MIT Reports to the President 1997-98


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 Christopher "Kit" Cummins of Chemistry of the 1998 NSF Waterman Prize. 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. Mathematics has extensively revised introductory calculus 18.01 and has introduced an "intermediate difficulty" freshman calculus sequence 18.01A and 18.02A; the latter has proven to be quite popular. Biology has been successfully introduced into the core curriculum 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. 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 continue to attract about 15% of the students. 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 are, in order, Mathematics, Physics, Biology and Chemistry. Further, Biology is now the second most popular major after EECS. Thus, the School of Science continues to carry a major part of the undergraduate teaching responsibility at MIT. At the graduate level, EAPS successfully introduced its Master of Science in Geosystems program.

In 1993 the School of Science established the "School of Science Teaching Prize for Graduate Education" to complement the prize for undergraduate education established by John Deutch in 1983. The 1998 winner of this award was Professor Robert Sauer of Biology. The School of Science Teaching Prize for Undergraduate Education was won by Professor Rick Danheiser of Chemistry. Sylvia Ceyer of Chemistry and Bob Jaffe of Physics were selected as MacVicar Fellows in FY98. The overall excellence of teaching in the School of Science is exemplified by our exceptional representation (45%) 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 1997-98 twelve new faculty joined the School as assistant professors and one additional faculty was appointed as a full professor. We also have had to stave off an unprecedented number of outside offers to our most distinguished faculty. We were, unfortunately, not always successful in this endeavor. Faculty retention remains a major issue for the School of Science.

One of the most significant events of the recent past 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 has collected data to be used in assessing the status and equitable treatment of women faculty in the School of Science. Second, the committee is facilitating 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. Finally, the committee is also serving as a resource to the MIT community as a whole to provide advice about issues of concern to women faculty at MIT.

There are many new research initiatives in the School of Science. One of the most significant is our newly established partnership with the Carnegie Institution, the Harvard Smithsonian, the University of Michigan and the University of Arizona in the Magellan Project; this involves the design and construction of twin 6.5m telescopes at Los Campanas in Chile. 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 2002. 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. These data are currently being analyzed. In Biology, Professor Lenny Guarante and coworkers made major progress in understanding the molecular mechanisms of aging.

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 "Chemistry Campaign 2000."


There were 805 undergraduate majors in the School of Science during the past academic year, a 8.7% decrease from the previous year. The number of minority student majors at the undergraduate level changed as follows:


No change (41)


No change (62)

Native Americans

2 to 6 (200% increase)

Asian Americans

279 to 239 (14% decrease)

The number of minors in the School of Science in 1997-98 were 161.

School of Science faculty and staff participate actively in the UROP program. In academic year 1997-98, 225 SOS faculty and staff acted as UROP supervisors. In all, there were 1079 UROP projects over the five terms: summer 97, fall 97, IAP 98, spring 98 and summer 98. The largest number of these were in the Department of Biology which had 419 projects.

The female undergraduate population decreased marginally from 434 to 429 (-1%). Twenty-five percent of the Institute's upperclass undergraduates were enrolled in the School of Science.

Graduate enrollments in science decreased from 1,001 to 990. The total enrollment represents 19 percent of the graduate population at MIT. The number of minority students at the graduate level changed as follows:


23 to 17 (26% decrease)


No change (23)

Native Americans

0 to 2 (200% increase)

Asian Americans

51 to 50 (2% decrease)

The number of female graduate students decreased from 295 to 292 (-1%). However, the overall percentage of female graduate students stayed unchanged at 30%.

The 258 faculty members in the School this past year represents a 1.5% decrease from the previous year. The undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio was 3.1 to 1, and the graduate student-to-faculty ratio was 3.8 to 1.


The FY98 research volume was $118.6 million, a slight increase over the FY97 research volume. This figure does not include the significantly increased research volume by MIT faculty at the Whitehead Institute (>$30M), HHMI faculty (>$10M) as well as the research volume associated with School of Science research carried out in the interdisciplinary laboratories reporting to the Vice President for Research.

Robert J. Birgeneau

MIT Reports to the President 1997-98