MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVII No. 5
May/June 2005
Provost Responds to
Professor Postol's Allegations
International Students and Scholars:
A Legacy for MIT and the U.S.
Lorna Gibson New Chair of the Faculty
Back to the Future
Academic Expectations
Strengthening TA Training
Faculty Mentor Program:
A Growing Success
Advising and Mentoring of Undergraduates
Mission to Banda Aceh:
Excerpts from a Journal
Summer Without Summering;
Slave Huts, Bonaire
The Purpose of Poetry
Survey Says:
Faculty Approve of Updated Lunch Program
Alumni Attitudes and Involvement
Tenure and Promotion
[from the 2004 Faculty Survey]
Have you ever considered leaving MIT? [from the 2004 Faculty Survey]
Printable Version

Lorna Gibson New Chair of the Faculty

Newsletter Staff

Professor Lorna J. Gibson will begin a two-year term as Chair of the Faculty on June 15, 2005. Professor Gibson is the Matoula S. Salapatas Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and holds joint appointments in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Lorna was raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario, home of both tacky tourist traps as well as some remarkable civil engineering works: several bridges across the Niagara River, observation towers near the Falls, as well as the canals, reservoir, and penstocks associated with the hydroelectric power station. Growing up, her mother thought that she and her two brothers should know what factories were like, and organized family field trips to the Nabisco cereal factory in Niagara Falls, to the paper mill in nearby Thorold, to the Ford plant outside of Toronto, and to Kodak and Corning Glass in New York State. When one of her former students recently described the field trips he took during IAP as part of the Leaders for Manufacturing Program's national plant tour (paper mill, auto plant, Kodak, Dell computer, Boeing.) she realized that her mother was way ahead of her time!

Career Choices

Lorna was unsure of what career she was interested in when she entered the University of Toronto and started by taking mainly science subjects. During her first year, she realized that engineering was much more practical than science, and being a practical person, and wondering just how all those bridges, towers, canals, reservoirs, and penstocks in Niagara Falls worked, she transferred into Civil Engineering. By the final year of her undergraduate studies, she had become interested in the mechanical behavior of materials and decided to pursue a PhD in this field at Cambridge University. On returning to Canada in 1981, she worked for about a year for a consulting engineering company in Calgary, Alberta that specialized in engineering in the Arctic. Projects at the company tended to be very short term and she found that she was just getting into a project and finding out what the issues were, when it was time to move on to the next project. She then realized that perhaps an academic career would be more interesting than consulting and got a faculty position at the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 1982.

The move to Vancouver was also a welcome relief from winter in Calgary, where there were days when it was colder in Calgary than in the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic.

At UBC she began to appreciate the real pleasures of an academic career: the independence in defining research projects and working on them with graduate students, as well as teaching and getting to know undergraduates. Funding difficulties between the university and the provincial government led her to look at other academic positions, and when she was offered a position at MIT in the Department of Civil Engineering in 1984 she accepted (with some trepidation over what was expected of junior faculty).


Professor Gibson's research focuses on the mechanical behavior of materials with a porous, cellular structure: engineering honeycombs and foams as well as natural materials such as cork and wood. Her work in this area initially focused on developing models for predicting the mechanical properties of cellular solids as well as methods for using them in engineering applications. Over the last 10 years, she has become interested in applying models for cellular solids to biomedical applications: in understanding the mechanical consequences of the loss of trabecular bone (a porous, spongy type of bone that exists at the ends of the long bones and in the vertebrae) during osteoporosis; in estimating stress concentrations in the lung around local regions of stiffer tissue (such as scar tissue or collapsed alveoli); in measuring and modeling the mechanical interactions between biological cells such as fibroblasts and porous scaffolds used in tissue engineering. Lorna also has an interest in biomimicking, in applying the microstructural features and mechanisms that lead to efficient materials and structures in nature to engineering design. In 1996 Lorna transferred to the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, as her research increasingly moved into the area of biomaterials and biomechanics.

MIT and Beyond

Lorna currently teaches graduate subjects on mechanical properties of materials as well as a service learning freshman seminar in which the students develop educational displays on natural materials and structures for the Boston Nature Center and the Museum of Science. She has served on numerous committees at the departmental, school, and Institute levels. She served as Undergraduate Officer in CEE, chaired the Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Engineering and has been on the Faculty Policy Committee for several years.

Lorna lives in Jamaica Plain with her partner, Jeannie Hess, and their chocolate Labrador, Toblerone (Tobes for short). She commutes to MIT by bicycle along the Emerald Necklace in the spring, summer, and fall, keeping an eye out for wildlife along the way: she has seen deer and coyote in the Arnold Arboretum, albino squirrels near Jamaica Pond, and blue herons nesting in the Forest Hills Cemetery. Lorna also enjoys birding (she was delighted at the recent announcement of sightings of the ivory-billed woodpecker, long thought to be long gone), gardening (especially in the spring, when it is at its most rewarding), and baking (especially for her friends).

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