Letter from the Dean
As you will read in this issue, Marc Kastner stepped down as the Dean of Science late last year. President Barack Obama nominated him in November to direct the Office of Science at the Department of Energy, and I have been serving as Interim Dean, and now Dean, since mid-December. As Head of MIT’s Mathematics Department for nearly the past ten years, I have reported to Marc for much of that time. He’s done tremendous work for the School of Science, and I have learned a great deal from him. Filling in for Marc has been quite a challenge and a privilege for me, and the school is in excellent shape. All of us at MIT are very grateful to Marc for his many years of service and his transformative accomplishments, both as Department Head of Physics and as Dean of Science.
One of the Dean’s many responsibilities involves presenting all promotion cases to Academic Council, a group comprising the President, the Provost, the Deans, and MIT’s other senior leaders. This year, I have had the opportunity to see how that process works first-hand by presenting 23 cases to Academic Council; preparing these cases introduced me to the extraordinary world of science here at the Institute. It has been a thrilling experience indeed.
In this issue of Science @ MIT, you will read about some of the ongoing activities in our six science departments. In Mathematics, Jacob Fox’s research on “Networks, Randomness, and Primes” concerns remarkable developments in how we understand the structure of extremely large networks. Fox was a star mathematics undergraduate here at MIT, who went on to Princeton for his graduate work. Fortunately for us, he returned to MIT in 2011 as an Assistant Professor and Simons Fellow. We have recently approved his promotion to tenure. In Chemistry, graduate student Tengfei Zheng is working on new ways to counteract bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics, a problem of growing urgency these days. Zheng hopes the approach she developed in Elizabeth Nolan’s laboratory will be clinically successful and help us cure diseases that are becoming otherwise untreatable due to bacterial resistance.
Just before the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series, my colleague Tom Leighton delivered the fall Dean of Science Colloquium entitled, “Akamai: From Theory to Practice.” Back in the 1990’s, Leighton and his students were working on theoretical problems concerning congestion in network traffic. This congestion could slow down popular network nodes and would lead to the “World Wide Wait.” Leighton and his graduate student, Danny Lewin, found a solution to network congestion, and they incorporated Akamai in 1998. The rest, as they say, is history. Leighton’s Colloquium talk tells this quintessential MIT story and is viewable at sciencem.it/1bYF9kV.
Marc Kastner has always said the best way to support fundamental scientific discovery is by supporting MIT’s graduate students, and I couldn’t agree more.
Marc Kastner has always said the best way to support fundamental scientific discovery is by supporting MIT’s graduate students, and I couldn’t agree more. So it was most fitting for President Reif to recognize his contributions to the school by creating the Marc A. Kastner Fellowship. A few of the school’s friends soon learned of this effort and generously pledged enough to get the fund off the ground. We are now trying to raise the remainder to permanently endow the fund so that we can award the Kastner Fellowship to one of our many deserving students every year. Gifts to this fund, in any amount, will be deeply appreciated, and can be given online at giving.mit.edu/schoolofscience.