings”; the Yale Curling Club; and “Yale-Harvard: The tie Game, 50 years later.”

Y-Work: New program to recognize outstanding student employees

Designed to celebrate student employment on campus and recognize the opportunities available to and contributions by student employees, the Y-Work Awards for Outstanding Undergraduate Student Employees were presented to 10 students in the program’s inaugural year.

Other students garnered international honors, including three seniors who received Rhodes Scholarships for study at Oxford University; a senior and recent graduate who received Mitchell Scholarships to study in Ireland; and a senior and alumna who received Schwarzman Scholarships for study in China.

Robotic Skins’ turn everyday objects into robots

Also popular among readers was the story that Yale engineers had created a “Robotic Skins” technology that allows users to animate inanimate objects and design their own robot systems. In other robot-themed research, scientists determined that robots help children with autism improve their social skills and identified the best surfaces to use on robotic fingers. In New York City, the YaleExplores series posed the question: How will advances in artificial intelligence affect our relationships and identities as humans?

Yale engineers were also involved in a breakthrough in the creation of borophene, a material 200 times stronger than steel; discovered how fatal biofilms form; and worked with the Yale men’s lacrosse team to help goalies improve their reaction times (incidentally, the team won its first national championship since 1883).

MacArthur-winning alumnus Titus Kaphar builds an arts beacon in New Haven

This year, YaleNews published numerous stories about alumni who are giving back to their communities, including this initiative by Titus Kaphar ’06 M.F.A., who is helping to create a complex where community members can develop their artistic voice.

Other alumni stories looked at a graduate who is making the Ivies accessible to low-income kids; an alumna who founded a student-run non-profit that provides monthly foot washing events and hygiene product give-aways for New Haven’s homeless; an alumna who is helping students conquer their money fears; yet another who is changing the face of angel investing; Law School alumni who are providing legal aid to asylum seekers; alumni mentors who are helping students navigate life decisions; and alumni who are providing the joy of bicycling to blind and vision-impaired riders.

A lifetime of public service: A remembrance of George H.W. Bush ’48 B.A.

Yale joined the nation in mourning the death of the 41st president of the United States, a devoted Yale alumnus, who “exemplified the values of service and leadership we seek to foster at Yale,” said President Peter Salovey.

Other Yale notables who passed away in 2018 included Nobel Prize-winning scientist Thomas A. Steitz; football coach and mentor to generations of students Carm Cozza; William S. Beinecke ’36, who supported life and learning at Yale; and poet, librettist, and longtime Yale Review editor J.D. McClatchy.