EAPS Patrons Circle event highlights value of science in the service of humanity
EAPS Patrons joined students, faculty, and friends for a festive Third Annual EAPS Patrons Circle celebration in Kendall Square on April 13, 2017.
Starting with a lively poster session, guests mingled with student presenters and asked questions on topics ranging from earthquakes to air pollution to origins of life. EAPS Department Head Robert van der Hilst welcomed and introduced everyone, and the guests heard science presentations from two Grayce B. Kerr fellows, one present and one past. Marie Zawadowicz, the 2016-2017 Grace B. Kerr Fellow and a student in Professor Dan Cziczo’s laboratory, kicked off the presentations by speaking about the development of field and laboratory instrumentation to solve problems in atmospheric chemistry and climate. Her talk “Chasing the Clouds” focused on research through mass spectrometry of single aerosol particles that will lead to an improved understanding of cloud physics and hopefully more accurate climate models.
Julien De Wit PhD ’13, the 2011-2012 Grayce B. Kerr Fellow, now a postdoc in Professor Sara Seager’s group, spoke about “New Worlds, New Discoveries: A major leap in the search for life beyond our Solar System.” He explained the significance of the exciting TRAPPIST-1 planetary system discovery, and his role in leading the atmospheric characterization of the newly discovered exoplanets that may help us to find another habitable world. De Wit has initiated the atmospheric studies of these planets using the Hubble Space Telescope, by studying the spectrum of light filtering through each planet’s atmosphere. TRAPPIST was a prototype for the SPECULOOS project led by the University of Liège, and MIT plans to supply the first SPECULOOS telescope to begin the search for habitable planets in the northern hemisphere.
Neil Rasmussen ’76, SM ’80, EAPS Patrons Circle Chair and MIT Corporation member, and Anna Winter Rasmussen, are staunch advocates of climate science. They have supported the training of climate science thought leaders through the establishment of the Norman Fellowship Fund, which has been endowed in perpetuity since 2015. The fellowships are named in honor of Neil’s father Norman C. Rasmussen, Professor of Nuclear Engineering at MIT from 1958 to 1994.
In his closing keynote, Rasmussen chose to highlight two historic scientific figures: Christiaan Huygens and Jorge Agricol—who, centuries ago, were willing to stand up for science and technology; and, in Huygen’s case, to express rather controversial views at the time about the possible existence of life on other planets. Rasmussen reflected on recent changes in the political climate that, he said, appear to be turning the clock back toward the suppression of science, and in particular, climate science, and he advocated eloquently for the continuing importance of supporting science and the study of our planet to safeguard our future, particularly at this time when the wisdom of science appears to be in question.
Founded in 2015, the EAPS Patrons Circle honors donors who have made a major gift to an EAPS fellowship fund or made a major commitment to support EAPS graduate students through their estate plans. At the April gathering, new EAPS Patrons Peter Hurley ’68 and Marty Hurley were welcomed, along with fellow Patrons Patricia Callahan ’75, David Dee, John Carlson ’83, Robert Cowen ’49 SM ’50, George Elbaum ’59, SM ’63, PhD ’67, Mimi Jensen, Douglas Klein, Gordon Klein, Paola Rizzoli, Nafi Toksöz, Charlotte Johnson, and, of course, Neil Rasmussen ’76 SM 80 and Anna Winter Rasmussen.
Other EAPS faculty also joining the celebratory evening included Associate Department Head Timothy Grove, Andrew Babbin, Kristin Bergmann, Edward Boyle, Dan Cziczo, and Ben Weiss.