They are relentlessly expanding the limits of human knowledge and bringing their expertise to bear on the global challenges of today and tomorrow. Professorship support in the Campaign helps MIT empower distinguished faculty and tap the full potential of rising stars.
Samuel Madden ’99, MNG ’99
College of Computing Distinguished Professor of Computing
MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing
It’s an honor to be named the inaugural College of Computing Distinguished Professor of Computing, says Samuel Madden ’99, MNG ’99. For him, the best part is that the professorship provides “resources to help support my students and the research that we do. It also gives me inspiration to keep doing the work.”
“My research involves doing interesting things with data of all types,” he says. At MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Madden and Professor Hari Balakrishnan, the Fujitsu Professor of Computer Science, have used mobile sensing and data analytics to measure the impact of human behavior on road safety.
Excited by the potential of their findings to reduce accidents, the pair cofounded Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a company that provides safe driving technology to insurance carriers, telecommunications and auto companies, and other mobility providers. Drivers can use the company’s app to monitor their driving, and good drivers can get insurance discounts, Madden explains. The app monitors several behaviors, he notes: “Do you slam on the brakes? Do you look at your phone a lot?” Awareness and feedback help drivers improve over time, and Madden is proud that MIT research is making driving safer.
“MIT offers an amazing set of resources to us to get work done,” says Madden. “And of course, we have the best students and colleagues in the world.”
Peter A. Diamond Professor in Economics
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
“The PhD program at the MIT economics department is perhaps the best in the world,” says Stephen Morris, the inaugural recipient of the Peter A. Diamond Professorship in Economics, created by a gift from economics alumnus C.C. Chen ’63, SM ’65, PhD ’67.
An economic theorist, Morris notes that the department has “a huge focus on and investment in our students.” He enjoys supporting graduate students in their research while pursuing his own. His research centers on strategic aspects of economics: anticipating how market participants such as investors and traders will respond to policy changes and other economic events.
Morris views the economics department as a shining example of MIT’s interdisciplinary, collaborative approach to discovery. “It’s an intellectually integrated department—everyone is engaged with what’s happening in all the groups.”
He is particularly proud of a course for second-year PhD students, 14.192 Advanced Research and Communication, which he created and teaches jointly with Esther Duflo PhD ’99, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor in Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT and co-winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Because students are encouraged to begin their own research early in the program, the new course helps equip them to write research papers and publish important findings earlier in their academic careers.
Morris says, “Because of MIT, I’ve rethought graduate education and how it works.”
William R. and Linda R. Young Professor of Neuroscience
School of Science
Elly Nedivi explores the brain’s ability to respond to its environment and learn new things, focusing on remodeling the synapses that connect nerve cells into circuits. “Understanding the basis for this plasticity is highly relevant to our ability to repair or ameliorate brain damage,” explains Nedivi, the William R. and Linda R. Young Professor of Neuroscience, who is also affiliated with the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.
To watch plasticity happen, Nedivi works with Peter So, MIT professor of mechanical and biological engineering, to create new microscopy tools. She says their longtime collaboration is a benefit of working at MIT. “Scientists working so closely with such talented and creative engineers is quite unique to MIT. For me, it has enriched my research in many ways, making experiments that might seem impossible, possible,” she says.
The discretionary funding her lab has received over the years is critically important to her research, Nedivi says, because it can drive forward projects that are not ripe for funding through traditional means. “The first microscope Peter built in my lab was funded this way.”
As important as brain research is, however, Nedivi cites education as MIT’s greatest contribution. Education is “the strongest force for good in the world,” she says. “That’s what we do at MIT—and we do it really well.”
Stewart C. Myers-Horn Family Professor of Finance
MIT Sloan School of Management
Antoinette Schoar aims to give consumers and regulators a clearer understanding of finance to help them make better decisions.
“Finance is a fantastic tool for helping people improve their lives,” she says. “Unfortunately, it can become a hindrance, and it shouldn’t.”
Schoar’s current research projects include investigating the impact of new technologies on consumer finance, how credit card companies are using ever-expanding big data to tailor consumer targeting, how consumers manage their retirement savings, and new payment systems such as cryptocurrencies.
“We’re working to help redesign financial products such as credit cards so they serve people when they need it rather than getting people into trouble when they don’t even notice they’re getting into trouble,” she says.
Schoar cochairs the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Corporate Finance Program and is a cofounder of ideas42, a nonprofit that uses insights from behavioral economics and psychology to solve social problems.
In 2019, she was named the Stewart C. Myers-Horn Family Professor of Finance at MIT Sloan. “I am very honored and proud to hold that professorship,” she said. “Having the resources that help me do the work I’m doing is extremely helpful.
“MIT has given academia a template for doing good in the world while at the same time doing fundamental science,” Schoar said. “Since its inception, MIT has been a model for both.”
Daniel I.C. Wang Professor of Advanced Biotechnology
School of Engineering
“As synthetic biologists, we’re trying to massively advance the scale of genetic engineering projects,” says Christopher Voigt, the Daniel I.C. Wang Professor of Advanced Biotechnology. “We’re focused on how to build better cells and on what that means for agriculture, medicine, industry, and beyond.”
To Voigt, potential applications of biological engineering seem infinite: synthetic biology has been used to identify alternatives to harmful chemical fertilizers in agriculture and to design more targeted and effective drug therapies by reengineering the bacteria that live within us. MIT researchers have even developed enzymes that break down polystyrene, a positive step toward reducing the environmental impact of discarded plastic.
Funds from the professorship have enabled Voigt and his students to attend conferences outside of their particular field, helping them to identify potential interdisciplinary collaborators. “MIT is unique in its ability to cross boundaries,” he remarks.
Also exceptional, according to Voigt, is the Institute’s deep commitment to entrepreneurship as well as innovation. “Everyone here has the mindset of getting new technology out into the world,” says Voigt. “Because of MIT, I know that the results we generate in the lab will be translated to have a real impact.”
Samuel Tak Lee Champion Professor of Urban and Real Estate Sustainability
School of Architecture and Planning
“The world is 55% urbanized right now, but it will be about 68% urbanized in 2050. That means another 2.5 billion people living in our cities,” says Professor Siqi Zheng. Her research centers around building environmental sustainability into these changing cities while maintaining positive economic and social development.
“I appreciate that the MIT approach is to make a real-world impact,” she says. “We work together to tackle technical policies and societal issues around the world, not just in the lab, but within the cities with local stakeholders.”
One way Zheng makes an impact is by leading the Sustainable Urbanization Lab. It engages with fast-urbanizing cities that serve as “living labs” where MIT researchers can test and deploy their urban-focused innovations, from improved transportation to air quality policy interventions. Similarly, since becoming faculty director of the MIT Center for Real Estate, she envisions a more global, interdisciplinary approach to urban sustainability for the center.
Zheng credits the Samuel Tak Lee Champion Professorship of Urban and Real Estate Sustainability for bringing her to MIT and says the Institute’s interdisciplinary environment is helping her research to bloom in new ways. “At MIT, it’s easy to collaborate with other disciplines—there are no boundaries.”