woman holding a pregnancy test stick

A recent study shows that unplanned pregnancies have negative, lasting consequences for women’s careers and earnings. (PeopleImages/iStock)

UChicago research roundup

Swapping atoms, unplanned pregnancy costs, and restorative practices in high schools.

Atomic swap

Replacing a carbon atom with nitrogen during drug development is so good at optimizing molecules’ efficacy that chemists call it the “necessary nitrogen effect.” But existing methods of nitrogen insertion are inefficient and unreliable. A study published September 28 in Science, led by postdoctoral researcher Tyler Pearson, outlines a means to directly replace a carbon atom with nitrogen. This new method lets scientists repeatedly modify an existing molecule quickly and accurately—without starting from the bottom up each time—to determine the optimal structure. Another paper from the same lab appeared November 1 in Nature; led by PhD student Jisoo Woo, SM’22, it describes a new technique for carbon-to-nitrogen replacement—again, without having to start from scratch—in a molecule that already contains nitrogen. Both methods could help streamline the drug development process.—C. C

Unintended costs

A recent study shows that unplanned pregnancies have negative, lasting consequences for women’s careers and earnings. For previously childless women, by six years after contraceptive failure, such pregnancies result in a 20 percent loss of income, and the probability of working in a higher-skilled or managerial occupation drops almost 20 points. These effects are even greater for younger women or women enrolled in education. Published as a Becker Friedman Institute working paper in August, the findings were gleaned from the health and labor market data of Swedish women using long-acting reversible contraceptives (i.e., implants or IUDs) when they became pregnant. A one-year contraceptive failure rate of about 1 percent allowed the researchers, including Harris Public Policy assistant professor Yana Gallen, SB’09, and economics research associate professor Juanna Schrøter Joensen, to conduct a natural experiment comparing the career paths of women whose contraception failed with those whose contraception remained effective. Using data from women who underwent in vitro fertilization, the study also found that women who decide when to have a child see minimal consequences on their participation in the labor market, strengthening the case for the importance of quality contraception.—R. L. S

Restorative practices

As a disciplinary measure for high school students, suspension doesn’t make the grade. The lost instructional time not only fails to deter bad behavior but also reduces enthusiasm for studying, particularly among Black students. Beginning in the 2013–14 school year, Chicago Public Schools adopted a new approach, instructing staff to reduce suspensions and training them in strategies such as nonjudgmental conflict resolution. Researchers, including Harris Public Policy assistant professor Anjali Adukia and UChicago Crime and Education Labs research director Fatemeh Momeni, explored the effects of such restorative practices in Chicago’s public high schools. As reported in a September 2023 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, schools that implemented these practices saw an 18 percent reduction in out-of-school suspension days, a 35 percent reduction in in-school student arrests, and a 15 percent reduction in out-of-school arrests. Students also reported improved perceptions of their school climate, including student-teacher trust, feelings of belonging, and school safety. The findings suggest that restorative practices may offer an alternate approach to improving student behavior and their experiences in and out of school.—I. R.