Letter from the Dean

Dear Friends,

As you may recall, in June of 2014 I agreed to stay on as Dean of Science on a more permanent basis, dropping the “interim” qualifier on my job title. You can thus look forward to hearing more from me in this capacity over the next several years.

In this issue of Science@MIT, Institute Professor and Nobel Laureate Phil Sharp tells us about the ways in which MIT scientists have shaped Kendall Square. The area looks entirely different now than it did when I arrived here in 1980. Back then, it was a decaying, unsafe industrial zone; now it has become a beautiful mecca for technology, largely due to its proximity to MIT. With the additional attraction of the affiliated Whitehead and Broad Institutes for biomedical and genomic research, Cambridge has become a world-wide center for biotechnology.

Companies started by MIT faculty have attracted other biotech firms to become a part of the vibrant community that has grown up nearby. We are proud of the extraordinary ways our faculty and alumni precipitated the growth of this incredible 21st century industry that will revolutionize the way we live and understand ourselves.

Additionally, Sharp looks ahead to make the case for the convergence of many scientific and engineering fields around the life sciences – a trend which he argues will be a necessary approach to future research and development if we are going to solve the major problems of our time. Although convergence is a national and international phenomenon, MIT has played an important leadership position in the movement. Our own Department of Biology soared to prominence through the convergence of physical sciences and biology in the middle of the last century.

I hope you will be inspired by EAPS graduate student Jimmy Gasore, who is in Rwanda building the first high-frequency climate observatory station in Africa. The ultimate goal of the station is to accurately measure greenhouse gases on the continent – a continent that covers a fifth of the world’s land and which, until now, has been a glaring missing piece of the data we need to understand the climate change puzzle. This project, which will put Africa on the climate-change grid, has been a joint effort of the Rwandan government, MIT faculty and students, and individual alumni and donors who support our activities.

Speaking of support for science at MIT, we are most pleased to introduce the new Fundamental Science Investigator Award (FSIA), a bold approach to the problem of reduced federal funding for our scientists. Cindy and John Reed ’61 (XV), S.M.’65 (XV) have generously provided the funds to establish the first of what we hope will be a number of very special awards to support research in the School of Science. Through the vantage point of the MIT Corporation, which John chaired from 2010 to 2014, and through his work on various committees throughout the Institute, he came to the conclusion that MIT needs to provide more support for basic scientific research. I completely agree, and am deeply appreciative of John and Cindy’s philanthropic support for science. To all of our donors who support the School of Science, I thank you.

As always, I look forward to hearing from alumni and friends of the School of Science. You can reach me at sipser@mit.edu.