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10 Famous Professors at MIT

The school’s alumni go on to become world-famous scientists, CEOs, astronauts, and world leaders. The students are also impressive, many of whom create new technology or make major scientific breakthroughs.


And the professors at MIT are no exception to this standard of excellence.

Here, we’ve highlighted ten professors whose research, accomplishments, and accolades make them some of the most impressive teachers at MIT right now.

Read also: Which Universities Have the Most Nobel Prize Winners?

Arthur Bahr

Started at MIT: 2007

Dr. Bahr, an associate professor of literature, is one of four 2015 MacVicar Fellows, MIT’s highest undergraduate teaching honor. Fellow faculty say he is “one of the most beloved professors” in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) with intelligence and charm that makes him a highly “sought-after teacher.”

Bahr has worked with colleagues to strengthen the Ancient and Medieval Studies program at MIT by bringing Latin instruction to campus and launching a monthly seminar series of distinguished speakers in the arts. He’s the author of two books and one in the making.

Colette Heald

Dr. Heald teaches in the department of civil and environmental engineering and earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences at MIT. The American Geophysics Union (AGU) recently awarded her with the James B. Macelwane Medal calling her an “outstanding young scientist” on the heels of her promotion to a tenured associate professor at MIT. 

Heald is also the leader of a research group that investigates air quality, climate, and environmental health. She spoke on her findings at the World Economic Forum in February 2015. 

Cynthia Rudin

Started at MIT: 2009

Dr. Rudin, associate professor of statistics, was honored as one of the best professors under 40 this year by Poets and Quants for her groundbreaking work with big data and machine learning. Rudin recently made headlines for predicting manhole incidents in New York City using statistical modeling.

Rudin also serves on committees for a number of organizations including the National Academy of Sciences and the US Department of Justice.

Dina Katabi

Started at MIT: 2003

Dr. Katabi, an electrical engineering and computer science professor at MIT, founded Emerald, a device that uses radio waves to detect, predict, and prevent falls among seniors, with two of her students in 2012. In August 2015, they presented their company to Obama at the first-ever White House Demo Day, an event that highlights entrepreneurship and innovation.

Katabi has also been named a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow for developing technology that prevents Wi-Fi networks from interfering in crowded places. She is the 2015 recipient of the Jerome Saltzer Teaching Award and leads NETMIT research group.

Edward Gibson

Started at MIT: 1993

Dr. Gibson is a professor of cognitive sciences at MIT and runs the eponymous Gibson Language Lab which studies the complexities of human language. 

Most recently, Gibson and his student researchers authored a study that examined 37 languages and found that they all share a tendency to place related words or concepts near each other in a sentence to ease the strain on the memory, a.k.a “language universal.” 

With over 100 journal articles and books published, Gibson is now primarily focused on two research programs: information-theoretic approaches to language universal and how culture affects human language.

Elsa Olivetti

Started at MIT: 2014

Dr. Olivetti teaches courses closely related to her research in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, where she earned her Ph.D. in 2007.

She’s working on developing a model that combines cost and environmental data to help producers choose materials and methods for cutting emissions – a huge task in sustainability efforts.

Since 2006, she’s worked as a research scientist at MIT’s Material Systems Lab where her research team made international news when they concluded that more than two-thirds of the carbon dioxide emissions generated by making running shoes arise during the manufacturing process.

Hugh Herr

Started at MIT: 2000

Dr. Herr is an associate professor in media arts and sciences and leader of the biometrics research group at Media Lab where he develops bionic limbs for amputees like himself. The prosthetics are available through BiOM Inc., which Herr founded. 

In 2011, Herr was named “The Leader of the Bionic Age” by Time Magazine. His work has been featured by national and international media including National Geographic, the History Channel, and CNN. Herr’s 2014 TED talk on the next generation of bionic limbs has nearly 4.5 million views.

Jeremy England

Started at MIT: 2011

Dr. England, an assistant professor of physics, has been regarded by his colleagues as one of the “brightest young scientists.” His mathematical theory on the origin of life describes life at the level of genes and populations (instead of species). He suggests that the first life on Earth was an inevitable result of the fundamental laws of nature.

As a leader of the England Lab at MIT, England’s team aims to find the physical simplicity in biological systems. At just 31 years old, England is widely experienced and educated in his field – he’s studied at Princeton, Stanford, Oxford, and Harvard.

John Belcher

Started at MIT: 1971

Dr. Belcher is an associate professor of physics, associate chair of the faculty, a former MIT MacVicar Fellow, and an advocate on campus for mental health awareness among students. 

In 1990, he was awarded his second NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for his contribution to the Plasma Science Experiment on the Voyager Interstellar Mission where he serves as co-investigator today.

Belcher is the latest recipient of the Hans Christian Oersted Medal, the highest teaching award in the physics community, for his dedication to TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), MIT’s free online course system.

Sara Seager

Started at MIT: 2007

As a professor of physics and planetary science at MIT, it’s only fitting that Dr. Seager’s research is at the cutting edge of astrophysics. At the helm of an MIT research group, she has discovered more than 700 planets beyond our solar system and has set out to understand their atmospheric composition and interior structure.

A former MacArthur “Genius” fellow, Seager was recognized in Time Magazine’s “25 Most Influential in Space” in 2012. She currently chairs the NASA Science and Technology Definition Team for a “Probe-class” Starshade and is a co-investigator on a NASA Explorer Mission launched in 2017.

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