2012 Annual Letter to Graduate Alumni from EAPS Department Head
I write to introduce myself as the new head of MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). As you may know, Maria Zuber stepped down on January 1 to devote her full attention to the leadership of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. We thank her for her strong and capable leadership over the past eight years. I am proud and humbled to lead one of the world’s best geoscience departments, and I am excited to work with our extraordinary faculty, students, staff, and alumni.
Alumni are an important part of EAPS, and one of my initial goals is to foster a greater sense of community and to improve communications and outreach. I hope you had a chance to read the most recent issue of EAPSpeaks, which was re-launched as an electronic alumni newsletter. We want to keep you up to date with our activities and encourage you to submit your feedback to eapsnewsletter [at] mit [dot] edu. We also would like to add an Alumni Notes section, so please feel free to share your own personal and professional news by April 30.
The overall ambition of EAPS is, of course, to remain one of the world’s leading academic programs in the geosciences. Attracting and retaining brilliant scientists is critical to this goal. Under Maria’s leadership, we have built a world-class geobiology group and made great strides revitalizing research in atmospheric chemistry and climate. Planetary sciences is also now in excellent shape. A top priority for the next few years is rebuilding geophysics and geology, which have suffered faculty losses.
Over the past six months, we welcomed two new faculty members: Professor Susan Solomon and Assistant Professor David McGee. Susan is a leading atmospheric chemist whose pioneering research and commitment to service have influenced public policy. She is best known for positing the theory and discovering the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole. David McGee is a paleoclimatologist who joins us from a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Minnesota, where he held a joint appointment at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. His research uses isotope geochemistry to reconstruct important aspects of past climates.
Sadly, I must report the death of Jim Elliot, who passed away from cancer-related complications in March. EAPS is diminished by the loss of this distinguished planetary astronomer, who was a pioneer in the technique of stellar occultation. Jim’s greatest achievement was the discovery of the rings of Uranus, but he is also remembered for his strong work ethic, leadership of the Wallace Observatory, and dedication to his students. He is deeply missed.
Our faculty continue to receive numerous awards and honors, and I’d like to highlight just a few. Not to be outdone by her husband, Professor Ben Weiss, Professor Tanya Bosak received a 2011 American Geophysical Union (AGU) James B. Macelwane Medal for outstanding achievement in early career for her research investigating the co-evolution of life and the environment on early Earth. Professor Weiss received the award in 2009. Also at the AGU Fall Meeting, Professor Taylor Perron received the Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award from the Focus Group on Earth and Planetary Surface Processes, and delivered its Robert Sharp Lecture. Finally, kudos go to Professors Leigh (Wiki) Royden, Brad Hager, and Sara Seager. Wiki was selected as the George P. Woollard Awardee by the Geophysics Division for her "major contributions to the study of geologic processes through quantitative geophysical modeling.” Brad received the Augustus Love Medal from the European Geosciences Union for his outstanding contributions in modeling the geoid and large-scale mantle flow. Sara was awarded the distinction of Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in recognition of her work on theoretical models of the atmospheric composition and internal structure of extrasolar planets. EAPS’ fundraising priorities have also not changed. In the longer term, we hope to move into a new energy-environment building. However, until these plans become more concrete, fellowship support and discretionary funding remain our most pressing needs.
EAPS’ more than 175 graduate students play a vital role in our work by taking the risks required to make scientific breakthroughs, by teaching and mentoring undergraduates, and by helping to attract and keep world-class faculty. Take Brian Rose. Brian, a 2010 recipient of the Rossby Prize for the best thesis within the Program for Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate (PAOC), worked with Professor John Marshall to investigate the spatial structure of ocean heat transport and its role in defining the mean state of sea ice cover. He just left MIT to become a visiting NOAA Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Washington.
With government funding constrained by burgeoning deficits and increased competition from our peers, support for students like Brian is more important than ever before. First-year fellowships are critical as they give beginning students breathing room to explore their research interests, find a faculty mentor, and complete coursework. You can directly support our students by making a gift to the M. Nafi Toksöz or the Theodore R. Madden fellowship funds. Your gift will honor two beloved faculty members and help us recruit the most highly imaginative young scientists.
Discretionary funding gives EAPS the flexibility to seize opportunities and address unforeseen challenges. In the past, these resources have been used to seed bold ideas deemed too risky for federal funding, to enrich the student experience, and to upgrade technology and instrumentation.
I hope you will consider supporting EAPS this year, and thank you for your past generosity. Please know that your gift—no matter what the size—will make an impact. I encourage you to stay connected to EAPS and to stop by Building 54 whenever you are in Cambridge.
Robert D. van der Hilst
P.S. If you did not receive the first issue of EAPSpeaks, please send a valid e-mail address to eapsnewsletter [at] mit [dot] edu. Better yet, register for a permanent @alum.mit.edu alias on the MIT alumni website, http://alum.mit.edu/benefits/AlumniBenefits.