The College of Science is guided by a team of leaders, pioneers, scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, writers and researchers. They influence thinking, inspire ideas and create new innovation.
Hazel Sive, PhD
Dean, College of Science
Professor of Biology
Dr. Hazel Sive became Dean of the College of Science, and Professor of Biology at Northeastern University in June 2020. She is a research pioneer, award- winning educator and innovator in the higher education space. For twenty- eight years prior, she was Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and Associate Member of the Broad Institute. A native of South Africa, Dr. Sive received the B.Sc. in Chemistry and Zoology, from University of Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg, South Africa.
Dr. Sive’s groundbreaking research focuses on neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as fundamental processes underlying brain and craniofacial development. Dr. Sive is a distinguished educator, and MacVicar Faculty Fellow, MIT’s highest undergraduate teaching accolade. An accomplished leader, Dr. Sive was Associate Dean of the MIT School of Science with oversight for education and equity. She led the important 2011 Report on the Status of MIT Women Faculty in Science. Dr. Sive was Founding Director of the MIT Jameel World Higher Education Lab and Founding Director of the MIT- Africa Initiative. Recipient of numerous awards, Dr. Sive was most recently elected a Fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science.
Dr. Sive is additionally Chair of the new Northeastern Africa Global Initiative.
For the Northeastern College of Science, Dean Sive has the overarching vision of building excellence in research, education and innovation, and has set the following goals:
- Commit to a Culture of Respect and Action towards Equity
- Communicate the Good Power of Science
- Solve the Greatest Research Challenges
- Promote Innovative and Global Education
- Reinvent the PhD
- Increase Undergraduate Research
- Build an Entrepreneurship Landscape
- Define Space and Work for the Future
COS Commencement Address
Dean Hazel Sive delivered a commencement address at the 2022 College of Science Graduation Celebration event held at Matthews Arena on May 10. Read the address in its entirety.Read Address
Mother of Fields
In June 2020 renowned developmental biologist Hazel Sive concluded 28 years as a Whitehead Institute Member and professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). While Sive was a much-lauded teacher and academic leader at MIT — experiences she is now drawing on for her new role as Dean of Northeastern University’s College of Science — she is globally recognized for her achievements as a fundamental science researcher. In this piece, she reflects on significant accomplishments in her long, fruitful scientific career at Whitehead Institute
Sive recognized on list of 34 Notable Alumni of Rockefeller University
Dean Hazel Sive has been recognized by EduRank.org as a “notable” graduate of Rockefeller University. Fellow alumni on the list include Nobel Prize laureates, faculty and staff from various universities, and distinguished researchers.
College of Science 2021-2022 Annual Report
Dean Sive’s Letters to the COS Community
Hands-In - 3.3.23
Every day, we give our College of Science students opportunities way beyond a two-foot square plot, but the idea is the same. Learn by routing about, hands-in, growing to understand where you want to put your talent and time. Thank you and congratulations! to every staff member, every faculty member for contributing to our important, wonderful experiential landscape.
The Winter Bear - 2.24.23
One of my favorite books (geared to all of us young readers) is The Winter Bear. It has lovely illustrations, perfect for this time of year, where the skeletons of trees stand out, there are bits of snow, and a pale sun. It’s also a perfect story because the arc is so clear: three children go for a walk, find a stuffed bear stuck in a tree, run home amidst a sudden snowstorm, and install the bear in a cozy armchair. Any story with a clear arc is satisfying, even comforting, where the beginning, middle and end are seamlessly linked. (There is a beautiful song of similar name with a pretty good arc, if you look).
Listening - 2.17.23
Let’s ask one another, and carefully listen to the answer: How is your week going?tell me what’s on your mind.Let’s not be satisfied with a one-word answer: Good or Okay or Busy Let’s ask more: What’s been the best part? What’s been the biggest challenge? And if it seems right: How can I make your week better? Listening, and being heard, may be the things that count most towards belonging, and in our work to be “A Diverse College where Everyone Belongs”. I am eager to listen, please
the Three Laws of Robotics - 2.10.23
The very recent earthquake that has had devastating impacts in Syria and Turkey is fresh in our minds. Warmest wishes to those of you with family and friends in these areas, and we pray that each of your loved ones is safe.
You’ve surely heard of ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence platform that can interact with you online (a ‘chatbot’). ChatGPT is particularly talented at understanding questions and formulating information, including adequately writing some homework assignments. There is excitement and alarm over theplatform, including how it may undermine academic honesty.
ChatGPT - 2.03.23
This week marks the start of Black History Month, on a somber note as we are reminded yet again of the horrendous systemic racism persisting in our country. A Black man, Tyre Nichols died after a brutal beating by police following a routine traffic stop. The episode makes me weep. We must affirm that in the College of Science and at Northeastern University, we embrace a culture of respect, where each person is valued for their contribution and is treated equitably, and where each person belongs. We oppose racism. We do not tolerate any form of discrimination. We strive to have diverse membership and commit to promoting equity and anti-racist policies through education and action.
Spring Semester - 1.27.2023
This week has brought devastating news of shootings in California, and the horror of Tyre Banks killing is beginning to unfold, among other troubling events. I hope your loved ones are safe. Jupiter. Would that dilute our issues, by spreading them around a greater area, or would more appear to fill the space? About 1300 earths could fit into the volume of Jupiter. The planet is no target for human habitation – mostly helium and hydrogen gas, liquid deep below to make a huge, electrified ocean. Did you know that Jupiter’s day is only ten hours, making it the fastest-spinning planet in the solar system?When the task list seems too daunting, when the troubles across the world seem too much, I sometimes escape by wondering what life would be like if Earth were the size of
Helpful - 1.20.2023
‘Helpful’ is wonderful. Someone who can turn unclear into understanding, who can answer questions, who can give fair support. And don’t be shy to ask for help, in my experience, the answer is almost always positive. Sometimes the request for help is distant, but real. Our Food Drive and your outstanding response was helpful in such a way. Thank you for contributing! Sometimes, there is ‘co-helpful’ that goes in both directions, and both people involved in the discussion are assisted.
CONNECTIONS to the Future - 1.13.2023
Trying to keep track of science in the news is both inspiring and daunting. Every week, our COS Monday CONNECTS highlights some of the important publications and grants from members of our community. You can find science news aggregators, but I draw on what’s in several regular newspapers. As usual, news this week divides into good, bad, and interesting.
Satellites - 12.9.22
I love the flight path indicator on a plane, to see how high and fast you’re flying and where. Particularly fun is the full earth globe you can rotate, to look at places that are nowhere near your destination, but exotic possibilities. All this comes from satellite images, and Google Earth is a fantastic use of these data, despite some privacy concerns. That you can find your house, check out another location, or get (mostly correct) directions is terrific. In the excellent movie Lion, Google Earth helped Saroo find his home. My house shows up with a swing set from long ago in the garden. Google Earth is a great example of where science, engineering and computation can meet, with stunning application. Indeed, satellites are one of the few realizations of space technology that exceed predictions of science fiction, which by now would have projected we could all readily zip around the universe.
Collaboration - 12.2.22
My first collaboration was during an undergraduate research project, titled ‘An Investigation into the Effect of Crowding on Growth of Xenopus laevis Tadpoles’, a creative melding between the fields of ecology and developmental biology. Turns out that crowded tadpoles grow less rapidly than those spread out, and my project was to figure out why. I thought that the crowded populations might eat less than uncrowded and measured this using a radioactive tracer. Later, I harvested each tadpole and counted the number of radioactive emissions. There were hundreds of tadpoles, so I got lots of data, and had no idea what to do with it. My advisor told me to do statistics, but I had no idea what that meant. You need a collaborator! he said and sent me to his colleague in the Math department. It was a bit daunting, but the senior Professor listened respectfully and kindly as I explained the point of the project, what data I’d collected, and how I had been advised to do statistics. He recommended using the Students T-Test, writing on a piece of lined paper the steps to figure out whether crowded and uncrowded tadpoles ate significantly different amounts. (They did not, so a re-think was needed there). I was so grateful for the guidance, and that collaboration was an empowering life event.
Get One's Teeth Into - 11.18.22
My second-grade friend Beverly and I were playing an innovative follow-the-leader game around the house, one with eyes open leading the other with eyes closed. Walking side by side, Beverly leading me, I suddenly collided hard with something, jolting my head and front teeth. Turned out, Beverly had walked through a door, and I had walked into the wall beside it. My mom drove me to Dr. Hotz the dentist, who said luckily the teeth were not shattered, although one front tooth was missing a chunk and there was a crack across the one next door. The chunk is still missing, the memory indelible.
