Readers sound off on forensic science, laboratory tales, and more.
Your interesting article in the Fall/22 issue on Wilmer Souder’s (PhD 1916) work in criminal forensics (“Notes on a Crime”) points out that “critics claim some techniques lack rigorous empirical testing; some, while scientifically sound, have results that can be misinterpreted by unqualified experts,” while not specifying the very significant criticism from the 2009 evaluation of forensic science by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). One upshot of the NAS evaluation was the establishment in 2013 of the National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) “to enhance the practice and improve the reliability of forensic science.”
The purpose of NCFS, that is, was to correct the problem pointed out by Souder: “Without proper metrics and consistently trained interpreters, forensic science is merely a matter of opinion.” Although the NCFS had made some progress toward this worthy goal, in April 2017 former US attorney general Jeff Sessions unfortunately refused to extend the term of the NCFS.
It may be telling that one of the first actions of the Trump administration was to interfere with criminal investigations—even though the particular matters being analyzed by NCFS (bite mark analysis, microscopic hair analysis, shoe print comparisons, handwriting comparisons, fingerprint examination, and firearm and toolmark examinations) are probably not much involved in the investigation of the crimes of Trump and his cronies.
Robert Michaelson, SB’66, AM’73
The Magazine’s recent story on Neil Shubin’s newest discovery of the small “fishapod” Qikiqtania wakei missed an important UChicago connection about the extinct species’ namesake (“Sea Legs,” Fall/22). The evolutionary biologist David B. Wake was briefly a professor in the Department of Anatomy (1964–68) before joining the University of California, Berkeley, where he remained for the rest of his career until his death in 2021. During his short time at UChicago, he mentored several graduate students who became important figures in amphibian evolutionary biology, including Richard Wassersug, PhD’73, and Eric Lombard, PhD’71.
Eric was one of my first biology professors at UChicago and gave me my first ever “reprint,” a paper he wrote with David on salamander tongues. My introduction to David was via his seminar more than 20 years ago in the long-running Evolutionary Morphology (EvMorph) seminar series, of which I’ve been told David played a founding role. That seminar was the beginning of our many years of friendship and collaboration, made all the more special by our shared connection to UChicago.
Thanks for all the great work you do to bring the Magazine to all of us!
Dave Blackburn, AB’01
Crimson vs. Maroon
I want to comment on Bob Levey’s (AB’66) letter in the Fall/22 issue. I have read that people who were born in Texas or graduated from Harvard figure out how to mention that in the first 10 minutes when meeting someone.
When I was attending the business school my classmates and I commented on the difference between Harvard’s use of case studies versus our learning theory. We used to say that one could get Harvard training or a University of Chicago education!
Sal Campagna, MBA’85
If you also enjoyed Levey’s letter and would like to read more of his writing, check out this issue’s Alumni Essay, “Called to the Game.”—Ed.
Ten years ago I received a monograph authored by Dean John Boyer, AM’69, PhD’75, narrating a partial history of the University (“Pipe Dream,” Snapshots, Alumni News, Fall/22). I did not know Dean Boyer, but I was so impressed by his work that I wrote him a letter complimenting him on its substance, quality, and style. Shortly thereafter, I received from Dean Boyer a collection of all 13 of his historical monographs [The series now contains 25 volumes.—Ed.], accompanied by a letter informing me that he intended to amalgamate their contents into a unified chronological history of the University of Chicago.
That Dean Boyer extended himself to do that without any request on my part speaks volumes about what it means to be a dedicated scholar and teacher and a totally kind human being. I thereafter, of course, read his complete The University of Chicago: A History (University of Chicago Press, 2015), which is predictably superb and should be required reading for all U of C undergraduates, not only to clear away the mythology that pervaded the place while I was a student, but also to drive home the fact that none of what current students are privileged to experience was either predestined, inevitable, or even foreseeable, but rather was the product of an antagonism of influences addressing the ongoing (and perhaps unresolvable) debate over what being a world-class university in an evolving reality should mean.
Dean Boyer contributed immeasurably to making the College what it has become today. His new role is well deserved but he will be missed, and filling his shoes will be a far from easy task.
