Lahore-born quantum astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala has been appointed as the new dean of MIT’s School of Science, effective September 1, becoming the first woman to land the role.
With a career spanning over 24 years, Professor Mavalvala shot to fame for her pioneering work in gravitational-wave detection – a scientific milestone hypothesised by physicist Albert Einstein a century ago.
With her primary research in instrument development for interferometric gravitational-wave detectors, she carried out this feat as a leading member of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.
She has been associated with LIGO since her days at the graduate school at MIT.
The professor, who has been working with MIT since 2002, has been the associate head of the Department of Physics since 2015. She got recognition in the form of several awards and honours, including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Award in 2010, for her research and teaching.
“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,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif.
Announcing the news of her nomination in a letter email to the MIT community, Provost Martin Schmidt said, “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.”
Reacting to the news, Mavalvala said, “As someone in a leadership position, that means you have opportunities to make an important and hopefully lasting impact.”
She pursued her BA at Wellesley College in Physics and Astronomy in 1990 and a PhD in physics in 1997 from MIT.
After completing her early education from the Convent of Jesus and Mary school, she moved to the United States as a teenager to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts.