University of Kansas

Welcome to the University of Kansas Chapter of Sigma Xi
Chapter #004
Sigma Xi is an international, multidisciplinary research society. Its mission is to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public's understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition. There are nearly 60,000 Sigma Xi members in more than 100 countries around the world.

Sigma Xi chapters, more than 500 in all, can be found at colleges and universities, industrial research centers and government laboratories. The Society endeavors to encourage support of original work across the spectrum of science and technology and to promote an appreciation within society at large for the role research has played in human progress.

The KU Chapter is the fourth oldest chapter in the world, founded in 1889. Among other activities, the KU Chapter sponsors an annual Research Paper Competition during the spring semester.

Chapter History

Sigma Xi was founded in 1886 at Cornell University by a group of eight engineering students and a young professor of mechanical engineering--Dr. Frank Van Vleck. These students felt that an honorary society was needed for students of science and engineering. They noted that their colleagues in the classics had the honor society of Phi Beta Kappa to recognize excellence but that science students not versed in Latin and Greek had no similar society. At the same time, Professor Henry S. Williams, a geologist also of Cornell, was trying to start an honor society for science students. In fact, fourteen geology students were enrolled in his society. About the time that Professor Williams was trying to expand his society (called the Society of Modern Scientists) to include all the natural sciences, he learned of the society formed by the engineers in the fall of 1886. It was natural for the two groups to merge. Thus began the Society of Sigma Xi.

The following year, 1887, the organization expanded to include chapters at both Rensselaer and Union Colleges. Somewhat surprisingly the movement stalled at that stage with no new chapters being added until 1889. In that year the fourth chapter was added. It was also the first chapter from a university outside of the state of New York. That chapter was the University of Kansas Chapter.

How we came to be the fourth oldest chapter in this Society which now numbers over 85,000 members and more than 500 chapters in North America and around the world is of some interest. On the KU faculty there had been a physicist named Edward Leamington Nichols.

In 1886, Professor Nichols moved to Cornell where he immediately became active in the newly formed Sigma Xi Society. As the Society was considering universities into which it might expand, Professor Nichols immediately thought of his fellow scientists at KU with whom he had been most favorably impressed. He helped form the KU chapter (Iota chapter) in the fall of 1889. The membership list of that first KU chapter reads like a Kansas Who's Who. They were: Edgar H. S. Bailey (Chemistry), Lucien L. Blake (physics), Lewis L. Dyche (Natural History), Frank O. Marvin (Engineering), Ephriam Miller (Math), Francis H. Snow (Entomology).

Interestingly, Professors Blake and Snow were also charter members of the KU chapter of Phi Beta Kappa which was formed in the same year. By 1893 the organization had become large enough to hold a national meeting and elect officers. The first President was E. L. Nichols, the same E. L. Nichols who had been a physicist at KU and had helped start the KU chapter. Since then two KU faculty members have served as Presidents of the national society--Samuel Williston from 1901 to 1904 and Frank O. Marvin in 1909 to 1910.

The originators of the KU chapter of Sigma Xi affixed their names to the Constitution of the Society by signing a log book or register. We still have that register which has since been signed by all new initiates to the chapter. (The register is now in its third volume.)

Chapter Officers

Jennifer M. Gleason, Ph.D., President,
Matthew Buechner, Ph.D., President-elect,
Robert Fiorentino, Ph.D., Secretary,
Michael Vitevitch, Ph.D, Treasurer,
Emily Arsenault, Student Representative,

Annual Symposium/Workshop
Each year the chapter hosts a symposium or workshop in the fall with a theme of interest to chapter members. Watch the chapter community site for announcements of the events.

Annual Research Paper Competition

Each spring semester, KU sponsors an Undergraduate Research Symposium (usually on a Saturday afternoon in April) and a Graduate Research Competition (usually on a weekday afternoon in March). Sigma Xi partners with these two existing events to create the Sigma Xi Research Paper Competition. Participating students in Social/Behavioral Science, Science, and Engineering disciplines may elect to be considered for membership in and recognition by Sigma Xi when they submit an oral presentation to either event. In terms of membership, students who choose this option will receive information about how to become a member. The chapter offers to pay for the first year of membership for graduate students selected for recognition awards.

In terms of recognition, presentations by students who choose this option will be judged by faculty using a standard rubric. Recognition plaques will be awarded to first- to third-place finishers in each of four categories – undergraduate oral presentation, undergraduate poster presentation, early graduate presentation (i.e., Master’s candidate or doctoral student who has not passed preliminary/comprehensive exams), and advanced graduate presentation (i.e., doctoral students who have passed preliminary/comprehensive exams). In addition, undergraduate award winners will receive a Sigma Xi cord which can be worn during the graduation ceremony. All presenters electing consideration by Sigma Xi will be invited to a recognition ceremony (typically held on the day between the last day of classes and the start of finals in May) where they will be inducted into Sigma Xi. First- to third-place finishers in each category will be announced at this ceremony and award plaques will be presented.

Faculty members need not be members of Sigma Xi to have their undergraduate or graduate students participate in this program.

Upcoming Events

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