New research questions an old theory of the moon’s birth. (Image by Nova Celestia)
Faculty research
Chicago researchers use a galactic zoom lens, examine how European Jews resisted genocide, quantify what doctors ask patients about sex, and reconsider the moon’s origin.

Earth mother

Scientsists have long thought that the moon was created when a Mars-sized object crashed into Earth 4.5 billion years ago, sending into orbit a giant rock that combined material from both. Four Chicago geochemists question that theory in a study published March 25 in Nature Geoscience. Earth alone, they argue, gave birth to the moon. Geophysics PhD student Junjun Zhang, research associate Alexei Fedkin, and geophysical-sciences faculty members Nicolas Dauphas and Andrew M. Davis worked with Ingo Leya from Germany’s University of Bern to analyze titanium isotopes in rocks from Earth and the moon. Both had the same composition. “We thought that the moon had two parents,” Zhang said, “but when we look at the composition of the moon, it looks like it has only one parent.”  

Nature’s zoom lens

Using NASA’s Hubble Telescope and a little help from what scientists call a natural “zoom lens,” Chicago astronomers got a close-up look at the brightest gravitationally magnified galaxy yet seen. Researchers used the optical phenomenon of gravitational lensing—in which the pull of one massive object can enlarge and distort light from an object behind it—to examine a galaxy cluster 10 billion light-years away, with stars much brighter than any found in the Milky Way. The natural lens also offers the chance to study dark matter, which comprises the bulk of the gravitational lens. Keren Sharon, a postdoc at UChicago’s Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, led a detailed computer reconstruction of the magnified galaxy, which will help the team understand why it has formed so many stars. The research team, which included Chicago astrophysicist Michael Gladders and PhD student Eva Wuyts, published its findings in the February Astrophysical Journal.  

The gathering storm

European Jews faced an “impossible dilemma” in the 1930s, Chicago historian Bernard Wasserstein writes in On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War (Simon & Schuster, 2012). Confronting their individual and collective threats with all available means—emigration, assimilation, political organization, violent resistance, and prayer—they engendered only more hatred across the continent. An intimate study that focuses on individual Jews, their communities, and institutions—as opposed to their oppressors—On the Eve argues that acceptance and success in the 1920s sparked jealous hostility across Europe. In response, many Jews tried harder to disguise distinctive traits, diminishing the importance of religious and cultural practices. The loss of those traditions diminished Jewish identity, Wasserstein writes, but not the racist resentment that left them “wholly defenseless, largely friendless, and more and more hopeless” as World War II  loomed.  

A question of sex

Gynecologists talk to their patients about sex, but many avoid important questions regarding sexual history, which can affect their patients’ overall well-being. In the March 22 Journal of Sexual Medicine, UChicago Medicine researcher Stacy Tessler Lindau, AM’02, surveyed 1,154 ob-gyns and found that 63 percent habitually asked about sexual problems. But less than one-third asked about sexual satisfaction or confirmed sexual orientation. Only 14 percent asked about pleasure with sexual activity, even though evidence suggests a high prevalence of sexual dysfunction among women, affecting physical and emotional health. Lindau found that female doctors were likelier to ask their patients more questions about sexual activity. So were doctors younger than 60 and those whose practices leaned more toward gynecology than prenatal care.