Letter from the Dean
My fellow alumni and friends,
On Oct. 4, 2023 I woke up to the announcement that MIT professor Moungi Bawendi won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I bicycled in early to prepare for the festivities and celebrations that followed. Our colleague had won a Nobel Prize! What an amazing place to work that I can make such a statement. The Nobel is a recognition of decades of cutting-edge science from the Bawendi research group on quantum dots — particles of matter so extraordinarily small that their properties, including their color, are governed not by the conventional rules of chemistry but by quantum phenomena.
I was a graduate student here at MIT when Moungi first announced fine-tuning the production of quantum dots. My roommates at the time were doctoral students in chemistry. I remember how excited we were to hear about this fundamental scientific discovery. As the resident physicist-in-training in the household, I took it upon myself to explain what, in fact, quantum dots were. I must admit, at the time, I got that description quite wrong.
Fortunately, you can read more about this discovery in our feature article about his research (without the errors I made). And in early February, you can tune into an MIT-wide lecture given by Moungi that will be livestreamed by the MIT Alumni Association.
This issue is filled with breakthroughs and the culmination of decadeslong research.
One of our new professors Mikhail Ivanov recently received the New Horizons in Physics Breakthrough Prize for contributions to our understanding of the large-scale structure of the universe and the development of new tools to extract fundamental physics from galaxy surveys. Combining theory with astrophysical data, Mikhail seeks to resolve fundamental challenges of modern physics, such as the nature of dark matter, dark energy, inflation, and gravity.
Also working on inflation theory in the Center for Theoretical Physics, postdoc Morgane König is one of our new Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr. Visiting Scholars. Morgane recounts her journey to cosmology, studying the whole of the universe — its content and its origin, much like an archaeologist.
Members of our School of Science faculty, with generous support from Frank Laukien, recently held a symposium to highlight progress in glycoscience research — the science of sugars, at the intersection of chemistry and biology — with implications for new therapeutics applications in cancer and autoimmune and infectious diseases.
Some of you were also able to join us for our fall Dean’s breakfast lecture series talk given by Professor Laura Schulz in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS). Laura discussed fundamental advances in how we understand the process by which we generate knowledge. Her test subjects and experiments? Children and the study of how they play. By observing how children play with the objects and scenarios presented to them in the laboratory, Laura can measure the ways in which they explore uncertainty, test variables, and look for patterns of cause and effect. All crucial skills for human development — and ultimately, the advancement of cognitive science.
Other BCS faculty, such Josh McDermott and his colleagues in the Laboratory for Computational Audition seek to understand our ability to perceive sound and will develop a computer model, which he hopes will contribute to engineering solutions for hearing impairment or loss. Folks in Southern California and the Bay Area were able to meet with Josh and Department Head Michale Fee at their Brain Bites talks to learn more about the intersection of computation and brain science.
In news from our Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) Department, NASA recently launched its Psyche spacecraft mission, setting course for a metallic space rock that could be the remnant of a planetary core like our own. The team, with deep MIT roots, is led by principal investigator and former professor Lindy Elkins-Tanton ’87, SM ’87, PhD ’02; and its deputy principal investigator is Ben Weiss, an MIT professor of planetary science.
This space mission launch is just one of the many research accomplishments overseen by outgoing department head Rob van der Hilst who will be stepping down from head of EAPS at the end of this academic year. In addition to enabling exciting science, one of Rob’s major initiatives has been developing, funding, and constructing the Tina and Hamid Moghadam Building that’s rapidly nearing completion at the foot of the Green Building. In the spring, Rob will help us celebrate the grand opening of this new space, as well as the department’s 40th anniversary. At these events, I hope you will join me in thanking Rob for his 12-year leadership of EAPS and his help in advancing climate science at MIT.
We have much to look forward to in the spring! I hope you can join us on campus to celebrate these milestones and research achievements!
With my very best wishes,
Dean Nergis Mavalvala PhD ’97