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Joanna Aizenberg Named Director of Kavli Institute

Professor says she aims broaden the scope of the Institute

By Amy Guan and Radhika Jain, Crimson Staff Writers

Materials science professor Joanna Aizenberg has been appointed the new director of the interdisciplinary Kavli Institute for Bionanoscience and Technology, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences announced last Tuesday.

Aizenberg, who has been on leave this year, will replace former director David A. Weitz, a professor of physics, on July 1.

“Being named a director of this center is really a big honor,” said Aizenberg, adding that her goals are to increase the visibility of the institution and support greater interdisciplinary discussion and “high-risk” research on campus.

“[There are] many things happening at the University, [but] not everything is effectively reaching all parts,” she said.

Aizenberg said that she plans to broaden the scope of the Institute’s impact—and its audience—by introducing a Kavli Distinguished Lecture Series, which will bring top scientists at the bio-nano research interface to speak at Harvard.

She also plans to implement an Institute advisory board that will help make major Institute decisions.

Aizenberg said she hopes to maintain the scientific focus established by Weitz, but also more widely publicize the strength of the Kavli Institute as a “forum for interaction.”

This endeavor has already been embraced by the Institute through its weekly Kavli Koffee Hours, during which anyone may come and present a scientific problem that is not yet understood. The ensuing discussions will often yield solutions—or plant the ideas for future research and collaboration, according to Weitz.

Past projects that have been funded by the Institute include studies on the shapes of the beaks of different birds and the structures of petals and flowers at the nanoscale level.

“Research really depends, maybe fortunately, maybe unfortunately, on the funding,” Aizenberg said. “Most interesting ideas, high risk ideas, that may not be easy to implement, are very difficult to support,”

“I think what the Kavli Institute can bring—and it certainly does already—is the ability to feed exactly these topics,” she said.

Fellow faculty affiliates at the Institute echoed excitement at Aizenberg’s appointment.

“[Aizenberg’s] research really personifies the point of the Kavli Institute—namely she works at the edge of technology and biology to make very creative devices,” said Applied Mathematics professor Michael P. Brenner.

She holds joint professorship appointments in the Chemistry department, SEAS, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and will serve as co-director with chemistry Professor George M. Whitesides.

“She’s a fantastic scientist [and] brilliant innovator,” Weitz said. “People at Kavli love her—she’ll be a great director.”

—Staff writer Amy Guan can be reached at guan@fas.harvard.edu.                           —Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at radhikajain@college.harvard.edu.

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