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Pictured are Nobel symposium presenters (from left) Stephen Barr,
Frederick Bereskin, Kenneth van Golen, Stuart Kaufman, Siobhan Carroll
and Sandeep Patel.
Today's chemists might work at a computer as often as
laboratory, medical researchers studying conditions such as diabetes
rely on understanding how cells carry and deposit materials within the
body, and average investors in the market increasingly buy index funds
to average out the short-term ups and downs of individual stocks. The
discoveries that led to these changes are among the work that was
honored by this year's Nobel Prizes.
On Nov. 6, six University of Delaware faculty members — each with
particular expertise in one of the prize-winning areas of study —
explained the work and its significance to an audience in UD's new
Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory (ISE Lab). The
location, which allowed for informal seating and convenient viewing of
slide presentations on large wall-mounted monitors, was chosen in part
to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature both of the Nobels and of the
teaching and research housed in the building.
The College of Arts and Sciences
sponsors this series of short lectures each fall, shortly after the
Nobel Prizes are announced. Doug Doren, senior associate dean of the
college who organizes the event, said the talks offer the general public
the opportunity to learn about the prize-winning work in more depth
than most news coverage provides.
"Our faculty speakers do research in areas that are closely connected
to the work being recognized, and they bring their personal insights to
the talks," he said.
The following are the lectures in the humanities and social sciences.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Siobhan Carroll, assistant professor of English,
discussed writer Alice Munro, winner of the literature prize, who was
described by the Nobel committee as a "master of the contemporary short
Munro is in the minority among laureates in many ways, Carroll said,
not only as a woman and a Canadian but also as a short-story writer,
since the literature prize tends to be awarded to novelists or poets.
But, she said, Munro's stories of small-town life and residents are so
packed with meaning that they "often cover years in a matter of
Munro, now in her 80s, is known for the way in which she plays with
the element of time in her writing, telling her stories in a way that is
more like recalling memories than following an orderly sequence of
events. She also demonstrates "an incredible ability" to make ordinary
life seem both strange and completely recognizable to readers, Carroll
Stuart Kaufman, professor of political science and international relations,
described the work of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical
Weapons (OPCW), awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for its extensive efforts
to eliminate chemical weapons."
After the Cold War, Kaufman said, global policies shifted from arms
control to disarmament, or eliminating entire categories of weapons. The
OPCW, he said, was created 20 years ago by the Chemical Weapons
Convention and has since overseen the destruction of more than 70
percent of the 1993 worldwide stockpiles of those weapons.
He said the Nobel committee has long favored disarmament and often
awards the Peace Prize "to give a boost" of support to a person or group
that is engaged in ongoing efforts but has not yet completed its work.
But the Peace Prize is almost always controversial, too, and Kaufman
said this year's selection has been criticized because of the OPCW's
work in Syria under an agreement reached by the U.S. and Russia after
the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people in
the continuing civil war there.
The concern, he said, is that the deal "turns a war crime into a
diplomatic victory" and makes the Syrian authorities look moderate for
destroying their chemical weapons "while they slaughter their population
with conventional weapons."
Frederick Bereskin, assistant professor of finance,
spoke about the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory
of Alfred Nobel, awarded to Eugene F. Fama, Lars Peter Hansen and Robert
J. Shiller "for their empirical analysis of asset prices."
The work of the three laureates "shows us how much we've learned
about asset prices and how many questions remain unresolved," Bereskin
said. Fama's work began in the 1960s, he said, and found that markets
are difficult to predict in the short term, a finding that has
popularized the formation of index funds and that has made the markets
more accessible to average investors.
Shiller found in the 1980s that prices fluctuate more than would be
expected in an efficient market, and he incorporated the role of
investors' optimism and pessimism in setting prices. Bereskin noted that
Shiller has credited his wife — Elizabeth M. Shiller, who earned her
doctorate in clinical psychology at UD in 1984 — with exposing him to
the idea that psychology might play a role in investors' behavior.
The third laureate, Hansen, developed a highly influential statistical model for testing theories of asset prices.