Sculptor Richard Hunt sanding a work in progress

Hunt sanding a work in preparation for his exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. (Photo courtesy Richard Hunt, EX’56)


A selection of UChicago alumni whose names are in the news.

Master craftsman

Chicago-based sculptor Richard Hunt, EX’56, is spotlighted in a major solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Encompassing work from the 1970s to the present, Richard Hunt: Scholar’s Rock or Stone of Hope or Love of Bronze takes its subtitle from its centerpiece, a monumental bronze sculpture Hunt began in 2014, inspired by scholar’s rocks and the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, DC. Celebrated for his abstract works in metal and for his many public artworks, Hunt has said that his sculptures evolve as improvisatory dialogues “between me, the technique, and the material.” His exhibition runs until summer 2021.

Per aspera ad astra

Andrea Ghez, LAB’83, received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for discoveries about “one of the most exotic phenomena in the universe, the black hole,” announced the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in October. She shares the honor with Reinhard Genzel of the Max Planck Institute and Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford. Ghez, the fourth woman to receive a Nobel in physics, spent decades investigating a region in the middle of the Milky Way called Sagittarius A*, which astronomers suspected harbored a supermassive black hole. Ghez and Genzel found strong support for that theory based on the behavior of gas and dust clouds swirling around the galaxy’s center.

Government action

The late Abner J. Mikva, JD’51, former Law School faculty member and longtime public servant, is the subject of the documentary Mikva! Democracy Is a Verb (Media Process Group, 2020). Following the Chicago progressive from his beginnings as the eponymous “nobody nobody sent” opposing the city’s political machine, director Bob Hercules’s film highlights Mikva’s penchant for principled compromise as an Illinois and US representative and his advocacy for youth civic engagement and such causes as gun control. “He was the original pragmatic progressive,” said David Axelrod, AB’76, at a Gene Siskel Film Center Q&A for the film.

A natural selection

Evolutionary geneticist Nels Elde, PhD’05, was among 21 recipients of a MacArthur Fellowship this year and will receive a five-year grant of $625,000. Elde, an associate professor at the University of Utah, studies what he calls the “evolutionary battle” between infectious microbes and their hosts. In particular, he has explored how viruses’ genomes can expand or contract, allowing them to quickly defeat hosts’ immune responses. This work, the Mac-Arthur Foundation said, has the potential for wide-ranging impact, including understanding how viruses move from animals to humans and identifying ways to treat emerging infectious diseases. Since 2015 Elde has also cohosted the podcast This Week in Evolution.

Arts innovator

Settlement Music School CEO Helen Eaton, AM’00, received the 2020 Arts Education Award from Americans for the Arts. Founded in 1908, Settlement provides arts instruction to Philadelphia-area students regardless of financial need, offering $2.6 million in aid each year. Since joining Settlement in 2010, Eaton has “grown programming, diversified funding sources, strengthened the balance sheet, and championed partnerships, both locally and nationally,” said Americans for the Arts. Eaton, who studied music history and theory at UChicago, previously served as president of Chicago Children’s Choir and dean of programs at the Merit School of Music.

New playbook

In August Jason Wright, MBA’13, was named president of the Washington Football Team. The first Black team president in National Football League >history, he’s only the fourth former player to ever serve in the role. Before attending Chicago Booth and becoming a partner at McKinsey & Company, Wright spent seven seasons as a player for the Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, and Arizona Cardinals. He was the Cardinals’ union representative in the lead-up to the 2011 NFL lockout. As president of the Washington Football Team, Wright is responsible for the organization’s business operations and for turning around what is widely perceived to be a troubled franchise. “I have always enjoyed building exciting new things and taking on the hard, seemingly intractable challenges that others may not want to tackle,” he said.