Honor - 11.4.22
Walking by Curry last week, I was thrilled to see Cooper and his handler NUPD Officer Rachel Joliffe coming towards me. As you likely know, Cooper is a magnificent golden retriever who nonchalantly accepts the love of hundreds of Northeastern students, faculty and staff every day. There’s something about a sweet dog that gets deep into the soul and comforts. As we approach Veterans Day this year, which has the theme of Honor, we acknowledge the terrible aftermath of combat on our troops. Service dogs can be enormously helpful for veterans, although the funding to train these dogs has not yet been approved at the federal level.
Underworld of Traffic - 10.28.22
Driving along route nine this week was a descent into the underworld – blazing red lights amidst dense foggy rain, the pace glacial. Van Halen on WZLX could not make a dent. But along that road there’s a spot where a movie from my mind pops up, that conjured away the fog. It’s a balmy summer afternoon, after my daughter’s impressive trapeze performance at circus camp, and we’re driving home, suddenly very hungry. Rosie’s Bakery is conveniently right there, and we opt for a large box of apricot rugelach, right out of the oven. Back in the car, we eat almost all of them, a beyond perfect bite, that can still brighten a gloomy rush hour.
Planning Strategically - 10.21.22
At its best, goal setting can be a mind-stretching, useful exercise – an opportunity to reflect, synthesize and think deeply about next steps. When the mind is free and playful, creative ways to do business, new ideas and important insights can result.
As you know, I’ve set goals for the College of Science that are specific enough to give us direction, and general enough to allow evolution:
- Commit to a Culture of Respect and Action towards Equity
- Communicate the Good Power of Science
- Solve the Greatest Research Challenges
- Promote Innovative and Global Education
- Reinvent the PhD
- Increase Undergraduate Research
- Build an Entrepreneurship Landscape
- Define Space and Work for the Future
We’ve made excellent progress in most categories and are poised to address others.
Animal Experimentation - 10.14.22
This week you might have read how human neurons, the cells that receive and send signals around the nervous system had been implanted into a rat brain. The human neurons thrived and integrated into the rat brain so that when they were stimulated, the rat’s behavior changed. This is another step in the surprising understanding that cells can ‘self-organize’ to form small bits of human organs, called ‘organoids’. These can assist in understanding disease and devising treatments that can help. In this study, to assess function, the brain organoid was implanted into a rat brain. Is it ethical to use rats as hosts for human neurons, possibly bits of the human brain? How much of the rat brain can, and should maximally, be replaced by human cells? The answers to these complex questions include data and opinion, ethics, in other words.
Bravery - 10.7.22
In the building where I used to work, there was an alcove that was a nesting place for falcons. For a while, a falcon cam allowed community members to spy on the lovely birds even before they hatched. We saw the babies learn to pull apart a pigeon or duck their parent had provided, we watched their down replaced by big bird feathers. And we watched the adolescent falcons gearing up to fly. They would stretch their wings and run back and forth along the length of their space, getting the feel. After some days, if you were lucky, you could catch one of them standing at the edge of the alcove where it opened to the sky, flapping its wings, taking a little hop forward and then a hop back to safety. You could see the bird getting up courage, becoming brave enough to take the first flight. I never saw that but did see the nest empty next day. On the Novartis building across the street, were two falcons perching on the sign. They took off, circled and came back, maybe parent and fledgling, and the day after they were gone.
Freedoms - 9.30.22
Freedom is a well-used word that carries weight, promise and challenge. I like the notion of three types of freedom: “freedom from,” a freedom from constraints; “freedom to,” a freedom to do what we want to do; and “freedom to be,” not just to do what we want, but a freedom to be who we are. Then there are the Four Freedoms proposed by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1941: freedom of speech and expression; freedom of worship; freedom from want and freedom from fear. All of these can provide a useful framework for real events, as Associate Dean for Equity, Randall Hughes and I discussed this week.
Taking Time to Play - 9.23.22
Last week I joined a tour of the CILS Imaging Facility in ISEC, with the expert guidance of Professor James Monaghan (Biology). CILS is an important part of the Northeastern research landscape, and the Imaging Facility is wonderful, with highest tech microscopes, that can see deep into cells, often in a living animal. There are microscopes for K-12 students to experience the magic of imaging through Biobus-Northeastern, led by Assistant Professor Vivek Venkatachalam (Physics) and James Monaghan. It’s the best imaging facility in Boston, and a great place to play.
Finding Time for Yourself - 9.16.22
What an unbelievably busy, complex beginning of the semester. Regarding the Holmes Hall incident on Tuesday night, multiple law enforcement agencies have determined that the campus is safe and secure. As you know classes, research, and all other campus activities resumed on Wednesday, and continue. There is an ongoing investigation into the incident. ‘Quiet quitting’ is such a new term that Google searches for this began only in August. The idea though is not so new, and the term seems to mean ‘doing the minimum to keep your job’.
Welcome to the New Year! - 9.9.22
There is Mr. Dundon, handing out blue notebooks for the new year – Saxonwold School, fourth grade. You know them, flimsy blue 5×8 lined notebooks, with deep significance because they are a chance for perfection. Unmarked, pristine, waiting to begin a flawless year. Of course, by lunchtime (cheese and tomato sandwich, apple) that path is lost, my name written crookedly on the cover and the first page already including crossings out. No surprise really. But the opportunity to be better, possibly perfect, in every new year never stops being enticing.
‘How is your Summer?’ 7.29.22
There are some bad things happening. Severe heat, terrible fires, and floods. Ongoing revelations about the shameful January 6 post-election events. Devastating fallout from rescinding abortion rights. Further racial violence. Harm and ominous threats to the LGBTQ+ community. COVID in its next wave, relentlessly continuing to impact so many lives. If you get sick, please rest plenty and take care until you are better.
Helping to Fly the Plane - 8.26.22
One time, I was on a flight from Seattle to Phoenix, when darkness started moving down my head – from the top, into my forehead and approaching my eyes. I felt pressed into the seat, and it was hard to breathe. My first thought was that I was ill, but a glance at my neighbor showed she was feeling the same. A flight attendant was running up the aisle. Without warning the plane went into a steep descent and in seconds we could breathe, and the darkness was gone. Sometime later there was an announcement that we had lost pressure, and that both primary and backup systems had failed. Aha. My second thought was where were the oxygen masks? It seemed the perfect opportunity for these to deploy.
A Troubling Start to Summer - 5.27.22
Whatever may be imperfect about our k-12 education system, school is wonderful. Caring teachers help you learn interesting things, you make some friends, and there is free breakfast and lunch if you need it. For some kids, school is a safer, less stressful place than home. And school is there, a reliable destination that parents count on every day.
Power of Community - 5.20.22
This past week has been all about the power of Community. Northeastern Commencement at Fenway last Friday was brilliant: a mix of academic gravitas and joyous celebration. Our COS students all shone, but two stood out as part of the platform presentations. Tolu Faderin, a Behavioral Neuroscience major, gave a wrenchingly beautiful performance of the National Anthem, while Adwoa Sefah, a Cell and Molecular Biology major was the brilliant undergraduate student speaker. When I greeted College of Science graduates, their roar of celebration was also a shout of knowing that they belonged here in the College of Science at Northeastern University. Because of your teaching and mentoring, they will carry with them the good power of science and find a vast set of career possibilities. Congratulations!!
Reinventing the PhD - 5.13.22
You surely remember your experience as a PhD student, and now, as faculty or staff you may have contact with our College of Science PhD trainees and see how they are doing. I remember being honored to have the opportunity of a place in graduate school, and incredulous that it was sponsored. The research was interesting but difficult, and I worked incredibly hard, sometimes alone in the lab at night and generally lonely. I had no idea what came next. My thesis is on a Richards office bookshelf, and although I’m proud of the work, I would say my PhD training was a mixed experience.
Addressing Commencement - 5.6.22
This week, I am thinking what to tell our students in the College of Science Commencement Ceremony next Tuesday evening. Thank you to everyone participating! Thank You Enormously to Assistant Dean Amber Watson and Associate Director for Graduate Administration Melissa Rubock for their huge and expert work in organizing this.
Writing a talk is always interesting. There should be a thread, and one take home message. The beginning is key. If you lose your audience then, you’ve lost them for good. There should be an arc and a return to the beginning to give a polished finish. I love to build talks out loud and to try lots of beginnings. Most get thrown out. But I don’t worry, because there’s so much possibility, so many stories to tell. At some point ideas coalesce and there’s the thread.
Northeastern Burlington Innovation Campus - 4.29.22
This Tuesday, a group of us (me, Associate Dean Erin Cram, Associate Dean Sam Inman, and Assistant Director of Space Planning and Safety Sarah Stanton) took a trip to our Northeastern Innovation Campus at Burlington. Burlington is a close Network site, but quite different from the hustle of our Boston campus. I’ve visited multiple times and admired the Life Sciences Testing Center, but without the full tour. For now, there is free parking, and the 14-acres is open and quiet. We connected with Associate Dean Jared Auclair, who is also Director of BATL, and runs an industry-focused research group at Burlington; Peter Boynton, CEO, George J. Kostas Institute (KRI); and Professor Deniz Erdogmus, CTO, KRI.
Urban Wildlife - 4.22.22
Right outside my kitchen door on Tuesday was a turkey. It was smart in glossy brown, striped and spotted feathers, making its gobbling sound. My yard is fenced to keep the dog in, but the turkey had entered somehow, and now looked contemplatively at the neighbor’s yard. It’s amazing to me that turkeys can fly at all, given their shape, but it must be true, for in a moment the turkey was next door. Urban wildlife seems very important. Our urbane, campus squirrels foraging outside Cabot, the rabbits on the lawns by Curry, the confident robins all over, and bumble bees bravely seeking out Northeastern flowers outside Richards. They give us a true glimpse into a different life. For most people (and 70% of us now live in cities), it may be the only wildlife you see. The privilege of seeing an elephant or kudu in the wild is rare, and even in a zoo it’s not so frequent, and can you truly love and respect animals you’ve never seen for real?
Evolution and Religion - 4.15.22
When I was 21 and teaching Science in Neasden High School, London, I was volunteered for a debate titled ‘Evolution vs Religion’. The venue was one of the science labs, which was incredibly noisy and packed with kids. My opponent was a dapper math teacher, who vociferously laid out his case that evolution was a failed theory, and that creation was the only truth. Armed with undergraduate knowledge, I bravely represented natural selection as more than a theory, but he was well-equipped with rhetoric. When the bell rang, my adversary huffed off, declaring himself victor.
Awards - 4.8.22
The ability to understand a reward goes way back in animal evolution, well before animals with backbones arose. The reward system is part of how we’re motivated to get things done and includes some powerful neural circuits. Unfortunately, these same circuits become mis-directed in opioid or other addictive disorders. In our day to day, as you know, rewards acknowledge something well done, like a small cup of salted caramel ice-cream when you finish putting together next week’s homework problems or submit a Report on time. Awards are often more public than Rewards, often less delicious, and usually more formal with a citation. There are fewer Awards than rewards but let me say that every person in the College of Science deserves an Award for Important Contributions Made in AY21-22. Congratulations! to each of you, for how you contribute, collaborate, and connect across the College of Science and Northeastern University.
Discovering the Unexpected - 4.1.22
How do you know what you don’t know? At a deep level, understanding something really new is the foundation of scientific discovery. You poke around at the edge of your knowledge, and maybe a bit cracks open to reveal something unexpected. discovery of the antibiotic penicillin is a paradigm, uncovered after a lab bench was left uncleaned for a couple of weeks. Dr. Alexander Fleming was the owner of the bench, and he might just have tidied the mess and moved on. But, and here’s what’s important, before he cleaned up, he noticed that some two-week old bacterial cultures had become infected with mold, and that the mold was killing the disease-causing bacteria. The mold contained the chemical penicillin, that went on to save more than a hundred million lives. It was careful looking and thinking about effects of vacation time on the bacteria that was crucial.Unexpected discoveries in science are thrilling. The
Spring! - 3.25.22
The topic is Spring. The word is Frenetic. It’s true in our schedules, and I feel like one of the birds in my garden, spending the entire day collecting, strategizing, doing. I know each of you is inundated with deadlines and challenges. As always, please accept my most sincere thanks for dealing with the huge workload, I know it is a lot. Please remember that your contribution is truly important to building the Good Power of Science.
Spring is a reliable, expansive, explosion of cell division and growth, of every living thing waking up and getting going. Almost every religion or culture celebrates Spring. The push is enormous, as emphasized by a tree I passed once in Jamaica Plain, its base encased in concrete, harshly pruned to accommodate wires and walls, nonetheless enthusiastically sending out pale leaves and pink blossoms.
Bennett's Comet - 3.18.22
Long ago, at exactly this time in March, Bennett’s Comet swung by the Southern Hemisphere, discovered by an amateur astronomer. I was deeply interested in the stars myself and would spend evenings scanning the skies with binoculars and copy of The Southern Stars by Patrick Moore. It was a huge thrill to find some blurs near the horizon that were probably the Magellanic Clouds, companion dwarf galaxies to our Milky Way. Wanting more magnification, I saw an advertisement in Scientific American for a book called Amateur Telescope Making and my dad allowed me to order it. It was a small book covered in grey paper, even today on my bookshelf. The local planetarium sold supplies, and following directions, I ground my own lenses by rotating two six-inch discs of glass against one another, so one became concave (the lens) and one convex. Next steps involved polishing the lens with increasingly fine emery paper and rouge, and then coating it with silver (from reduced silver nitrate) to make a mirror. The culmination was mounting the lens in a cardboard tube and attaching an eye piece. It didn’t matter that the lens was not successful, and nothing was in focus, the thrill of having made my own telescope was enough.
A celebration of women - 3.11.22
Although International Women’s Day may smell like a commercially constructed event, in fact its origins go back to 1909. According to Wikipedia, “International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global holiday celebrated annually on March 8 to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women. It is also a focal point in the women’s rights movement, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women.”
Boulevard of Broken Dreams - 3.4.22
The pandemic has been amongst the ten worst experienced by humanity. There is nothing to counter the conclusion that this has been a defining event in each of our lives, whose damage will not fully go away, except perhaps for the youngest kids. The past two years have been, in the words of Green Day, a ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’. The link to their official, bleak video shows the song as a brilliant anthem of loneliness and despair. But now, check out another version, the live performance at a huge concert, where with the opening chords, fifty thousand young people sing in unison, the entire song. Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong gives them the mic. The faces of the crowd are joyous, because singing out the words together makes everyone feel much better, much less lonely.
Updates on Diversity and Inclusion - 2.25.22
The invasion of Ukraine is very bad news, and for those of you with family and friends in the region, our warmest wishes and prayers for their safety. What a worrying time.
In the wake of new legislation and policies this week in Texas and Florida, we affirm our College of Science commitment to an equitable, diverse and inclusive community, our support for the LGBTQIA+ community, including transgender people and their families.
Randall Hughes, Associate Dean for Equity and I provide this update for you on key new initiatives to promote a culture of respect and equity in the College of Science:
- Educating and informing our community to prevent discrimination and harassment
Discrimination and harassment are not tolerated in the College of Science. Each person belongs in our College, regardless of race, color, religion, religious creed, genetic information, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, ancestry, veteran or disability status.
Further, retaliation will not be tolerated against any person who in good faith makes a report of a prohibited offense. Any person who retaliates directly or indirectly against a victim, witness, person reporting a prohibited offense, a respondent and/or charged party, or any person involved in the investigation of a prohibited offense will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination (if an employee) or expulsion (if a student).
Job Descriptions - 2.18.22
In a broad view, everything alive has a job, even if there is no written JD. What’s the job of your students? I asked one semester, and each found it valuable to lay out personal reasons and goals for their university education. How about a third grader? A baby? Your dog? An ant? That’s a provocative one. Gather food and materials, build the nest, keep it clean. Work as a team. Protect the pack. Sound familiar?! If we could ask, a tree would likely write that its JD is to make food, produce seeds, fend off insect attacks, and connect with other trees. On the other hand, you might think that a tree’s job is to provide shade and wood, and to help modulate the climate, highlighting an important thing about JDs. They can depend on your perspective. What you think is your job, may not be the same as your supervisor’s view, which is why goal setting and mid-year reviews are useful all around.
The Excellence of Snow - 2.11.22
Science is the Olympics of discovery and application. The teacher who constructs a course with elegance and insight, the researcher addressing a question with stunning logic and brilliant interpretation, are some of our Gold Medalists. Often, we play team sports, working together to the finish line of scientific solutions. Excellence in Science is as breath-taking as Chloe Kim’s half-pipe skill or Nathan Chen’s quads. It’s what we work towards. But we know that in the Olympics, most athletes win no medals, and even being able to stay upright while skating on your local rink counts a lot! Everyone’s contribution is award-winning when it comes to promoting excellence in our College and at Northeastern University, across teaching, research, and expert administration. Thank you everyone for participating in the Winter Olympics of Science!
The Wheel of Time - 2.4.22
Like fantasy villages, in the College of Science, we often know each other’s names (and can readily introduce ourselves!), and when we need special help, we seek out the expert – in HR, Grants Administration and so on. Indeed, our culture of respect values each person as an individual who brings their expertise and diverse background to fulfill our mission. Much of our expertise is held in Departments, which are ‘collections of expertise’, each of which is a ‘discipline,’ meaning ‘a branch of knowledge’. The notion of scientific disciplines stretches back to the dawn of universities, and has become labeled as a dusty, old-fashioned concept. This is totally wrong. Far from being dusty, disciplines are vibrant collections of state-of-the-art expertise, that can be put together with that from other disciplines, to learn something wonderful. No-one can know everything, that’s why we have scholars who understand algebraic geometry, quantum theory, stem cells, molecular structure, brain circuitry or coastal ecosystems. Understanding how to use this knowledge requires another type of discipline, the hard work kind, that always has valuable outcomes, and why our trainees benefit from some disciplinary education.
Building with Cells - 1/28/22
If you have a penchant to build your own house, here’s an 800 page book that will guide you through. To build something larger, say EXP, that we are joyfully watching rise on Columbus Ave, you will need expert input, a lot of money and detailed plans. The largest construction project underway on planet Earth may be ITER, a massive fusion reactor in France, that will produce net energy, projected for completion in 2025. Plans for ITER likely run ten thousand pages, and include thousands of expert workers, $25+ billion and 35 countries.
But actually, ITER is not the most complex engineering project around. No. So what is? Look in the mirror! It’s you! Building a person is way more complex than any human-made construction. And there is no crew to hire, no book of plans to purchase. Rather, people get built all the time, quickly, perfectly and at pretty low cost, raising the question of how the hugely successful Construction Industry of Life works so effectively.
Thank You! - 1/21/22
Across every unit, COS members have been infected with COVID, and the symptoms can be debilitating. Please look after your health, get medical treatment and stay home until you feel better – rest and sleep are essential to full recovery. In our recent Community Meeting, we named this the ‘Supportive Semester’ as faculty and staff of the College support one another and are supported across Northeastern. Please let your department or program chair, or your manager know if you have to be away, and be in touch with me or one of our Associate Deans as needed.
Please reach out with worries, needs and ideas.
Come by the Dean’s Office if you need a mask, some candy, a hello, help.
Civil Rights - 1/14/22
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played a pivotal role in promoting freedoms for African American people, advocating non-violence and civil disobedience. In 1964, at age 35, Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize. The world was shocked at his assassination on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in cities and states throughout the United States beginning in 1971, and at the federal level in 1986.
This coming Monday we respectfully honor the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Civil Rights Movement. This year we have a small relief that some justice was served in two cases where civil rights were violated: the murderers of George Floyd and of Ahmaud Arbery have been convicted and sentenced. In our College, we continue to build a landscape of respect and belonging, with action towards equity and justice. We stand strong against racism, and towards policies of justice in the College of Science and at Northeastern University.
Welcome to 2022! - 1/7/22
We are entering the Spring semester with uncertainty and challenge, as you know. In our powerful Northeastern pandemic tradition, we will be in person, and I’m optimistic that we will manage. Projections from our Network Science Institute led by Prof. Alessandro Vespignani indicate that the Omicron surge will peak by mid-January, which is good news for the rest of the semester. But some of you and your families will become infected, and some of your students. Please use high quality N95 or KN94/95 masks to help protect yourselves. How will you help absent students continue their learning, how will you cover your class or other work if you need to quarantine or are feeling ill? How can we encourage students who have lost so much opportunity for learning? All the while, please pay attention to your well-being. Running the semester is a huge responsibility, and the only way we’ll succeed is by working together and supporting one another. Further thoughts are below, and we’ll discuss this in our COS Community Meeting next week.
Warmest Wishes for a Peaceful Holiday - 12/17/21
It is stunning how tough this year has been. Again. We pray that your family and friends in Kentucky and neighboring states are safe. How relentless the bad news, the demands, the challenges. It is stunning how hard you are all working. But it’s also stunning to see your successes. Every week I am thrilled to learn of your innovative teaching approaches. Of outstanding advising. Of top-quality organization and stewardship across the College. Of donations from wonderful supporters. I’m honored to see the prestigious awards and research grants our faculty have won. Every week I learn of your amazing research findings. In this tough time, the power of Higher Education, of Good Science and our work has only increased in importance – to guide students towards a productive yet peaceful life, and to contribute solutions towards the toughest problems on earth. As the late bell hooks said in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom: “The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy”.
The Magic of Science - 12/10/21
Some years ago, I organized a conference on Developmental Biology and set it to music. The opener was ‘It’s a Kind of Magic’, by my favorite band Queen. The audience seemed taken aback at being blasted with rock music, but I wanted to acknowledge that the embryo seems truly magical. Every talk was based on the extraordinary truth that each of us came from one tiny starter cell, that made 100 trillion more cells, and those built themselves into your organs, which connect seamlessly to make your whole self. Check out the amazing process in zebrafish. Though I’ve worked in the field for decades, the magic (and music) never diminish for me, even though we know actual mechanisms involved.
Restfulness and Obligation - 12/3/21
It is the nightmare of every family, every friend. Someone you love goes out and does not come home. Ahmaud Arbery went out for a run, and never came home. Some men shot and killed him while he was peacefully jogging, because he was a Black man. Almost, they got away with the murder, but sometimes, our legal system prevails and the murderers were convicted just before Thanksgiving. There is no waking from this nightmare, but there is some justice and retribution to slightly temper the heartbreak of losing Ahmaud Arbery.
I thought about violence and justice while in rural Vermont last week, where I saw almost no-one on my daily walks. There were snowflakes periodically, and bare trees soft grey as they slept. In the winter countryside, the night is wonderfully dark and the quiet almost total. It’s easy to rest there, to be restored and good to remember that the constant barrage of heinous or hateful acts reported in the news does not permeate everywhere. I hope your Thanksgiving was similarly peaceful.
The close of November - 11/19/21
As a wonderful outcome of our work to educate, last weekend saw Commencement 2020. Thousands of students and their families came back, determined to celebrate at their beloved university. On Friday evening, our team of Associate Dean Kevin Thompson, Assistant Dean Amber Watson and myself helped welcome graduates back to Northeastern. Next day, in Matthews Arena, I was so proud to present each COS graduate with an alumni pin, and so proud of student speaker, Bioengineering and Chemistry graduate, and Rhodes Scholar Kritika Singh, accompanied by Prof. Oyinda Oyelaran, one of her mentors. President Aoun recounted the emotional context of shutting down everything back in March 2020, while Chef Ming Tsai urged everyone to make kindness a central part of their lives. Totally. We are all trying so hard, accomplishing, failing, learning, trying again. Being kind and encouraging is the only way to go.
We observe the Thanksgiving holiday with prayers of remembrance and gratitude. We remember those we personally lost, ever loved and in our hearts. We may be filled with gratitude – I am grateful that we can meet in person again, even amidst the continuing COVID threat. I am enormously grateful for your partnership in moving the College of Science forward, for the good of all its members, and for the good of Northeastern University.
Honoring Veterans - 11/12/21
Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans – living or dead. It originated on November 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I and became a national holiday in 1938. Yet we cannot acknowledge veterans in a meaningful way in just one day. Associate Dean for Equity, Randall Hughes encourages that we should listen to their voices, advocate for mental health and other support, and hold our military and political leaders accountable to address discrimination and harassment in the military.
Power of Higher Education - 11/05/21
Education is wonderful work, important and exciting, but also difficult and intense. And this semester is unlike any other. The COVID-class of students is upon us. Across multiple departments, I am hearing of students not equipped to deal with their academics, perhaps because the last two years of high school involved lackluster online learning, even cheating, just to get by in the frightening, unreal pandemic. And that missing education is showing now, across all levels. It puts a huge stress on students not equipped for their rigorous Northeastern academics. And it puts a huge stress on you, our faculty, who are burned out, even mid-way through the semester, after eighteen months of relentless and changing teaching needs, and sometimes larger class sizes to meet our huge enrolment increase. What enormous pressure for faculty who are trying to do what you love and to meet your own high standards under difficult circumstances. Thank you to everyone in our departments who is strategizing how to help students succeed in their classes and qualifications, in the face of these unprecedented challenges.
Balancing Time - 10/29/21
I’ve never understood the term ‘work-life balance’. Are we not alive while at work? Sometimes this is called ‘work-leisure balance’. For those of you who rush home to the unpaid job of parenting or other caregiving, the notion of work-leisure balance is a bad joke. But there is something important here – a comfortable time distribution between your job in the Northeastern College of Science and the rest – maybe an ‘individual time balance’.
In the odd ‘work-life balance’ term, there’s a ‘work is bad’ connotation, that is wrong for me, and I hope for all of you. I think work is wonderful! What a great opportunity we have – to empower students and to promote the highest quality research in the framework of good Science. Working together, we are building excellence in every sphere. Every job in our College is important, and thank you everyone, for your contributions to meeting our exciting, groundbreaking College and Northeastern University goals.
The Languages of Science - 10/22/21
How do we build the future of the COS? I like building from the ground up, so started by asking ‘what is a College of Science’? Interestingly, I could find no general definition, so looked more broadly for definitions of ‘Science’ . The results were totally boring, for example: ‘Science (from Latin scientia ‘knowledge’) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world’.
Is ‘Science’ then, and our College of Science an artificial construct, or a relic from long ago? Absolutely not! There is a living, important and wonderful framework for Science, and for a College of Science. Some time ago, I formulated a set of “Great Languages” and ranked them according to broadest usage. There is no judgment in this ranking, just a semi-quantitative ‘usage’ metric, and it’s fun to use different size fonts to represent usage. My terming of language is “a set of related concepts and principles, forming a grammar and vocabulary, that can be used to communicate, create and answer questions”.
By this schema, the most used Great Languages are Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry since they are languages of the entire Universe. Biology is certainly the language of our planet, governing all life on earth. The ‘Human Languages’, no less important to people, are the ones you might think of first – Spanish, English, Chinese etc together with the languages of humanities, arts and design – Philosophy, History, Music etc. Coding comprises a set of recent languages, with increasing usage. Engineering is a powerful synthesis of many languages. My fellow Deans can frame the crucial landscapes of their Colleges brilliantly, the only goal here is to frame the College of Science.
Gender Equity - 10/15/21
Our faculty members include brilliant women across every sphere of Science and at every level. But we need to worry why women are so poorly represented in many departments. For example, in the tenure stream, our Physics and Mathematics department faculty run below 15% women, and in Chemistry only 25%. These numbers are representative of most universities indicating the attrition of talented women in these areas, at stages of training before they would enter academia. The underlying reasons are complex but have a lot to do with expectations from even before birth, early childhood education, k-12 schooling, societal stereotyping, lack of access to affordable childcare, and rigid academic tracks. Our College can’t fix everything, but we can fix academic landscapes – we think that women faculty percentages will increase after reworking archaic practices, by hiring right out of the PhD, by hiring cohorts, promoting collaborative research and devising tenure assessments that acknowledge teamwork. All of course, within a culture of respect, where everyone listens carefully to one another, and respects the contributions of every College member.
Celebrating the Truth - 10/08/21
You may remember the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s book 1984. They had the job to rewrite history, so it fit the propaganda. It was where Winston Smith worked, who became so disgusted with his assignment and society that he sought to escape, and find the real truth (unfortunately, with no happy ending).
I wonder often what is ‘real’. When I need something unequivocal, the maple tree in my yard is a help – the rough bark under each finger and the view up the high trunk confirm with every sense that this is real. But assessing the truth behind news reports, history, or anecdotes is so difficult that ‘fake news’ is now a scholarly field.
Tenure - 10/01/21
By the time I came up for tenure consideration, what I cared about was that my research group had made really interesting findings. We had asked how organs of the body get put in the correct place, or as a student subtitled his thesis: ‘why your brain is not in your big toe’. This topic is both fascinating but also crucial for families seeking causes of birth anomalies. I cared about the wonderfully bright group of trainees who had chosen to work with me, and that I had been able to raise funds to support the work. Tenure was a milestone, but not the point.
The thing you may know about tenure is that it comes with a very long term contract. University tenure is described by the AAUP as originating to protect ‘academic freedom’ allowing faculty the ability to express opinion without fear of retribution. I had thought tenure was like academic regalia, dating back 1,000 years, but actually it is quite new, beginning in the 1940s. Tenure has been criticized as not useful, unfair, and responsible for promoting narrow, elitist research. Indeed, shorter contracts can be a reasonable substitute. But I think with proper understanding and mechanism, tenure remains a viable system, that can maximize the high impact research carried out at a university.
The Slow Way to the Moon - 9/24/21
The only part of the movie AD ASTRA I liked was the beginning, a commercial flight to the moon, that seemed pretty accurate. It looked as uncomfortable as regular air travel, except that pillows and blankets ran $500. When you arrived, there was an escalator, a sign at the top reading Welcome to the Moon (0.10-0.22), and security with dogs in the arrival hall. The car ride after was cool, an open rover driving along the dusty moonscape under a pitch-black sky and earth hanging there. It was not clear how long that future trip took, but generally moon flights carrying people run about three days, and a lot of fuel, to cover the quarter million miles from earth.
Did you know though, that there’s a slow way to the moon? It takes around four weeks and uses much less energy. Rather than the straight shot of escaping earth’s gravity and heading on a direct path to the moon, the slow way puts a craft into increasingly wider elliptical orbit around earth, using earth’s gravity to push the apogee further and further from earth, and closer and closer to the moon. Eventually the craft is captured by the moon’s gravity and switches into moon orbit. It’s very clever and although the distance traveled approaches four million miles, the trip costs a fraction of the straight shot.
The BeeGees and the importance of collaborative research - 9/17/21
You’ve likely heard a BeeGees song – the 2017 estimate was that one of their hits played on the radio every twenty seconds. I had vaguely discounted them as a run of the mill pop group until I came across an interview with Barry Gibb, the last living member, and started digging around. In fact, their music is fantastic (click on the *links), and as a bonus, their interesting story suggested some excellent tips for Science research.
From modest beginnings in England, and later Australia, the Gibb brothers – Barry, and twins Maurice and Robin – formed the BeeGees and were pre-teen TV stars with confidence and great harmonies. Back in England the group became hugely successful, largely by popularizing ‘disco’ through their Saturday Night Fever* score (although the genre later became a racist/homophobic target). For 27 consecutive weeks in 1978, seven songs written by the brothers were #1 on the US charts, and they held five of the top ten slots for even longer. Eventually, radio hosts refused to play their songs and held BeeGees-free weekends!
The parallels between the effective BeeGees working style and the important collaborative research we’re promoting at Northeastern are quite interesting. For example…
A Full Experience - 9/10/21
The term ‘normal’ is loaded. Some years ago, my research group explored this as applied to neurodevelopmental and mental health disorders, that our studies address. We quickly decided that ‘normal’ should be removed from our vocabulary, since it implied ‘correct’ or ‘best’ and ‘abnormal’ implied something opposite. In fact, we were part of a wave of understanding, and terminology has become ‘affected’ and ‘unaffected’ as pertain to most disorders. These more recent terms acknowledge differences between people, that although many of us are affected by some mental or physical challenge, none of us is ‘abnormal’, and I am deeply glad that term has dissipated.
‘Normal’ cannot describe this new academic year either, as we cautiously learn to live with COVID. At Convocation on Monday, our new undergraduates, masked and vaccinated, were thrilled to join Northeastern in person, totally excited to be Huskies. President Aoun promised our students a ‘full experience’, which is a brilliant way to put it. On Thursday, we regrouped to hood our PhD candidates – the classes of 2019, 2020, and 2021, becoming one of the few universities to honor doctoral graduates in person. Northeastern has been a paradigm for how to keep the full experience going in the face of a global disaster, and each member of our community should be truly proud to have contributed to this effort.
