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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

Engineering Renewed

September-October 2007

Celebrating its own nifty bit of reengineering, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), elevated from the status of a division of the same name, will unveil its new identity and mission publicly on Thursday, September 20. The “celebration of the past, present, and future,” and official launch of Harvard’s newest school—ratified in February by the Corporation—has been dubbed “Engineering a Renaissance.” Through presentations by Dean Venkatesh Narayanamurti, President Drew Faust, prominent outside speakers, and faculty members, the event aims to focus on new opportunities to enhance education, advance research, and better society.

pie charts of current and projected SEAS facultyEngineering and applied sciences are not new disciplines at Harvard. The Lawrence Scientific School, founded in 1847, was incorporated into the University in 1906 and emerged as the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 1946. The division has been embedded within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), which will continue to admit both the undergraduates (through the College) and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences applicants who study in the school. But its new status underscores SEAS’s autonomy in finances, research administration, and other operational matters, and confers a stronger identity for attracting faculty and students.

A booklet prepared for the September 20 gala outlines several of the school’s ambitions. In education, SEAS aims to maintain the virtues of being a part of a liberal- arts institution by offering a new foundational course for all undergraduates, and perhaps a new concentration covering the fundamentals of science and engineering and their connection to society. For concentrators, the school emphasizes increasingly experiential learning—using new teaching laboratories—and inter-disciplinary knowledge. The latter is grounded both in SEAS’s nondepartmental structure and in the connections its faculty members maintain to other departments: one-third of its professors hold joint appointments.

Recent and planned growth in the faculty ranks underpins SEAS’s research and teaching goals. During Narayanamurti’s deanship, begun in 1998, SEAS has renewed its faculty ranks, currently numbering 69 people, with more than 40 new members, including about 20 additional positions. In the coming decade, the school hopes to grow another 50 percent, bringing its faculty to around 100 members, with significant expansion in fields related to biomedical and chemical engineering (see charts), and related growth in computing, nanotechnology, and bioengineering infrastructure.

That planned growth would support continued education in SEAS’s degree programs (applied mathematics, computer science, and the engineering sciences subfields: biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, engineering physics, environmental sciences, and mechanical and materials sciences), as well as further work in related areas of public policy. Among the areas identified for focused research are surface chemistry, quantum computation, biologically inspired engineering, nanotechnology, and energy and environmental technologies.

Those aspirations will be given tangible form by the completion and occupancy of FAS’s towering Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering, linking the historical SEAS campus complex centered in Pierce Hall and its associated buildings with the McKay Laboratory. Those attending the September 20 events will be able to tour the result before or after the welcome and dedication speeches by Narayanamurti and Faust, on the Pierce lawn at 2:00.

Other public addresses will be made by Charles M. Vest, MIT president emeritus and now president of the National Academy of Engineering (and a newly minted recipient of the National Medal of Science in technology); Harvey V. Fineberg, former Harvard provost and now president of the Institute of Medicine; Susan Graham, Chen distinguished professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Berkeley and past president of the Board of Overseers; and Thomas E. Everhart, president emeritus of California Institute of Technology, who was also an Overseer. An afternoon panel will be moderated by FAS dean Michael D. Smith, who is McKay professor of computer science and electrical engineering in SEAS. For a detailed schedule on their presentations and the panel discussions on engineering education, engineering research, and engineering in the wider world, visit www. seas.harvard.edu/highlights/celebrations.html.