Profiles

The Surveyor of Jungles

The Surveyor of Jungles

Priya Davidar grew up in picturesque Ooty, a town in southern India with the misty blue mountains of the Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot, as its backdrop. In the 1950s, the family lived in an isolated hillside bungalow, and the babysitter told the children ghost stories; Davidar mistook the hyena’s mating call for a wandering ghoul’s laughter. Today, she regrets that the four-legged monster of her childhood can no longer be heard in her hometown. As in the rest of the world, much of the […]



Pollinating His Own Science

Pollinating His Own Science

Even a graduate student working on a pressing, real-world problem needs diversions. Noah Wilson-Rich went to the Topsfield agricultural fair, an annual event in Essex County, Massachusetts and was drawn to the Bee House with its observational hives. Local honey was on sale, and apiarists were on hand to talk about what they do. The young entomologist—whose knowledge about insects had so far come largely from textbooks—put his name on the sign-up sheet for a beekeeping course. Before long, he was a certified beekeeper. Back […]



Freedom isn’t free

Freedom isn’t free

In the acknowledgements section of NW, her 2012 bestseller, Zadie Smith thanked a computer application called “Freedom” for “creating the time” she needed to finish the book. It may be the highest-profile printed acknowledgment of a computer program in a work of fiction—The New York Times put NW on its list of the ten best books of 2012—and Smith is not alone in her admiration. The Economist called Freedom “the virtual equivalent of retiring to a remote getaway, or going on a writers’ retreat, to […]



India’s IT Guy

India’s IT Guy

The year was 1969. F. C. Kohli had just computerized control of the power grid serving the city of Mumbai (then known as Bombay.) It had been an impressive feat for him as general manager of Tata Electric, a sign he was well on his way to leading the company. But the Tata Group, India’s largest conglomerate, had other plans for Kohli. He was asked to help get Tata Consultancy Services, its fledgling information technology services company, off the ground as its general manager. “TCS was […]



Starry-Eyed Astronomer no more

Starry-Eyed Astronomer no more

“Curiosity Rover Lands Safely on Mars.” This was headline news on the day I went to meet Jane Luu, defense systems engineer and award-winning planetary astronomer. Early in her career, Luu scoped the cosmos, studying the dark void beyond Neptune. With her Ph.D. adviser David Jewitt, she discovered the Kuiper belt, vastly increasing the number of known objects in the solar system. At the same time, her research helped reduce the number of planets in our solar system to eight. Yes, she shares responsibility for […]



Just Herself

Just Herself

Nergis Mavalvala, professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, can check off a whole lot of boxes on the diversity form. She isn’t just a woman in physics, which is rare enough. She is an immigrant from Pakistan and a self-described “out, queer person of color.” “I don’t mind being on the fringes of any social group,” she says. With a toothy grin, the mother of a 4-year-old child explains why she likes her outsider status: “You are less constrained […]



A Computer Scientist In a Lab Coat

A Computer Scientist In a Lab Coat

In 1994, the world was on the verge of the dot-com boom and Ron Weiss, a graduate student in the computer science program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, had just earned a master’s degree for his work on a Web application to manage video streams. But just as Internet technology was heating up, the focus of his adviser’s research was starting to shift to a more esoteric topic: DNA-based computers. Weiss, who had not taken a biology class since high school, […]



The Storyteller

The Storyteller

As the sun began to set on the longest day of the summer, Kevin Brooks, PhD ’99, surveyed the small crowd that had gathered in a tiny Cambridge art gallery to hear him tell stories. A seasoned performer, he needed no microphone as he launched into a tale about starting classes to become a water safety instructor two years ago, not long after he turned 50. In MIT’s brightly lit Olympic-size pool, he’d been assailed by doubt, he recalled. ”With my orange earplugs, I felt like an […]



Space Cadet

Space Cadet

One afternoon two summers ago, Kathleen Rubins, a principal investigator at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, gathered her lab members for a quick meeting. ”Have we done something wrong?” Judy Yen, the lab manager, recalls thinking. Then it struck her: A while ago, her boss had mentioned that she was applying to astronaut training. Rubins had downplayed her chances of getting in, so no one gave it another thought. Yen’s intuition — that Rubins must have heard from the folks at NASA — was correct: […]



Vocalizing Science

Vocalizing Science

This past summer, Ari Daniel Shapiro, 30, was part of a research team that tracked killer whales off the coast of northwestern Canada. Every morning, the crew set out to affix sensors to the elusive mammals to capture their vocalizations and movement. Shapiro, whose training is in biological oceanography, would download the day’s data and prep the recovered sensors for the next deployment. Since is assisting with the data analysis and will be a co-author on any scientific articles that result. Yet, technically, Shapiro isn’t an […]