Jack B. Jacobs, AB’64
My brilliant career
As a nonathlete in high school, I got a chance to fulfill my first-year physical education requirement in five weeks rather than 10 by going out for the new football team (“Perambulate the Oblong Spheroid up the Turf!,” Snapshots, Alumni News, Fall/22). It was my first time in football pads. I would have been the first person cut from the team, if they could cut anyone. I got nosebleeds every time we practiced.
We played only one exhibition game, against North Central Junior College (I believe). The coaches played everyone. They put me in for two plays at my position of defensive end. After the first play, the other team noticed me and ran half the squad on an end-around sweep. I held my position to contain the run, but I don’t think the blocker was even slowed up as he sent me flying. He probably weighed 50 pounds more than me. We were soundly shut out in North Central’s only victory of the season. But I can proudly say that at 135 pounds, I played defensive end in college. The next year’s team was ranked by Playboy magazine in the top 10 worst football teams in the country.
Steve Weston, AB’70
In the Fall/22 issue of the Magazine you asked for laboratory stories (“Nuclear Plant,” Snapshots, Alumni News). I have a few short recollections from 1967 to 1973.
1. In my first year as a physics graduate student, maybe in early 1968, I was given a tour of the bubble chamber facilities at Argonne National Laboratory. There was only one restroom in the building, and apparently no one expected women experimental physicists, so there was a cardboard sign on the door that could be flipped to say “men” or “women.”
2. I did my thesis work at Argonne. There was a collaboration of UChicago, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Toronto. At some point an argument arose about who was responsible for filling the helium bag that prevented excessive scattering of the particles on the way to the experiment. To save my thesis experiment, I snuck into the area in the night, changed the gas bottles, and adjusted the valves to fix the problem. It was apparent that many people were not happy that the argument had been settled in such a way.
3. In some sense I burned through four thesis advisers. I started in a research group with a young professor, a postdoc, and two grad students. After the professor did not get tenure, the postdoc and one of the students went to two different universities. I was assigned a nominal UChicago adviser who was not involved in the same experiment, meaning my mentors were at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Toronto. The Toronto professor became disillusioned with the relations among people in the experiment, left physics, and became a dean. My nominal adviser/UChicago professor did not get tenure either.
4. The bubble chamber group at UChicago was at one time a large enterprise with some of the friendliest people I have known. There were around six students and postdocs, and around six part-time people helping scan the photographs that came from the bubble chamber at Argonne. Many students who were not in physics worked as scanners. I married one of them.
David Underwood, SM’68, PhD’73
In 1959 or 1960, as an undergrad physics student, I worked in the lab of professor of physics Mark Inghram, PhD’47, and assistant professor Bill Lichten, SM’53, PhD’56, in Ryerson. The subject was atomic physics and mass spectroscopy. Lichten wanted an oscilloscope, so I built one from a kit from either Heathkit or Allied Radio (where I worked summers). It worked. Lichten wanted it on a cart. I got one but convinced him it had to be attached to the cart to avoid theft. He agreed but the bright gold-colored chain I attached was too gaudy for him.
Howard Zar, SB’61, SM’66
When I was an undergraduate at UChicago I worked in a lab at La Rabida Children’s Hospital, a pediatric rheumatic fever hospital and research institute, from 1963 to 1966. The institute was supported in part by Variety Club International, which was a charity involved with children’s medical issues.
Great Britain’s Prince Philip was in a leadership position with this charity, and he made it a point to personally visit institutions it supported. He scheduled a visit to La Rabida (I don’t remember exactly when, but sometime in 1964 or 1965) to tour the facility. All of the lab workers were given a specific location along the long hallway that connected the labs. It just so happened that my assigned location was next to a beautiful young woman.
As the time approached for the tour, we were all lined up against the wall and Prince Philip and the director of research, Albert Dorfman, SB’36, PhD’39, MD’44, slowly walked side by side down the hallway talking to each other. They didn’t pay any attention to those of us lined up along the wall. Suddenly, just as they were opposite my location, Prince Philip stopped talking in midsentence, made a sharp right turn, walked right up to this woman, and said, “And what do you do here, my dear?” She became flustered and said something that wouldn’t have made any sense to him. He said, “Oh, how nice, my dear!” He then returned to his position alongside Dr. Dorfman and continued the tour. He didn’t make any other stops and paid no attention to anyone else.
Michael Lieberman, SB’66, PhD’69
My favorite public art in Hyde Park: Under City Stones, a mural by Caryl Yasko painted in 1972 in the Metra 55th Street underpass (“Palimpsest,” Snapshots, Alumni News, Fall/22).
I found all the people and the troubling tank evocative, and the flowing composition engaging, when walking alongside the wall. I took notice of the mural as I graduated from U-High in 1973. I later learned about Yasko, the Chicago Mural Group, and the significance of the mural movement in Chicago when I became a muralist in the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of the 1970s.
I was unaware of the historic movement while growing up and, rarely leaving the Hyde Park neighborhood, never knew I was surrounded by many important murals by Bill Walker and the Organization of Black American Culture artists, as well as those in Pilsen. Yasko’s imagery and figures under the Metra continue to inspire me today. I visit Yasko’s and Walker’s murals every time I visit Hyde Park.
Eduardo Pineda, LAB’73
Back in the day there were many excellent concerts on campus (“Don’t, Don’t, Don’t, Don’t Believe the Hype,” Snapshots, Alumni News, Summer/22). Here’s my list, all of which occurred between 1978 and 1983.
- U2 at I-House, touring for their second album
- Ida Noyes gym (separate shows): the Ramones and the B-52’s with James Chance
- Mandel Hall (separate shows): Tom Waits; Chuck Berry; and the incredible trio of John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, and Al Di Meola
- Outdoor concert on the quads with Miles Davis, who actually was having a nice time for once. He faced the audience and made some nice comments to us kids as we were watching on a beautiful spring day. That was part of the Festival of the Arts.
I’m almost 63 years old, but I still go to lots of shows!
Adam Spiegel, AB’83
Forest Park, Illinois
In Autumn Quarter 1991, I had a meeting with Ronald Inden, AB’61, AM’63, PhD’72, then the undergraduate adviser for UChicago’s history department. I was trying to decide on a secondary research field to go with my primary field of modern Europe. I asked Professor Inden whether military history, an idea I’d been toying with since the summer, was a possibility. He suggested I read John Keegan’s The Face of Battle (Viking Press, 1976), and if I was still interested, he would approve the choice. I found the book in the Regenstein Library and was instantly hooked.
That was the start of a 31-year fascination with the subject. It led me first to pursue a graduate degree in military history at Duke University and, in 2013, to embed with US troops in Afghanistan as a war correspondent.
Recently I read David Halberstam’s account of the Korean War, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War (Hyperion, 2007). I was particularly struck by Halberstam’s description of the experiences of the US Army’s 23rd Infantry Regiment, first in the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter, then in its advance north to the horrific Battle of the Chongchon River, its retreat under fire, and its victories in the Battle of the Twin Tunnels and Battle of Chipyong-ni.
I decided to make the experiences of the 23rd Infantry Regiment in 1950 and 1951 the subject of my first novel. I also decided to make my central character a recent graduate of the University of Chicago. As part of my research, I’d like to speak with Chicago alumni who served in the Korean War. Anyone willing to speak with me can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail at 2900 Hamilton Street, #32, Houston, TX 77004.
Andrew Schneider, AB’93
Correcting the record
The name of Wilmer Souder’s (PhD 1916) undergraduate alma mater, Indiana University, was misstated in “Notes on a Crime” (Fall/22). In “The Power of One” (Fall/22) we neglected to credit Ray Eames together with Charles Eames in the caption to an image showing their 1950 fiberglass rocker in a gallery from the Smart Museum’s Monochrome Multitudes exhibition. In Kenneth W. Dam’s (JD’57) obituary (Deaths, Fall/22) George P. Shultz’s name was misspelled. We regret the errors.
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