Important Lives - 8/20/21
You know the scenario – while turning on the shower, a moth flutters up. It’s one of those beautiful white ones with wings carefully outlined in black and small yellow spots on either side. But moths are not built for water, and a drop or two sadly sends the little animal down the drain. Every life is important, and this week brings ongoing news of many lives in danger. In the fires of the western US, earthquakes in Haiti, the turmoil in Afghanistan, tropical storms in our country and abroad, in the rising number of COVID cases. We send warm wishes for the safety of your family and friends in these regions or affected by the virus.
Meetings - 7/23/21
When was your first meeting? Preschool maybe, when you were in the Moonbeam class? Morning Meeting, with a hello song and what was going to happen that day. You picked at your socks, drew on the soles if you had a crayon. Because Morning Meeting was a little slow. And you wanted to get going and do stuff, preferably pedal a tricycle on the outside track as fast as possible.
In the College of Science we broker lots of encounters through meetings. Meetings have a bad reputation – useless, waste of time, too many, are common complaints. But I love well organized meetings that have a point (scroll down in the link to ‘Meeting for Success’). Snappy, carefully led meetings give useful information, unexpected insights and important ideas. Seminars, especially those not in your field, often introduce a technique helpful for your research, and casual meetings are great ways to exchange the latest data.
Ramping up for next semester - 6/25/21
Across the country, we are shocked by the Miami building collapse, and pray for the safety of those affected, and for your family and friends there. We send warm wishes for the safety of your family and friends in countries still so burdened by COVID-19.
In better news, now in official Summer, my bird feeder is in demand from first to last light. Parent birds bring their babies for a snack, and a young bunny comes to look for dropped seeds. The large shallow bowls I’ve filled with water are in constant use for a drink or a splash. Seeds are up and almost flowering, the Borage miraculously returned. Last year I gave up trying to grow a lawn, letting the moss and small plants thrive, and the results are soft, peaceful, and a great environment for insects. But perhaps the best part of summer is pulling on a trusty pair of flipflops, my unconstrained toes enjoying seasonal freedom!
Out of COVID, Into Summer - 5/28/2021
Here in Massachusetts, we have the highest percentage of vaccinated people of any US state, so we are feeling safer and more confident. Restrictions are easing, and at Northeastern in accord with state guidelines, masks will soon be optional everywhere for fully vaccinated people. You are not required to remove your mask. Indeed, for certain medical conditions, the guidance is to be careful. I plan to keep masked in various places, not only because a smart cloth mask has become part of my dress, but because it can be private and protective. Over the upcoming flu and cold season, we all might do well to keep a mask or two at hand. Please do whatever is comfortable, within Northeastern guidelines.
Thank you for the honor of this collegial, productive, mind-expanding first year at Northeastern - 5/21/2021
Almost one year ago, on June 1, 2020, I became your Dean. It was a week after Mr. George Floyd had been murdered by police on May 25, and in the midst of a terrifying global pandemic. Northeastern was new to me, as was our College and almost all of you. I was your fourth Dean in almost the same number of years. It was clear that if we were to go forward in the landscape of racial injustice and within the uncertain pandemic framework, we needed to work together as one Community. We needed an overarching value of respect, with a clear statement against systemic racism and towards an equitable College.
Over the year, we’ve met mostly as 1×1 flat images, and I much look forward to seeing you in person. You’ve come to know me – that I have a funny accent, am very positive, and a hands-on Dean full of ideas, who is always thrilled to hear new ones! I have come to understand the top-quality research that is performed by many of you, the top-quality education you give our students and the top-quality administration and staffing that runs our departments and units.
Northeastern was my destination because it seemed the most innovative university around, a place where we could invent the future of higher education, and that is true! Northeastern has become my home, and I am so happy to be part of this great College and University.
Congratulations! You've done it! - 5/14/2021
My favorite piece of philosophy is the short essay by Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus. Camus looks into the bleakest situations and comes out with a positive view. Sisyphus was condemned to roll a boulder uphill forever, a dismal existence, but Camus understands that the effort Sisyphus makes is the point of his life. At the end he concludes: ‘The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.’ I have a printed stack of this essay ready to give to anyone whose confidence is down, who is in need of encouragement. It’s encouraging to understand that your effort to achieve is enough (and usually gets you somewhere).
At Northeastern and in the College of Science, we are re-thinking higher education and the university - 5/7/2021
This is graduation week! With exciting in person processions all week on campus, and Commencement in person on Saturday and Sunday at Fenway, how great is this! Again, Northeastern is leading the way, with many universities opting for virtual graduation ceremonies. I am honored to present our College of Science graduates, and my cap, gown and hood are ready. This is a time for CONGRATULATIONS, and my greatest gratitude to each of you who has taught, guided, facilitated and inspired our students. There would be no graduation without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The notion of degrees is as old as universities, with the University of Bologna, Italy in continuous operation from the 11th century granting the first degrees. This week I addressed several College graduation celebrations, including the following, generalized for this letter.
You can count on the power of Science - 4/30/2021
We are watching with deepest concern as India is ravaged by COVID-19, and now South American countries are contributing a large percentage of global COVID cases. We extend heartfelt and most sincere hopes for an improved situation to our College of Science faculty, staff and students who have family and friends in India, or in other countries severely affected. We hope that international efforts to send medical supplies and vaccination materials will rapidly assist. Here are some ideas you can consider to help India through this crisis.
Let's make every day Earth Day - 4/23/2021
When I was a student, a requirement for the Zoology major was the Insect Project. You had to collect at least 100 different insects, kill them in a bottle with ethyl acetate, and mount them according to convention using pins and a cork board. I collected 100 exactly, because I did not want to kill more than the minimum, but some of my classmates built elaborate cabinets and presented thousands of different species, some quite rare. Professor Passmore told our class that insects would be the last animal group to survive on earth (after the feared nuclear wars). You can irradiate them and they are untouched, he told us. They will survive anything.
I must have had that notion firmly in my mind, because it was an enormous jolt to learn a few years ago that the insects of our planet were in drastic, devastating decline. There has been a 2.5% decrease in insect mass per year for the last 25-30 years, even in what are considered pristine forests. Extrapolating, within a century there will be none, zero insects. This outcome is thought to result from destroying habitats, especially by agriculture, compounded by pesticide use. Without insects as food, huge numbers of bird, frog, lizard and mammalian species will not survive. Neither will the many predators of the insect eaters. Many flowers will not be pollinated, impacting our food and crops. With this knowledge, last summer, while driving along I-93 towards Vermont, I noticed a butterfly flying on the side of the highway, and realized how daunting to be that small animal, confronted by a wide, busy road with nowhere to alight.
Solving the greatest challenges of our planet - 4/16/2021
We’re surrounded by complex problems, in science, in society and often across science and society. If you’re looking for a definition, ‘complex problems are solvable only through multiple approaches and disciplines’. You know some of the complex problems waiting to be solved – climate change, racism, homelessness, ‘a cure for cancer’. When these problems become political, there is pressure to find a quick fix, but that does not exist, and the absence is construed as failure.
Life’s best moments are about taking small but empowering steps - 4/9/21
Right at the start of the pandemic, last March, when we were truly terrified, and the whole thing seemed a nightmare in which we were stuck, I was walking my now routine loop. Dropped on the sidewalk was a Ziploc bag of green grapes – twelve, taken off their stalks. Some water droplets told me these were carefully washed, perhaps someone was taking them to work, perhaps an essential worker. I walked by, but kept imagining what would happen – over days the grapes would start to rot, and someone would stand on them to make a squishy mess. This bothered me so much that next day I went back. The grapes were untouched, and I opened the bag then tumbled them onto the verge. I took the bag home, washed it and put it in my ready-to-use box. Next day, two of the grapes had disappeared, three the next, then all were gone. I suspected a family of racoons I’d seen crossing the road nearby had been pleased to find the delicious fruit. The whole thing made me feel a bit better, that even in this unbelievably scary moment, one could take a tiny step of useful action.
Hooray for RNA - 4/2/2021
This week I had my first COVID-19 RNA vaccine shot – Pfizer, at a CVS in Belmont. The nurse was top notch and the store employees serious about running an efficient, careful process. The nurse noted that everyone was excited to get their shot (me, too). I was pleased that my arm hurt after, suggesting that my body is responding to viral Spike protein made because of RNA in the vaccine, and starting to produce protective anti-viral antibodies. Back in my thesis days, it would have been hard to imagine hundreds of millions of people being injected with vaccines made of bits of RNA packed in fat droplets. When I was a PhD student, describing the medical applications of RNA in a grant proposal was wishful thinking.
