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Harvard SEAS, Newsletter, Spring 2009

Harvard SEAS, Newsletter, Spring 2009

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Biannual Newsletter of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Biannual Newsletter of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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Published by: Harvard School of Enginering and A on Jan 11, 2010
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01/11/2010

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D ean’  sM e s sa g e
Spring/Summer 2009
T
here’s a saying in scientic circles,“the light bulb was not invented bya crash program on candles.” Now seemslike a good time to pause and considerwhat that saying means, given the mediabuzz about the stimulus money for re-search (“shovel-ready science”) and evencalls for another “moon shot.”First, progress in science and engineer-ing rarely follows a linear path. If it did,I suspect our graduate students wouldcomplete their theses twice as fast! Evenwith substantial, immediate funding, re-searchers won’t be able simply to conjureup signicant results on cue.Second—and related to the previouspoint—luck is rarely “dumb.” Serendipi-tous breakthroughs grow out of yearsof sustained effort, without which theywould not have happened—or been rec-ognized as important.In this issue of the newsletter you canread about how Federico Capasso usedthe elusive Casimir-Lifshitz force (oncedismissed as a curiosity) to levitate a smallobject (pp. 4–5). Discovering the force it-self wasn’t the end of the story. It took thesubsequent development to provide thecontext for “seeing” the potential of thisforce anew.Put another way, to get results fromshovel-ready science involves more thanfunding the shovel. You need rich soil inwhich to dig.Third, world-class scientic research re-quires a complex and dynamic infrastruc-ture. The stimulus will help science, of course, but the package aims at specicand very practical ends: creating jobs andinjecting money into the economy forthe near term. For continued success, wehave to consider the entire infrastructureof science.Today’s big discoveries are collaborativeundertakings and require sustaining asocietal framework for inquiry and inno-vation. That’s why a one-shot investmentwon’t make much difference. Rather, weneed to enhance education, encourage andreward industrial innovation, and recog-nize the social consequences and politicalimplications of science and engineering.With respect to the last of these points, weare fortunate that Venky Narayanamurtihas been appointed director of the Science,Technology, and Public Policy Program atthe Belfer Center (p. 11). In his new role,he’ll be focusing precisely on this vitalpolitical-scientic nexus.Fourth, “top-down” direction rarely workswell in science. During these difcult eco-nomic times, some have proposed another“moon shot” to rally the country and opennew avenues for economic revitalization.“If we can put a man on the moon, surelywe can _____!” is a popular sentiment.The grand challenges being nominatedfor such an approach include solving theenergy problem, xing the environmentalcrisis, and improving global health. Butthe trip to the moon was a tightly focusedundertaking—you really could “engineer”your way up there. Current global prob-lems are quite another matter.In the case of energy—as materials scien-tist Mike Aziz discovered when he createdhis new course, “Survey of Energy Tech-nology” (pp. 14–15)—there isn’t any sin-gle solution we can all throw our weightbehind to get the job done.So—if not to the moon—where do we gofrom here?My advice for those who lead research in-stitutions and labs would be to build andnurture environments that encourage dis-covery. In particular, promote conditionsin which ideas can most effectively takeshape. Then, as much as possible, get outof the way! In so doing, you’re far morelikely to catch a glimpse of the excitingplaces that creative inquiry can take us.My advice for our government leaderswould be to see the stimulus as a rst steptowards a broader effort to advance the en-terprise of science and technology. WhileI applaud the desire to “restore science toits rightful place,” it now permeates all as-pects of life and society.To my research colleagues—and thoseconsidering scientic careers—I recom-mend holding on to the inspiration of thegrand challenges while not getting lost inthe grandeur. If we end up just construct-ing moon shots we may miss far brighterstars along the way.I want to end this note with thanks toeveryone for making my year as Interimdean a good and very interesting one, es-pecially given the challenging nancialcircumstances. It was an opportunity tosee aspects of the School and the Univer-sity that otherwise I’d never have known.I was fortunate to nish the year with ourVisiting Committee’s review. It offered anoccasion for some concerted reection onwhere SEAS has been and where it’s going.And I am pleased at the record of progressthat we have achieved thus far.While I’m eager to take what I have learnedback to my post at the Rowland Institute, Iwill miss the daily personal interactionswith students, faculty, and staff. And I’msure that our new dean, Cherry A. Murray,will soon share my sense of gratitude andexcitement at being part of the wonderfulcommunity that we have here at SEAS.
J
 
Frans A. Spaepen
Interim Dean; John C. and Helen F. Franklin Professorof Applied Physics
 
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Incoming SEAS dean, Cherry A. Murray, met withmembers of the community at a party held in April,celebrating her arrival.
Cherry A. Murrayappointed dean
Cherry A. Murray, who has led some of the nation’s most brilliant scientists andengineers as an executive at Bell Labora-tories and the Lawrence Livermore Na-tional Laboratory, has been appointeddean of Harvard University’s Schoolof Engineering and Applied Sciences(SEAS) effective July 1, 2009. She willalso become the John A. and ElizabethS. Armstrong Professor of Engineeringand Applied Sciences.Murray, 57, is principal associate direc-tor for science and technology at Law-rence Livermore National Laboratory inLivermore, Calif., where she leads 3500employees in providing core scienceand technology support for LawrenceLivermore’s major programs. She is alsothe current president of the AmericanPhysical Society (APS).“Our School of Engineering and AppliedSciences has made impressive strides inrecent years, and she will bring the stra-tegic vision and experience necessaryto guide it through its next stage of de-velopment. It is a privilege to welcomeher to Harvard,” said Harvard PresidentDrew Faust.A celebrated experimentalist, Murrayis well known for her scientic accom-plishments using light scattering, anexperimental technique in which pho-tons are red at a target of interest.“I have known Cherry Murray for manyyears as a colleague, researcher, and sci-entic leader,” said Venkatesh “Venky”Narayanamurti, who stepped down inSeptember after 10 years as SEAS dean.“She has a deep understanding of theinterplay between basic and appliedresearch and the role of engineeringand applied science as a linking and in-tegrating discipline—rooted in science,focused on discovery and innovation,and connected to the wider world of technology and society. Her appoint-ment as SEAS dean is a tremendouscoup. She is a proven leader.”In the appointment announcement,Michael D. Smith, John H. Finley Jr.Professor of Engineering and AppliedSciences and dean of Harvard’s Facultyof Arts and Sciences, thanked FransSpaepen, who has served as interimdean for the 2008–2009 academic year,for his service. Spaepen will return tohis former post as the Director of theRowland Institute.
Long-time faculty memberHoward Stone departsfor Princeton
Howard Stone, who joined the Harvardfaculty in 1989 after earning his Ph.D. atCaltech and spending a year as a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Applied Mathematics and TheoreticalPhysics at Cambridge University, de-parted Harvard in June to take a posi-tion at Princeton University.In February he was elected to the Na-tional Academy of Engineering (NAE),something he considers both a profes-sional and personal achievement. “Myfather, now 87, is also a member of NAE;he was elected for his contributions
Noted teacher, administrator, and researcher Howard Stone servedas a faculty member at SEAS for two decades; in June he departedfor Princeton University.
to nuclear engineering after havingworked his entire career for GeneralElectric,” Stone said. “He has emeritusstatus so did not see the NAE ballot norcould he vote, so the news that I waselected to NAE was a pleasant surprisefor him as well!”
CS 50 Fair offers freepopcorn, PHP
The CS 50 Fair—complete with free pop-corn and stress balls—celebrated whatcan happen in the course of a semesteras students graduate from passive usersto active programmers.Nearly 900 people from across campusattended the rst annual end-of-termtech-fest sponsored by students in CS50, “Introduction to Computer Science.”Reps from Akamai, Google, Microsoft,VMware, and the homegrown hero,Facebook, also took in the scene.Enrollment in the course, taught bySEAS instructor David Malan ’99, ’07,has more than doubled (to 330) in thepast year, reecting strong and growinginterest in the course—and in keepingwith national trends.
2ISEAS – Spring/Summer 2009
Life On & Around Oxford Street
 
