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School of Science welcomes new professors
MIT NEWS OFFICE, School of Science welcomes new professors, Jan 28, 2014

The School of Science is pleased to welcome six professors to the MIT community.  Our newest faculty members will be joining the Departments of Biology, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and Physics, with their research ranging from the intricacies molecular mechanisms in cells, to the unique properties of quantum condensed matter, to dark matter and galaxy formation.  

“As the new interim Dean of Science, I have been learning about the amazing activities in our science departments and laboratories,” says Michael Sipser, who also serves as the Head of the Department of Mathematics and the Barton L. Weller Professor of Mathematics.  “I'm proud to welcome these five Assistant Professors to our faculty.  We are incredibly fortunate to attract these extraordinary researchers.”

Joseph Checkelsky, Physics

Assistant Professor of Physics Joseph Checkelsky focuses on the study of exotic electronic states of matter through the synthesis, measurement, and control of solid state materials.  Of particular interest are studies of correlated behavior in topologically non-trivial materials, the role of geometrical phases in electronic systems, and novel types of geometric frustration.  These studies aim to uncover new physical phenomena that expand the boundaries of understanding of quantum mechanical condensed matter systems and also to open doorways to new technologies by realizing emergent electronic and magnetic functionalities.  Checkelsky works at the intersection of fundamental solid state physics, solid state chemistry, and nanoscience.  His techniques range from transport and thermodynamic measurements to melt and vapor growth methods to nanoscale probe and device fabrication.  Checkelsky received his PhD in Physics in 2010 from Princeton University, after which, he held the position of lecturer at University of Tokyo and did postdoctoral work at Japan’s Institute for Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN).  





Ibrahim Cissé, Physics


Assistant Professor of Physics Ibrahim Cissé works from first principles to study emergent phenomena in live cells with single molecule sensitivity, and applies novel biophysical approaches to investigate weak and transient biological interactions.  Cissé applies “super-resolution” techniques to highly dynamic, collective behaviors in living cells, using quantitative, fluorescent methods capable of high spatial localization (in the tens of nanometers, well below the optical diffraction limit ) and high temporal resolution (in tens of milliseconds) to apprehend emergent phenomena.  Cissé also works to bring to light the poorly understood roles of weak and transient interactions in the regulation of such molecular mechanisms as genome maintenance, nuclear organisation and gene expression regulation. Weak and transient interactions often include biomolecular complexes with high dissociation constants resistant to commonly used in vitro biochemical approaches, or proteins that require too high a copy number for in vivo detection with conventional fluorescent microscopy. Cissé’s lab seeks to overcome these limitations by taking new approaches based on single-molecule imaging.

 Cissé comes to MIT from HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus where he was in the Transcription Imaging Consortium.  He is originally from Niger, but moved to the US and attended North Carolina Central University, where he received his BS in Physics.  He completed his graduate work in physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and then moved to the École Normale Supérieure, where he was a Pierre Gilles de Gennes fellow and a European Molecular Biology Organization long-term fellow.  



Gloria Choi, Brain & Cognitive Sciences


Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Gloria Choi studies how the brain learns to recognize olfactory stimuli and associate them with appropriate behavioral responses. While for other senses, such as vision, touch, or hearing, stimulus features are organized on the surface of the primary sensory cortex in distinct spatial patterns, no such topological order is apparent for the sense of smell.  Individual inputs to the cortex are dedicated to a specific odorant, but their projections into the piriform cortex appear topologically random.  Choi uses rodent models to interrogate how the brain learns to recognize these seemingly arbitrary patterns of activity and give them behavioral significance.  She plans to dissect brain circuits to understand how representations in the piriform cortex can drive downstream targets to produce learned behavioral responses and then to extend her approach to study social behavior, which in rodents is strongly affected by olfactory cues. Olfactory learning provides an opportunity to study more general questions about how the brain learns to categorize sensory stimuli and to associate them with complex rule-based behaviors. Such cognitive processes have been linked to the prefrontal cortex in humans and other species, and olfactory behavior in mice may offer a new and genetically tractable system for exploring these issues.

Choi received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and her PhD from Caltech, where she studied with David Anderson, an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Before coming to MIT, she was a postdoctoral research scientist in the laboratory of Richard Axel at Columbia University.

Mark Vogelsberger, Physics



Mark Vogelsberger joins the MIT Physics Department as an Assistant Professor.  He received his PhD from the University of Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in 2009. He was an ITC postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics from 2009-2012, and a Hubble fellow from 2012-2013.  Vogelsberger is a theoretical astrophysicist whose research interests span various subjects including cosmology, galaxy formation, stellar feedback processes, dark matter physics, dark matter detection, and the detailed structure of dark matter on small scales. His research makes extensive use of numerical simulations using state-of-the-art high-performance supercomputers around the world.






Jing-Ke Weng, Biology


Jing-Ke Weng joins the faculty as an Assistant Professor of Biology and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.  He has broad interests in understanding the origin and evolution of plant specialized metabolism at enzyme, pathway, and systems levels, as well as how plants exploit discrete small molecules to interact with their surrounding biotic and abiotic environments.   Weng works to address one of the fundamental questions in biology, using chemodiverse plants to discover how complex traits evolve in a Darwinian fashion.  He also actively seeks opportunities to utilize plants as unique model systems to study human diseases, including metabolic syndromes and protein-misfolding diseases.  Prior to MIT, Weng received his PhD in biochemistry from Purdue University in 2009 under the direction of Clint Chapple and was afterwards awarded a Pioneer Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies working with Joseph Noel.






Omer Yilmaz, Biology


Omer Yilmaz begins this semester as Assistant Professor of Biology after working as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of David Sabatini at the Whitehead Institute.   He received his PhD and MD from University of Michigan Medical School in 2008, and then was a Resident in Anatomic Pathology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School until 2013.  Currently, Yilmaz studies the effect of caloric restriction on intestinal stem cells, linking the benefits of caloric restriction to the regulation of intestinal stem cells by their cellular neighborhood (or niche cells) in the small intestine.  Yilmaz plans to expand our understanding of how an organism’s nutritional state influences the biology of intestinal stem cells and their niche, in particular how caloric restriction and obesity play a role in intestinal aging, regeneration, and tumorigenesis.     By better understanding how intestinal stem cells adapt to diverse diets, his lab hopes to identify and develop new strategies that prevent and reduce the growth of cancers involving the intestinal tract that includes the small intestine, colon, and rectum.