Letter from the Dean
My fellow alumni and friends,
We have now passed the winter solstice and light is once again returning to Cambridge. Though we are still firmly entrenched in New England winter, knowing the days are growing longer is a boon. No matter the wintry weather, research at the School of Science continues unabated.
In this issue, Dr. Emery Brown, a practicing anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and a professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, walks us through what was, up until the last decade, the modern mystery of anesthesia’s effect on the brain. MIT, in collaboration with MGH, is actively fundraising around an Anesthesiology Initiative that will support Emery’s neuroscience approach to studying how the state of general anesthesia is induced and maintained. In our cover article, you can read more about his next steps in a research program centered around the tools of modern neuroscience.
Alumnus George Elbaum was awestruck by Brown’s recounting of the dearth of research on anesthesia in a clinical setting; so much so that he committed ongoing support for Brown’s research — even though brain and cognitive sciences is a far cry from Elbaum’s formal MIT degrees: a bachelor’s in 1959 and a master’s in 1963, both in aeronautics and astronautics — and a master’s in 1963 and a PhD in 1967, both in nuclear engineering.
Support from insatiably curious alumni and friends is one way in which we keep our research enterprise sharp. Over the summer, Professor Emeritus Paul Schimmel and his wife Cleo, made a $50 million pledge to the Department of Biology to support graduate students and research in the life sciences at MIT. Twenty-five million dollars was given in an outright gift and $25 million was made available to match new gifts to this fund. One of the first people to take advantage of this opportunity was our very own Institute Professor Phillip Sharp.
Alumnus John Jarve ’78, SM ’79 also recently lent his support to the school in the form of research seed funding grants. Over the last three years, Jarve has supported more than 20 proposals across the school’s multitude of research disciplines and has spurred the Dean’s Office to fund close to 50 other projects. You can read more about these burgeoning research programs.
Additional seed funding was earmarked specifically for the Department of Mathematics thanks to a donation from Stephen Berenson ’82. This donation will help support nascent faculty and student research projects, as well as ideas not easily funded through traditional channels. Berenson called it “exploration capital” and we know just how much our community can accomplish when given the resources to truly explore all avenues.
For example, you can learn about the achievements of our students in the Program for Research in Mathematics, Engineering and Science for High School Students (PRIMES). The research productivity of these students is inspiring — with close to 300 published papers, 20 percent of which have been in academic journals and conference proceedings. And many of these students come back to MIT to begin their studies in earnest as first-year students. Kudos go to PRIMES chief advisor Professor Pavel Etingof and program director Slava Gerovitch, as well as the program’s alumni who continue to help the program succeed.
In recent research news, you can read about MIT’s mission to Jupiter’s asteroid belt. The Lucy spacecraft will swing twice around the Earth before heading out to the Trojan asteroids on one side of Jupiter and then back by Earth again for another slingshot to the other side of the solar system’s largest planet to investigate other asteroids — all over 12 years and nearly 4 billion miles. Mission co-investigator Richard Binzel, professor of planetary sciences in EAPS, outlines the research goals for the Lucy spacecraft.
You can read about new faculty member Arlene Fiore, our first holder of the Peter H. Stone and Paola Malanotte Stone professorship in EAPS, who seeks to understand how pollutants influence atmospheric chemistry, the climate system, and air pollution on local and global scales. A more detailed look at her research using satellite data to track pollutants can be found on MIT News.
Finally, you can read a profile of Robert Gilliard, a self-described “exploratory chemist” and Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar in the Department of Chemistry, who is working with Professor Christopher Cummins to create novel molecular structures with potential applications in optics and catalysis.
These stories and others continue to inspire me through the seasons and fill me with hope for the future of science at MIT and beyond. I hope they do the same for you.
With my very best wishes,
Dean Nergis Mavalvala PhD ’97