Hanspeter Pfister To Lead Institute for Applied Computational Sciences

Computer science professor Hanspeter Pfister was named director of the Institute for Applied Computational Sciences at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences last Monday. Pfister is taking the place of physics professor Efthimios Kaxiras, who has led the Institute since its founding in 2010.

“It’s hard to imagine someone better suited for the job. [Pfister is] fantastic, and programs like the IACS are in immense demand,” said computer science professor Ryan P. Adams. “There is an immense educational need for this.”

Since its founding, the IACS has offered a one-year Computational Science and Engineering master’s program as well as a secondary field in CSE for Ph.D. students. This year, for the first time, the interdisciplinary education and research program is also accepting applications for a two-year Master of Engineering degree.

“Most universities have this sort of master’s degree program,”  said Pfister. “These students bring a new dimension to Harvard. Allowing them to be on campus will create a new generation of alumni.”


Pfister, who in addition to his role at SEAS is also an affiliate faculty member of the Harvard Center for Brain Science, received a master’s in electrical engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and a Ph.D in computer science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Prior to his arrival at Harvard, Pfister spent over a decade working for the Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories. His lab at SEAS works on a wide variety of topics, including biomedical visualization, image and video analysis, 3D fabrication, and data science.

“He’s a great person to be running the IACS--very collegial, very friendly,” said Molecular and Cellular Biology and computer science assistant professor David D. Cox ‘00. ”I’m very happy Hanspeter is doing this.”

In addition to its degree programs, the IACS provides students with the opportunity to partake in a biweekly seminar series with leading figures from academia and industry. Every year, the Institute hosts a computer science convention known as “ComputeFest” featuring panelists from across various industries.

“[The IACS] is a valuable initiative at Harvard, given how important computer science is becoming in every field,” Cox said.

Future plans for the Institute include increasing the variety of possible fields of study and expanding its physical presence. The Institute currently occupies a space in the Northwest Labs, but it is preparing to expand its presence by moving to Allston in the coming years.

“Space is the ultimate frontier,” Pfister said.