“The Age of Living Machines: How Biology Will Build the Next Technology Revolution”
With an anticipated world population of over 9.5 billion by 2050, we face an unprecedented challenge to sustainably provide sufficient food, water, energy and healthcare. Convergence, the merging of previously distinct disciplines, has emerged as a powerful model with untold potential to drive a new cycle of innovation-based economic growth. Bringing together insights and discoveries from the life, engineering, computation and physical sciences holds the promise of accelerating discovery and the development of new technologies to meet the 21st century’s needs. Promoting convergence approaches in education and research can pave the way to the discoveries and technologies that will transform our world.
Susan Hockfield has distinguished herself in a career that has spanned advanced scientific research and the presidency of one of the premier institutions of science and engineering in the world.
After earning a B.A. in biology from the University of Rochester and a Ph.D. from Georgetown University at the School of Medicine, carrying out her doctoral research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Hockfield was an NIH postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at San Francisco. She then joined the scientific staff at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Joining the faculty of Yale University in 1985, Dr. Hockfield focused her research on the development of the brain and on glioma, a deadly form of brain cancer. She pioneered the use of monoclonal antibody technology demonstrating that early experience results in lasting changes in the molecular structure of the brain. She gained tenure in 1994 and was named the William Edward Gilbert Professor of Neurobiology.
At Yale, Dr. Hockfield emerged as a strong, innovative university leader, first as dean of its Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, with oversight of more than 70 graduate programs, and then as provost, Yale’s chief academic and administrative officer.
From December 2004 through June 2012, Dr. Hockfield served as the sixteenth president of MIT, where she continues to hold a faculty appointment as professor of neuroscience and as a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.
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Under her leadership, in 2006 MIT launched the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), raising more than $350 million to accelerate research, policy and education towards a sustainable energy future. In recognition of MITEI’s momentum, in October 2009 U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a major energy address at MIT and visited its research laboratories, the first American President ever to do so. In 2015, she served as a member of a Congressional Commission evaluating the U.S. Department of Energy laboratories.
As the first life scientist to lead MIT, she championed the breakthroughs emerging from the historic convergence of the life sciences with the engineering and physical sciences, in fields from clean energy to cancer, including the founding of MIT’s David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard. Dr. Hockfield’s book, The Age of Living Machines (2019), focuses on this historic convergence of the life sciences and engineering – a story that holds the promise of overcoming some of the greatest humanitarian, medical, and environmental challenges of our time.
Long an advocate for the research university as an engine of innovation and economic growth, Dr. Hockfield also helped shape national policy on energy technology and next-generation manufacturing. In June 2011, President Obama appointed her co-chair of the steering committee of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, a working coalition of academic, government and industry leaders.
In keeping with MIT’s entrepreneurial spirit and signature strength in working with industry, she actively fostered the burgeoning Kendall Square innovation cluster, populated by global giants and startups in the emerging frontiers of biotech, IT and energy, with many tracing their roots to MIT.
Dr. Hockfield argued forcefully for the value of MIT’s global engagement. She actively expanded the Institute’s international education and research activities. Building on the success of MIT OpenCourseWare in bringing high quality educational materials to learners the world over, in early 2012, Dr. Hockfield accelerated the conversation around cost, quality and access in higher education with the launch of MITx. This online learning initiative offers a laboratory for experimenting with the use of new learning technologies and provides a portfolio of MIT courses to a virtual community of learners around the planet. Further amplifying its impact, in May 2012, MIT joined forces with Harvard University to launch edX, a partnership in online education with the ambition to revolutionize learning on campus, to offer first-rate teaching to learners around the globe, and to open unprecedented paths to learning about learning itself.
International research collaborations also grew under Dr. Hockfield’s leadership, through new and expanded partnerships around the globe, from Abu Dhabi to Portugal, and from Singapore to Colombia. MIT partnered to found several wholly new institutions, including the Singapore University of Technology and Design and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.
Dr. Hockfield was the first woman to lead MIT, a development welcome at an Institute where nearly half the undergraduates are now women. A signature of her presidency was her vocal commitment to making MIT a leader in building diversity all along the pipeline of talent. In November 2008, she convened MIT’s first-ever Diversity Leadership Congress, a gathering of 300 leaders from across the Institute committed to cultivating a culture of inclusion that allows everyone to contribute at the peak of their ability. These efforts led to a marked increase in women and minority scholars joining the MIT faculty.
Before returning to MIT following her presidency, Dr. Hockfield held the Marie Curie Visiting Professorship at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and the Carnegie Corporation/Vartan Gregorian Affiliated Fellowship at the American Academy of Rome. She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where she is the chairman. She also serves as a director of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Council on Foreign Relations, Partners HealthCare System, and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and is a life member of the MIT Corporation. She has served as a U.S. Science Envoy to Turkey with the U.S. Department of State.
Dr. Hockfield holds honorary degrees from many institutions, including Brown University, Duke University, Georgetown University, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Northeastern University, Tsinghua University (Beijing), Université Pierre et Marie Curie, University of Edinburgh, University of Massachusetts Medical School, University of Rochester, and the Watson School of Biological Sciences at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Her accomplishments have also been recognized by the Charles Judson Herrick Award from the American Association of Anatomists, the Wilbur Lucius Cross Award from the Yale University Graduate School, the Meliora Citation from the University of Rochester, the Golden Plate Award from the Academy of Achievement, the Amelia Earhart Award from the Women’s Union, the Edison Achievement Award, the Pinnacle Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Geoffrey Beene Builders of Science Award from Research!America..
Dr. Hockfield lives in Cambridge with her husband, Thomas N. Byrne, M.D. They have an adult daughter, Elizabeth.