Pakistan-born astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala named dean of MIT School of Science

Pakistan-born quantum astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala has been named the new dean of the MIT School of Science, one of the five schools of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

According to MIT News, she will become the new dean from September 1 and will succeed Michael Sipser, who will return to the faculty as the Donner Professor of Mathematics after six years of service.

Mavalvala is renowned for her pioneering work in gravitational-wave detection, which she conducted as a leading member of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), the report said.

“She has received numerous awards and honors for her research and teaching, and since 2015 has been the associate head of the Department of Physics. Mavalvala will be the first woman to serve as dean in the School of Science.”

It added that Mavalvala was “energized and optimistic” about the role ahead, even as she acknowledged the unprecedented challenges the school and the institute as a whole were facing during this difficult time.

“We’re in this moment where enormous changes are afoot,” she said. “We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and economic challenge, and we’re also in a moment, at least in US history, where the imperative for racial and social justice is really strong.

“As someone in a leadership position, that means you have opportunities to make an important and hopefully lasting impact,” she said.

Born to a Parsi family in Karachi, Mavalvala received her early education from the Convent of Jesus and Mary school. She later moved to the United States as a teenager to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she is said to have a natural gift for being comfortable in her own skin, according to an article published on the website.

Mavalvala did her BA at Wellesley College in Physics and Astronomy in 1990 and a PhD in physics in 1997 from MIT.

Before that, she was a postdoctoral associate and then a research scientist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), working with LIGO.

She also received the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Award in 2010. 

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