Concepts familiar from grade-school algebra have broad ramifications in computer science.
Professors Sylvia Ceyer of chemistry and Robert Jaffe of physics have been named MacVicar Faculty Fellows, joining an elite group of teachers and scholars at MIT.
The appointments were announced at the annual MacVicar Fellows reception and luncheon hosted by President Charles Vest and his wife, Rebecca, at the President's House last Friday. Provost Joel Moses made the formal presentations. There are now 31 MacVicar Fellows.
Professor Ceyer, who joined the faculty in 1981, won the Everett Moore Baker Memorial Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching in 1988 and the School of Science Teaching Prize in 1995. A colleague described Professor Ceyer's notes as "the 'bible' for undergraduates and teaching assistants alike." Professor Ceyer, a graduate of Hope College in Holland, MI, received the PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. She has held the John C. Sheehan Professorship since 1996.
Professor Jaffe joined MIT in 1972 as a research associate and became a faculty member in 1974. One student described him as "the god of quantum physics" while another said he has "a brain the size of Kansas!" Professor Jaffe, a Princeton graduate with an MS and PhD from Stanford, was awarded the Department of Physics Buechner Teaching Prize in 1997, the Graduate Student Council Teaching Award in 1988 and the Science Council Prize for Excellence in Teaching Undergraduates in 1982-83. He served as chair of the Faculty Policy Committee and the MIT faculty from 1993-95.
The MacVicar Program was established to honor Margaret L.A. MacVicar, MIT's first dean of undergraduate education, who died in 1991 at age 47. The program is designed to create a small group of scholars committed to excellence in teaching and innovation in education, causes championed by Dean MacVicar at MIT and nationally. The fellowships provide an annual scholar's allowance to assist each Fellow in developing ways to enrich the undergraduate learning experience. MacVicar Fellows serve 10-year terms.
Professor Graham Walker of biology, who was one of the six original MacVicar Fellows in 1991-92, spoke briefly at the luncheon, noting that despite the diversity among the Fellows, they had "a common passion for teaching," which they shared with Dean MacVicar. "I hope we're teaching up to her standards," he said.
Professor Ceyer said she felt honored to be a MacVicar Fellow, particularly because she admired Dean MacVicar's dedication and passion for education. She said she met Dean MacVicar onlyï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½once, when the dean came to her office and asked her to serve on the Committee on the First Year Program. "With Margaret's intensity, enthusiasm and conviction about the importance of these issues for the education of our students, the only answer possible was 'Yes! I'll do it!'"
Even though their personal relationship was limited to that single conversation, Professor Ceyer felt "deeply troubled" when Dean MacVicar died several years later. "I'm often asked who my role models are," Professor Ceyer said. "My immediate and unthinking answer often is, 'What role models? Why do you need role models?' But I've come to realize that a lot of my disquiet did indeed arise from the model role Margaret played for me." Professor Ceyer is the fifth MacVicar Fellow from the Department of Chemistry.
In accepting the honor, Professor Jaffe cited one of his own teachers, Sara Anne Cassaday, a high school science teacher in Stamford, CT, who passed on her love of chemistry to a few students every year. "Out there in the United States, there are people whose lives were forever touched by her," said Professor Jaffe, listing himself among them.
From Mrs. Cassaday, they learned to love the smell of iodine and the color of potassium dichromate, he said. "We learned to love the fact that it was possible to explain these things. She took the time, the energy and the individual support to make a reality out of a scientific enterprise."
He contrasted this with his daugh-ter's experience at a suburban high school where advanced placement chemistry is taught via computer. "Virtual toxic substances? Virtual burns? My mother never forgave me for the burns on my shoes," he said, and then wondered, "How can a system like that foster a love of science?"
Appointments as MacVicar Fellows are made by the Provost from recommendations forwarded by an advisory committee of MacVicar Fellows, faculty members and undergraduates. The committee for 1998 was chaired by Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams.
The program has received key support from the Exxon Education Foundation -- Dean MacVicar had been an Exxon Corp. director for six years at the time of her death -- and from Cecil Green (SB '23), Life Member Emeritus of the Corporation who supported many of Dean MacVicar's initiatives. Gifts to the program have also come from alumni/ae, including a 25th reunion gift from the Class of 1968 to endow a Fellowship.
In addition to Professor Walker, the 28 Fellows named previously are:
Harold Abelson, electrical engineering and computer science (EECS); Thomas J. Allen, Sloan School of Management; Richard P. Binzel, earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences (EAPS); Gene M. Brown, biology; Wit Busza, physics; Edward F. Crawley, aeronautics and astronautics; Rick L. Danheiser, chemistry; John M. Essigmann, chemistry and toxicology; Woodie C. Flowers, mechanical engineering; Thomas J. Greytak, physics; Daniel S. Kemp, chemistry; Monty Krieger, biology; Paul A. Lagace, aero/astro; Lowell E. Lindgren, music; Ole S. Madsen, civil and environmental engineering; Arthur P. Mattuck, mathematics; Alan V. Oppenheim, EECS; Margery Resnick, foreign languages and literatures; Michael F. Rubner, materials science and engineering (MSE); Donald R. Sadoway, MSE; Robert J. Silbey, chemistry; John B. Southard, EAPS; Arthur Steinberg, anthropology and archeology; Charles H. Stewart III, political science; Irene Tayler, literature; Marcus A. Thompson, music and theater arts; James H. Williams Jr., mechanical engineering, and August F. Witt, MSE.
Following are excerpts from the comments of colleagues and students to the committee about this year's Fellows.
Colleagues said: "Her notes have traveled across the country with former undergraduates, now doing graduate work, and have become the 'bible' for undergraduates and teaching assistants alikeï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The words 'quantum mechanics' typically invoke terror in the minds of students. Professor Ceyer has an amazing ability to convert the students' fear of quantum mechanics into fascination with the role of quantum mechanics in chemistryï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The only word to describe her performance in every aspect of teaching is excellenceï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Enthusiasm is the key to her lecturing style."
Students said: "She challenges us in class and out, whether asking us to truly understand some aspect of quantum chemistry; or encouraging us to remain caring human beings despite the pressures of MIT; simply from her friendly, understanding demeanorï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Her teaching philosophy in very simple terms: Focus on understanding."
Colleagues said: "Robert Jaffe is recognized by his physics colleagues as one of the department's best teachersï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ As chairman of a Physics Department Committee on the Allocation of Teaching Resources in 1985 and 1986, he focused attention on teaching priorities and instituted a number of changes that have greatly enhanced the success and visibility of teaching within the department. I remember saying half in jest that we would know that he had been successful when we found our colleagues standing together in the halls to discuss teaching as they often do to discuss research. Now, 12 years later, I find this does in fact occurï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Bob's lectures are exceptionally lucid, while at the same time intellectually challenging. He is a gifted lecturer and a courageous innovator with the highest intellectual standards."
Students said: "Jaffe has a brain the size of Kansas!ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ He is friendly, accessible, pleasant, perfect, godlike, the most amazing professor ever!ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ He is the god of quantum physics. I could sit through his class for hours. I am sad when his class is overï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ It'sï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½almost like having Richard Feynman teaching the class, but you know he's dead."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 11, 1998.