Revising our pandemic brain circuitry - 3/26/21
During the COVID pandemic, we have done a lot of learning. You probably now readily remember to wear a mask when you go outside, and you avoid getting too close to non-pod people without thinking twice. The landscape is quite familiar, because each of us has formed some new neural circuitry. We have also been enormously stressed, and Covid Stress Syndrome is real. Please take care of your mental health, and seek help as you need it.
There is writing now on fear of being normal, post-COVID. Some of this has to do with revising our pandemic brain circuitry and it will be a jolt to try and lose this. I can’t now imagine feeling comfortable going out mask-less. It will help to reactivate pleasant, socializing circuits that have been dormant for a year. We will have to build up again these old pathways, even while remnants of the pandemic persist.
Every person is valued - 3/19/2021
Once more this week, we witnessed horrific violence against Asian people. This morning Associate Dean Randall Hughes and I sent to the entire College a letter (included in our March 5 Update) that reiterates College support for our Asian community, consistent with the message this week from President Aoun. The College of Science is committed to a culture of respect and action towards equity, and is a place where every person is valued, and where each person belongs.
A varied society - 3/5/2021
There has been disturbing news lately about hate crimes against Asian people. I wanted to understand the definition of this term, and found on the US Department of Justice site: “When used in hate crime law, the word ‘hate’ does not mean rage, anger or general dislike. In this context ‘hate’ means bias against people or groups with specific characteristics, and the ‘crime’ is usually a violent one.
After the transition to remote work - 3/12/2021
This is COVID Anniversary Week. One year ago, the World Health Organization acknowledged a worrying new infectious disease, and we locked down to avoid catching and spreading it.
Perseverance Award - 2/26/2021
The Martian lander, Perseverance has a name fitting this past year. It was launched in the depths of the pandemic, July 2020 and made the long trek to Mars, arriving last week. The landing video is so exciting, and I especially like the end where you see the scientists celebrating in the JPL control room. They are women, men and people of varied races, a huge shift from the early uniform demographic of NASA personnel.
The rich ‘connectome’ of our College - 2/19/2021
The still brilliant TV series ‘Connections’ explores how current technologies were shaped by contributions from historical, geographical and societal landscapes, over thousands of years. Host James Burke poses complex questions like ‘how did the touchstone (early money) make square sails obsolete, develop the compass and lead to invention of radar?’ Take a look, the episodes are on YouTube and as surprising as ever. They remind us how discoveries in science often lead in unanticipated, important directions.
A smooth Spring semester - 2/12/2021
We are moving towards Spring! I am sure of this, because even in the frigid weather, the sunlight is staying longer each day, and there is no need for a flashlight on my dog’s afternoon walk. I am sure we are moving towards Spring because there are buds on the rhododendrons and magnolias, magical groups of cells waiting for the moment they can wake up, and make flowers.
Honoring Black scientists - 2/5/2021
This is Black History Month, and a time to affirm our College of Science and Northeastern commitment to anti-racist policies, to a culture of respect, to action against systemic racism and towards equity. We are working hard, and I want to thank every person in the College who is participating in our sincere efforts to meet these goals.
Pandemic Lessons - 1/29/2021
I wrote this a while ago for a story slam, and it seems pertinent to where we are today. “One evening last fall I drove down a hill on Commonwealth Avenue to a striking sunset scene – a flock of birds silhouetted against the bright orange sky. It occurred to me then, that I was going home and the birds were going home, and the bees were at home and the chipmunks.
Happy New Year - 1/22/2021
The morning air has a special sharpness that I love. I think there must be a chemistry involved – an ionization driven by the new light, perhaps? (CCB members, any insight or comment on this 1903 musing?)
Making the Dream Real - 1/15/2021
I was in elementary school when Nobel Laureate, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The news crossed the world to South Africa, from where the United States seemed a distant dream. It was a big deal though, because we knew Dr. King’s death was a blow for the Black civil rights movement in the United States.
Gracious Professionalism - 1/8/21
The storming of the Capitol was extraordinary both in that the President encouraged this type of behavior, and in that it was possible to so easily breach security. It was extraordinary, but consistent with our history of white supremacy, that the police were so gentle with the mostly white protesters. We have seen the violence consistently inflicted on Black protesters by police. There is no doubt in my mind that had the storming been carried out by Black people, the outcomes would have been far worse.
For me, these events also highlight that being a good loser is a useful part of life. Losing is a tough and frequent life lesson, that we generally have to politely accept, and try to learn from each instance. Mr. Trump unfortunately, seems not have learned this lesson.
An Extraordinary Effort - 12/18/2020
Speaking of famous Huskies, Balto was a Siberian Husky, a sled dog who is immortalized by a statue in New York’s Central Park. The story is complicated, and a petition indicates that the statue should have depicted another Husky named Togo. But the point is one of hope: an extraordinary effort to bring diptheria antitoxin to Nome, Alaska in 1925, so stopping the outbreak of a terrible illness. Due to a blizzard, planes could not fly and the antitoxin was carried six hundred and seventy-four miles through driving snow and -20oF temperatures by dog sled teams. Balto (or maybe Togo) was the lead dog on the final leg of the dangerous trip.
Carla Mattos, PhD
Associate Dean of Graduate Affairs and Professional Programs
Prof. Mattos received her B.A. in Chemistry from Clark University and her PhD in Chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She did postdoctoral work at Harvard University as a Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College Fellow and at Brandeis University, supported by the American Cancer Society. Prof. Mattos was the recipient of the Boroughs Wellcome Fund New Investigator Award in the Pharmacological Sciences, a CAREER award from the NSF, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and runs a well-funded research group studying cancer-related proteins. Her research focuses on protein structure, dynamics and biochemistry with particular emphasis on Ras and related GTPases and their interactions with binding partners. She has been engaged as a consultant for several companies working on targeting Ras against human cancers.
Prof. Mattos brings to the Dean’s Office years of experience as Director of Graduate Studies for Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Northeastern. In this role, she helped build a strong graduate student association, focused on increasing student diversity in the Ph.D. program, and built student support programs such as POPS (Peers Offering Peers Support) and monthly Diversity Discussions. She is committed to innovative graduate and professional programs for student training and advancement as expert and creative problem solvers in a challenging and continually changing world.Carla Mattos's Profile
Erin Cram, PhD
Associate Dean for Research
In 2020, Erin Cram was appointed Associate Dean for Research.
As a member of the College Senior Leadership team, Dr. Cram provides creative, goal-oriented leadership for funding research-based initiatives, including PhD training. She also provides strategic planning for grant proposals, identifies funding and award opportunities, communicates success stories, and promotes entrepreneurship.
Dr. Cram earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she discovered her love of scientific research. During her PhD in Molecular Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, she studied cell cycle regulation by potential chemotherapeutic compounds. Her postdoctoral studies at Princeton University on the network regulation of cell migration led to her recruitment to Northeastern University as an Assistant Professor in 2006. An award-winning scientist and educator, Dr. Cram is committed to building diverse and interdisciplinary research teams. Her current research is at intersection of cell biology and engineering, with a major focus on how mechanical forces are sensed and interpreted by cells.
Through her work with the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, as Director of Graduate Studies for Biology, and as a mentor to early career faculty, Dr. Cram has supported our students and faculty as they attain the highest levels of excellence in research. She looks forward to continuing this work on the COS Leadership team.Erin Cram's Profile
Oyinda Oyelaran, PhD
Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs
Professor Oyelaran joined the Dean’s Office in 2021 as Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs.
Professor Oyelaran is a Teaching Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, summa cum laude, from Salem College and conducting research at Merck Research Laboratories, she earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University. As a postdoctoral fellow in the Chemical Biology Laboratory at the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Oyelaran’s research focused on the synthesis of tumor-associated carbohydrate antigens and the development of a carbohydrate microarray platform for profiling anti-carbohydrate serum antibodies to enable rapid discovery of cancer biomarkers and new cancer antigens. Her work led to the discovery of a panel of predictive biomarkers for prostate cancer. She joined Northeastern in 2011 after being Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Williams College where she taught organic chemistry and conducted research focused on elucidating the relationship between carbohydrate blood group antigens and susceptibility to severe malaria.
