MIT Reports to the President 1998-99


The School of Science at MIT continues to play a leadership role in science education and research both nationally and internationally. Our faculty received a broad array of honors and awards during the past year, internal and external, national and international. We note particularly the award to Professor Phillip Sharp of the Benjamin Franklin Medal. Various studies including especially the NRC study of Research Doctorate Programs in the United States show that our graduate programs quite broadly are ranked among the top few in the Nation. Of course, maintaining this high standard in the future will require continued dedication and diligence by all of the members of our community, especially in an era of constrained resources.

Our education programs continue to evolve and improve in response to ever-changing conditions. Biology was successfully introduced into the core curriculum several years ago and is continuing quite successfully. One result of adding Biology to the core is a dramatic increase in the number of Biology majors over the past several years although that now appears to have leveled off. Interestingly, several years ago Physics introduced a major change in the structure of 8.01 with most of the teaching taking place in small sections of 20 students; it turns out that this revised format which was faculty intensive, was not very popular with the freshman so Physics has returned to the large lecture format for 8.01. The "hands-on" variants of freshman physics, 8.01x and 8.02x have increased significantly in popularity so that it has become necessary to institute a lottery to select the students. Physics is also creating a video tutoring website for 8.01. BCS has revamped its Cognitive Science major dividing it into four core areas and has introduced a neuroscience major. As a consequence, B&CS now has close to 100 undergraduate majors. Overall, after EECS, the departments with the largest number of undergraduate student contact hours at MIT include Mathematics, Physics, Biology and Chemistry. Further, Biology is now the third most popular major after EECS and Mechanical Engineering. Thus, the School of Science continues to carry a major part of the undergraduate teaching responsibility at MIT. At the graduate level, EAPS has successfully introduced its Master of Science in Geosystems program. EAPS has also established the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate (PAOC) which will coordinate graduate study in atmospheric science, oceanography, and climate physics and chemistry.

The School of Science Teaching Prize for Undergraduate Education was won by Professor Alan Guth of Physics. Chris Kaiser of Biology was selected as a MacVicar Fellow in FY99. The overall excellence of teaching in the School of Science is exemplified by our exceptional representation (45 percent) among the MacVicar Fellows.

The quality of an academic enterprise such as the School of Science is determined primarily by the caliber of the faculty who make it up. Thus, one of the highest priorities of the current administration in the School has been to support properly our existing outstanding faculty as well as recruiting to MIT exceptionally talented young educators and researchers including especially women and underrepresented minorities. In 1998—99 twelve new faculty joined the School as assistant professors and one additional faculty was appointed as a full professor. We also continue to stave off an exceptionally large number of outside offers to our most distinguished faculty. Faculty retention remains a major issue for the School of Science. In 1998—99 eleven faculty were awarded tenure in the School of Science; six of these were women thence increasing the number of tenured women in the School of Science in one year by 40 percent.

One of the most significant events of this decade was the formation of the Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science. This committee was created as the result of an initiative which involved all of the senior women in the School of Science. The committee has multiple purposes and responsibilities. First, the committee collects data to be used in assessing the status and equitable treatment of women faculty in the School of Science. Second, the committee facilitates communications between the women faculty and the dean and department heads. Third, the committee is acting as a resource for the Dean of Science and the department heads. This spring, the committee released publicly an outline of its official report to the dean including a description of the process by which the committee was formed as well as the committee's recommendations based on its initial studies. This report garnered national attention for MIT, the School of Science and its distinguished women faculty.

There are many new research initiatives in the School of Science. One of the most significant is our newly established partnership with the RIKEN Brain Science Institute (Japan) and the Center for Learning and Memory. Four RIKEN researchers, three of whom will also be MIT faculty will carry out their research in CLM and MIT. In addition, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) is scheduled to be one of the premier scientific experiments on the International Space Station to be launched in 2004. The AMS project, which involves an international consortium, will look for anti-matter and dark matter candidates above the Earth's atmosphere. The AMS had a successful flight on the shuttle Discovery in June 1998 with over 100 million events being recorded. A second shuttle flight is anticipated in the near future.

Fund raising in the School of Science reached all-time highs over the past three years with total cash received exceeding $50M. Of particular note is the pledge by alumnus David Koch of $25M over the next ten years for basic research in cancer/molecular biology.


There were 822 undergraduates in the School of Science during the past academic year, a 2.11 percent increase from the previous year. The number of minority students at the undergraduate level changed as follows:

Blacks:Decreased from 41 to 35 (15% decrease)

Hispanics:Increased from 62 to 67 (18% increase)

Native Americans:Increased from 6 to 9 (50% increase)

Asian Americans:Decreased from 239 to 234 (2% decrease)

The number of minors in the School of Science in 1998—99 were 121.

The female undergraduate population stayed constant at 429. Twenty-five percent of the Institute’s upperclass undergraduates were enrolled in the School of Science.

Graduate enrollments in science decreased from 990 to 955. The total enrollment represents 18 percent of the graduate population at MIT. The number of minority students at the graduate level changed as follows:

Blacks:Decreased 17 to 15 (12% decrease)

Hispanics:Decreased from 23 to 18 (22% decrease)

Native Americans:No change

Asian Americans:Decreased from 50 to 48 (4% decrease)

The number of female graduate students decreased from 292 to 285 (-1%). However, the overall percentage of female graduate students stayed unchanged at 30 percent.

There were 260 faculty members in the School this past year. This represents a 1.5 percent decrease from the previous year. The undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio was 3.2 to 1, and the graduate student-to-faculty ratio was 3.7 to 1.

The FY 1999 research volume was $117,184,000, a 1.4 percent decrease from the FY 1998 research volume.

More information about this School can be found on the World Wide Web at

Robert J. Birgeneau

MIT Reports to the President 1998-99