Nergis Mavalvala Named MIT School of Science Dean

Mavalvala will be the first woman to serve as dean in the School of Science

Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced Nergis Mavalvala as the new dean of the School of Science. Effective 1st September 2020, astrophysicist Mavalvala will succeed Michael Sipser.

Mavalvala, the Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics, is renowned for her pioneering work in gravitational-wave detection. She conducted this as a leading member of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

Over the years, she has received numerous honors and awards for her research and teaching. Since 2015, she has been the Associate Head of the Department of Physics. Mavalvala will be the first woman to serve as dean in the School of Science.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif, said,

“Nergis’s brilliance as a researcher and educator speaks eloquently for itself. What excites me equally about her appointment as dean are the qualities I have seen in her as a leader: She is a deft, collaborative problem-solver, a wise and generous colleague, an incomparable mentor, and a champion for inclusive excellence.

As we prepare for the start of this most unusual academic year, it gives me great comfort to know that the School of Science will remain in such capable hands.”

Provost Martin Schmidt announced the news on 17 Aug 2020, in a letter emailed to the MIT community, writing,

“I very much look forward to working with Nergis and to benefiting from her unerring sense of scientific opportunity, infectious curiosity, down-to-earth manner and practical wisdom. I hope you will join me in congratulating her as she brings her great gifts as a leader to this new role.”

As with most everything she takes on, Mavalvala is energized and optimistic about the role ahead, even as she acknowledges the unprecedented challenges that the school, and the Institute as a whole, are facing in these shifting times.

“We’re in this moment where enormous changes are afoot,” Mavalvala says.

“We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and economic challenge, and we’re also in a moment, at least in U.S. history, where the imperative for racial and social justice is really strong. As someone in a leadership position, that means you have opportunities to make an important and hopefully lasting impact.”

Mavalvala was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and grew up in Karachi. A tinkerer by nature, she often got up to her elbows in grease as she absorbed herself in the mechanics of bike repair. In school, she gravitated to math and physics early on, and her parents, strong advocates of both their daughters’ education, encouraged her to apply to college overseas.

At Wellesley College, she earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy, before moving to MIT in 1990, where she pursued a PhD in physics. Her advisor, Rainier Weiss, now professor emeritus of physics, was working out how to physically realize his idea of an interferometer to detect gravitational waves — minute disturbances rippling out through space from cataclysmic events millions to billions of light-years away.


Image & News Source: MIT News