Professor Oyelaran teaches Organic Chemistry I and II for majors and non-majors. She is an accomplished, award-winning educator, as recipient of the 2020 University Excellence in Teaching Award, as well as the 2020 College of Science Excellence in Teaching Award. Professor Oyelaran is also co-PI of the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program in Chemistry and Chemical Biology. As a member of the Dean’s senior leadership team, Dr. Oyelaran provides leadership for faculty affairs as related to hiring, tenure, promotion, sabbatical, mentoring, and professional development of our esteemed, internationally-recognized team of more than 250 faculty.Oyinda Oyelaran's Profile
Randall Hughes, PhD
Associate Dean of Equity
In 2020, Prof. Randall Hughes joined the College of Science Dean’s Office as the first Associate Dean for Equity.
Dr. Hughes is Associate Professor in the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences (MES). She joined Northeastern in 2013, after earning the Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Public Policy Analysis at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the Ph.D. in Ecology at the University of California-Davis, where she also conducted postdoctoral research. Her scholarship focuses on understanding the causes and consequences of biodiversity change, and applying that knowledge to the conservation and restoration of marine systems.
In her tenure at the university, Dr. Hughes has demonstrated a consistent focus and accomplishment towards promoting diversity and inclusion. She created and has chaired the Diversity and Inclusion Committee in MES since 2017, and she has served on the College of Science Diversity Committee since 2018. Dr. Hughes has also prioritized efforts to enhance representation in her field and to develop meaningful engagement with diverse audiences to convey the process and value of science.Randall Hughes' Profile
Sam Inman, MBA
Associate Dean of Administration and Finance
Sam Inman serves as the Associate Dean of Administration and Finance for the College of Science. Sam initially joined COS as Director of Finance and Operations in 2020, a role charged with overseeing financial planning, data and analytics, space planning, and operations within the Dean’s Office.
Mr. Inman, who earned his M.B.A. from George Washington University School of Business, joined COS with a decade of higher education and nonprofit management experience, including six years of experience at R1 research universities. In addition, he worked as a higher education consultant, working with several public and private universities on operational strategy and implementation projects. In these positions, Sam garnered experience leading or managing high-impact process improvement efforts, capital projects/renovations, and strategic planning exercises.
In his role as Associate Dean of Administration and Finance, Mr. Inman is responsible for leading the College finance, human resources, research administration, and operations teams, and working closely with the Dean and other Associate Deans on strategic projects for the College.Sam Inman's Profile
Brent Nelson, PhD
Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
Dr. Nelson joined the Dean’s Office as Associate Dean in 2017.
Dr. Nelson came to Northeastern in 2006 after having served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and at the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics in Ann Arbor, Michigan, He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley under the supervision of National Academy member Mary K. Gaillard.
Professor Nelson is a theoretical particle physicist whose work connects string theory to testable observations in high energy physics and cosmology. His 60+ scholarly publications over the last 20 years include highly-cited research into hadron collider phenomenology, supersymmetric model building, dark matter phenomenology, mathematical physics, and computational approaches to string theory.
With colleagues at Northeastern University, Professor Nelson established the rapidly-growing field of machine learning applications in theoretical particle physics, including the use of network science to study the vacuum selection problem, and the use of reinforcement learning as a tool to study the string landscape.Brent Nelson's Profile
Penny Beuning, PhD
Chair, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Dr. Beuning came to Northeastern in 2006 and was appointed Department Chair in 2020.
Dr. Beuning completed her doctorate at the University of Minnesota and conducted post-doctoral work at the University of Minnesota and MIT. She has been the recipient of the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation New Faculty Award, a Cottrell Scholar, an American Cancer Society Research Scholar and the recipient of an NSF CAREER Award, among other accolades.
Her research aims to determine how cells respond to DNA damage and maintain the accuracy of genetic information. As part of this work, she aims to develop DNA damage tolerance enzymes and DNA repair proteins as tools for biotechnology applications. Her lab also seeks to determine fundamental aspects of enzyme function that can be applied to protein engineering, focusing on enzymes involved in cellular metabolism.Penny Beuning's Profile
Peter Bex, PhD
Chair, Department of Psychology
Dr. Bex was appointed Chair of the Department of Psychology in 2020.
Professor Bex holds a doctorate in Psychology from Cardiff University (UK) and first came to Northeastern in 2014. He had previous faculty appointments at Harvard Medical School, University College London and Essex University (UK)
Dr. Bex’s research uses cross-disciplinary approaches to study basic and clinical vision science. His clinical research uses behavioral and computational techniques to study the pathological processes in blinding eye diseases including Age-related Macular Disease, Glaucoma and Amblyopia. His research aims to understand the bases and implications of these blinding eye diseases with the goal of developing efficient and sensitive methods for early diagnosis and to measure the presence and progression or remediation of vision loss. Dr. Bex’s lab develops new technologies and novel therapeutic approaches that help to maximize residual visual function and promote the most effective rehabilitation interventions.Peter Bex's Profile
Egon Schulte, PhD
Chair, Department of Mathematics
Dr. Schulte was appointed Chair of the Department of Mathematics in 2020.
Professor Schulte holds a PhD from the University of Dortmund (Germany) and joined the Northeastern Mathematics department in 1989. He held previous appointments at MIT, the University of Washington and the University of Dortmund. He previously served as acting Chair in the Department of Mathematics at Northeastern from 1998-2001.
Dr. Schulte’s area of expertise includes Discrete and Combinatorial Geometry, Combinatorics, and Group Theory.Egon Schulte's Profile
Jonathan L. Tilly, PhD
Chair, Department of Biology and University Distinguished Professor
Dr. Tilly was appointed Chair of the Department of Biology in 2013 and was awarded the title of University Distinguished Professor in 2015.
Dr. Tilly earned his PhD from Rutgers University in 1990, completed research fellowships in molecular biology at UC-San Diego and Stanford University Medical Center, and then served on the faculty of Johns Hopkins and Harvard Medical School before joining Northeastern. His areas of expertise are broad, covering reproductive biology, developmental and stem cell biology, mitochondrial function, regenerative medicine, infertility, women’s health, and aging.
For almost three decades, Dr. Tilly’s lab has sought to promote a deeper understanding of the genetic and epigenetic drivers of cell lineage specification, differentiation and death, and to then utilize the information gained from these studies for development of innovative new technologies to improve human health within and across generations. His research has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1994, with much of his work published extensively in top-tier journals including Nature, Cell, Nature Genetics, Nature Medicine, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
In 2013, Dr. Tilly was named one of the top 12 innovators in science and biotechnology in Massachusetts by the Boston Globe, as well as Champion in Healthcare by the Boston Business Journal. He is the inventor on 12 issued patents and a scientific co-founder of a biotechnology company focused in improving women’s reproductive health.Jonathan Tilly's Profile
Geoffrey Trussel, PhD
Chair, Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences
In 2012, Dr. Trussell was appointed Chair of the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences.
Dr. Trussell, who earned his PhD in Marine Science at the College of William and Mary joined Northeastern as an Assistant Professor of Biology in 2002 and was based at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center. He became the Director of the Marine Science Center in 2009, holds a joint appointment in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, became Vice-President of the Nahant, MA campus operations in 2016, and was named Director of the Coastal Sustainability Institute in 2017.
A highly collaborative researcher, Dr. Trussell’s research program currently focuses on a number of important issues in evolutionary, community and ecosystem ecology. His work emphasizes the evolutionary and ecological significance of predation risk, with an emphasis on the evolution of phenotypic plasticity and inducible defenses, the ecological significance of predation risk, and the influence of trait-mediated indirect interactions on community dynamics and ecosystem function. In addition, he is very devoted to promoting sustainability science research that focuses on advancing knowledge and developing solutions for cleaner, safer and smarter coastal communities.Geoffrey Trussel's Profile
Mark Williams, PhD
Chair, Department of Physics
Dr. Williams was appointed Chair of the Department of Physics in 2017.
Professor Williams earned his PhD in Physics from the University of Minnesota, where he also completed postdoctoral work in Biophysics. He came to Northeastern in 2001, and in 2003 he earned a Research Corporation Research Innovation Award as well as a National Science Foundation CAREER Award. He became a Fellow in the American Physical Society in 2012.
The Williams lab specializes in the development of single molecule methods for quantitatively probing the biophysical properties of DNA and RNA and for understanding the biophysics of their interactions with proteins and other DNA binding ligands. Dr. William’s research lab has made major contributions in several areas of science, including: Molecular mechanisms of HIV-1 replication interactions; Thermodynamics and structural dynamics of small molecule binding to DNA; Eukaryotic nuclear regulatory proteins and nucleosome dynamics; and Mechanisms of DNA binding by proteins from model bacterial and bacteriophage replication systems.Mark Williams' Profile