Colin Masson

After reading about President Hockfield’s effort to bring MIT’s collective resources and expertise to bear on the global energy challenge, Dr. Colin Masson sent MIT a donation. The fact that he was living with his wife and two children in New York State and had no official affiliation with MIT did not seem to matter. Masson cares deeply about the kind of environment his children will inherit, and he feels strongly that spending money on science is good. He is, after all, an astrophysicist.

As a scientist he understands how “important it is to study climate mechanisms so we can understand all the effects we have on our climate and the effects the climate has on us.” Masson chose to direct his gift to the Lorenz Center, a new climate think tank devoted to fundamental research in the School of Science, since “it seems to take a very broad view of the science.”

The Lorenz Center was founded at MIT by Professors Daniel Rothman and Kerry Emanuel who believe that understanding and predicting global climate change might arguably be the most complex scientific challenge faced by human beings. By creating a stimulating environment that attracts young scientists from diverse fields like mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics, and by providing these scientists with the freedom and resources to follow innovative high-risk paths toward a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms that influence Earth’s climate, the Lorenz Center will become the world’s pre-eminent organization for the study of the climate system. After meeting with Rothman and Emanuel, Masson agreed.

“Despite the change of career, it was actually a very comfortable move because I was working with the same kind of really smart people but with a variety of backgrounds and ways of looking at things.”

Masson grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was educated at Cambridge University where he studied physics, part of the natural sciences. “I was the kind of teenager who was always tinkering, and I just assumed I’d be an electrical engineer.” However, as he continued his studies Masson came to the conclusion that a physics degree would provide more varied career options. After completing a Ph.D., Masson arrived in the United States for a postdoc at Caltech where he pursued a career in radio astronomy and built telescopes. Nine years later, Masson left California for Cambridge, Massachusetts, and joined the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. During this time, Masson met his next-door neighbor and future wife, Leslie, an artist with a keen interest in anthropology.

One day, while reading Physics Today, Masson saw an advertisement that spiked his interest. It was a position at Renaissance Technologies, a quantitative hedge fund, founded by MIT mathematician Jim Simons. After 20 years as an astrophysicist, Masson moved his family and settled into a new life on Long Island.“Despite the change of career, it was actually a very comfortable move because I was working with the same kind of really smart people but with a variety of backgrounds and ways of looking at things.”

Now that he is retired, Masson has more time to do the things he loves, which include cooking, cycling, and coaching students for the Science Olympiad. He is delighted to be able to support MIT’s environmental and energy initiatives and recently made a major gift in support of the Lorenz Center. Getting to know MIT is exciting and while he is still finding his way, Masson has been very impressed with what he has seen. If you would like to join Colin Masson in supporting the Lorenz Center, please visit the website web.mit.edu/lorenzcenter.