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Balloons lined the main staircase of the NorthwestBuilding, enticing nearly 900 visitors to meet at the
CS50 fair, a festive showcase of nal projects from
the popular course.
Physics-friendly engineering
 The appointment of Dr. Cherry A. Mur-ray as the new dean of SEAS carrieson a long tradition in physics/appliedphysics. Murray has both of her de-grees from MIT, both in physics, andconducts research in applied physics.Past deans John Van Vleck, HarveyBrooks, and Paul Martin all earnedtheir Ph.D.s in physics from Harvardand were well known for their practi-cal approach to science. In fact, until
Random Bits
“It was liberating that I had accumulated skills that I could use inthe sports world. Plus, I was much more passionate about sports than I was about insurance.”—Scott Swanay ’87 (Applied Mathematics), as quoted in the
Harvard Crimson
. Swanay madea major career shift from an actuary for insurance companies to managing a successfulfantasy baseball enterprise.
Overheard
were common. Tracking sea turtleswith RFIDs, rationalizing complicatedcourse sections and requirements, im-proving blogging, and enjoying someretro gaming (a reinterpretation of theboard game Battleship) were also inthe mix. To generate more interest incomputer science, Malan plans to cre-ate a miniature version of the fair forprospective undergrads.
Teaching labs open theirdoors; IT gets refreshed; MDclassrooms to go the distance
The undergraduate CAD/CAM teach-ing labs debuted with a short course,“Mechanical Engineering: Introductionto Rapid Prototyping, 3-Axis Milling,and 3D Printing” (see pages 13 and 20).The IT Ofce received a long-overduemakeover, with the existing space refur-bished to better meet the needs of thecommunity. Harvard’s Division of Con-tinuing Education, which has long usedMaxwell Dworkin for evening classes,will renovate lecture halls G115 andG125 during the summer. One of the ob-jectives is to facilitate the live streamingand recording of classes, colloquia, andother events from these locations.
Chef Ferran Adrià cooksfor a crowd; families sharea love of chocolate
By some estimates, over 600 peopleshowed up for 250 rst-come, rst-served seats to hear celebrated chef Ferran Adrià discuss his innovations inmolecular gastronomy on December 9(see page 6). The annual Holiday Lecture,held four days later, offered a related cu-linary theme, “The Science of Chocolate.”The family-style talk and demonstrationwas a hit; more than 1000 adults andkids attended the presentation.
SEAS gets greener
In collaboration with the UniversityOfce of Sustainability (and its effort toreduce Harvard’s greenhouse gas emis-sions), the SEAS community has takenactive steps to make the campus moreeco-friendly. These steps include the in-stallation of water-conserving xtures;a campaign to encourage communitymembers to bring their own reusablemugs and turn off power strips andlights; and more comprehensive solu-tions, such as automatically regulatingbuilding energy use.
J
Buoyed by the electronica music pump-ing through the ground-level gatheringspace in the new Northwest Building,visitors made “station stops” to learnabout individual student projects.iPhone and BlackBerry apps mashingGoogle maps with social networking
1975, all led a division with “appliedphysics” in the name. Former dean Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurtiearned his degree in physics fromCornell, and interim dean Spaepenearned his degree in applied physicsfrom Harvard.
Political science
We take pride that some of our engi-neers end up playing politics. ShaunDonovan ’87, ’95, the current sec-retary of Housing and Urban Devel-opment, earned his undergraduatedegree in engineering sciences. Healso earned a Master of Public Ad-ministration from the Kennedy Schooland a master’s in architecture at theGraduate School of Design in 1995.Darcy Burner ’96, who graduated in1996 with a B.A. in computer science,ran for Washington’s 8th Congressio-nal district in 2006 and 2008 but lostby a narrow margin. Former teacher/ mentor Harry Lewis stumped for her(via video) during the campaign.
J
Shaun Donovan ’87, ’95 is helping toput America’s house in order. The cur-rent secretary of Housing and UrbanDevelopment earned his undergradu-ate degree in Engineering Sciences.
 SEAS – Spring/Summer 2009I3

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