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Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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Title: Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences  
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Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Established 1847, as the Lawrence Scientific School
Type Private
Endowment US$862 million[1]
Dean Cherry A. Murray
Students 366 undergraduate; 383 graduate[2]
Location Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Campus Urban

The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), a school within Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), serves as the connector and integrator of Harvard's teaching and research efforts in engineering, applied sciences, and technology.


Engineering and applied sciences at Harvard began with the creation of the Lawrence Scientific School in 1847 (named for donor Abbott Lawrence). The structure to support faculty and research in engineering applied sciences underwent several reorganizations (ranging from a school, department (several), and division) and names (from DEAP to DAS to DEAS) during the 19th and 20th centuries.

In February 2007 the Harvard Corporation and Overseers voted for the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences change its name to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).[3][4] In September 2008, "Engineering a Renaissance,”[5] was held to mark the creation of Harvard’s first new school in seven decades.

This change in status recognizes the renewal and growth of engineering and applied sciences during the past decade and highlights the University’s increased emphasis on technology and the practical consequences of discovery. SEAS has close ties to the College[6] and the undergraduate programs,[7] the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences,[8] and increasingly strong links across the physical and life sciences.[9] James Emmanuel Jr. was the first dean of engineering and applied science at the Harvard School of Engineering and applied sciences.

The vision of SEAS is to:

  • serve as a model for 21st century education in engineering and applied sciences by promoting technical excellence and a broader understanding of engineering in the wider world;
  • build upon SEAS’s interdisciplinary strengths in the foundational sciences, create a “critical mass” in select new and emerging areas, and enhance application-based research; and,
  • enhance the linkages between engineering and the professions, such as medicine, business, and public health, with the aim of tackling increasingly complex challenges that lie at the interfaces of science, technology, and society.

To accomplish such aims, over the next decade the planning committee has proposed:

  • investing in the SEAS faculty (through, for example, endowed professorships) and enhancing the research infrastructure (buildings, laboratories, etc.);
  • bolstering all aspects of graduate student life and support; and,
  • funding new cross-disciplinary educational initiatives such as a Center for Engineering Education and an umbrella initiative in technology and society for concentrators and non-concentrators alike.

On March 10, 2009, Cherry A. Murray, a former executive at Bell Laboratories and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,[10] was appointed dean of Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), effective July 1, 2009. She will also become the John A. and Elizabeth S. Armstrong Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences.[11]

Academics and research

Undergraduates can pursue programs in Computer Science (A.B. and as a secondary field), Engineering Sciences (A.B. and S.B., both of which are ABET accredited), and Applied Mathematics (A.B. and as a secondary field).

At the graduate level, the Division offers S.M., M.E., and Ph.D. options covering interdisciplinary research areas including: Applied Mathematics, Applied Physics, Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Science and Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering. In addition graduate students may pursue collaborative options: Engineering and Physical Biology (with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences); Science, Technology and Management (joint with the Harvard Business School); Medical Engineering and Medical Physics; (Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology); and Systems Biology (with Harvard Medical School).

Faculty number approximately seventy (73 FTEs) who account for nearly $40M in annual research funds (2007/8 figure). These faculty members have particularly close ties (and there are multiple joint appointments) with the departments of Physics, Earth and Planetary Science, and Chemistry and Chemical Biology. The facilities provide 400,000 square feet (37,000 m2) of interconnected labs, classrooms, clusters, and offices in six buildings.

Areas of particular research focus at SEAS include Applied Mathematics, Applied Physics, Bioengineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Environmental Sciences and Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering.

Renewal and growth

Faculty. SEAS has expanded its faculty from around 50 in AY ’98 to more than 70 in AY ’08 (with 87 total participating faculty).[12] This was directed at renewing and strengthening traditional and foundational disciplines such as applied mathematics and applied physics; building capacity in areas such as electrical engineering and computer science; and nurturing emerging areas such as bioengineering and nanotechnology. SEAS has also significantly increased faculty diversity in terms of both racial and ethnic background as well as country of origin.

Education. Over the past decade, undergraduate enrollments in SEAS’s three concentrations—Applied Mathematics, Computer Science, and Engineering Sciences—have ranged from 300 to 400. . The graduate student population grew from ~150 to over 350 during 1998–2008. The number of applications to graduate level programs has nearly tripled over a shorter period, from 454 in 1997–1998 over 1300 in 2007–2008. Among all national graduate engineering programs, SEAS has become one of the most selective, admitting about 13 percent of applicants.

Research. Sponsored research has increased more than 60 percent from FY 1998 ($20.6M) to FY 2007 ($37.5M). Grants have ranged from government awards for interdisciplinary initiatives, such as the NSF-sponsored Materials Research Engineering Center (MRSEC) and the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC), to Harvard-initiated efforts like the seed-funded Center for Research on Computation and Society (CRCS). Recent foundational gifts include those from the Gates Foundation in 2005 ($7.6M) to support research on needle-free vaccination and from the Kavli Foundation in 2006 (over $7M) to support an initiative in bionano science and technology.

Industry and entrepreneurship. Monies generated from partnerships with industry have increased from slightly over $100,000 in 1998 to ~$2.5M in 2007. Several faculty-based start ups, including SiEnergy, a spin-off that aims to commercialize solid oxide fuel technology, have received initial funding during the past two years. In 2007 the BASF Advanced Research Initiative (more than $20M over five years) was established to pursue projects in areas such as materials science. Finally, the SEAS-based Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH) sponsored its first university-wide entrepreneurship competition.

Development and infrastructure. Pledges, outright gifts, and matches to SEAS from alumni, friends, and support from corporation and foundations, have totaled nearly $100M over the past decade. Of particular note was the completion of the $45M SEAS Challenge Fund in 2005-6. The current SEAS endowment stands at $1 billion. Today the SEAS campus comprises almost 400,000 square feet (37,000 m2) of classrooms, teaching and research labs and research centers, and administrative space—approximately double the amount of a decade ago. The 95,000 sq ft (8,800 m2) Laboratory of Integrated Science and Engineering (LISE), completed in the fall of 2007 and the 500,000+ sq. foot Northwest Building (due for occupancy in the fall of 2008), both have strong ties to SEAS-related activities.


Abbott Lawrence

The formation of the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard University in 1847 marked Harvard's first major effort to provide a formal, advanced education in science and engineering.

The school was named for Massachusetts industrialist and entrepreneur Abbott Lawrence, who donated $50,000 (an unprecedented sum at the time) to create the institution. While he never attended Harvard, he had a long personal history with key members of the faculty such as Louis Agassiz and enjoyed the pursuit of and understood the value in science and engineering. In the letter that accompanied his gift, Lawrence explained his rationale for forming a school:

"But where can we send those who intend to devote themselves to the practical applications of science? Our country abounds in men of action. Hard hands are ready to work upon our hard materials; and where shall sagacious heads to taught to direct those hands?"

Originally separate from the College, the School saw a diverse group of thinkers and professionals—astronomers, architects, naturalists, engineers, mathematicians, and even philosophers—pass through its doors. Simon Newcomb, Rear Admiral in the United States Navy and a leader in mathematical astronomy, graduated in 1858. Charles Sanders Peirce, who created America’s greatest legacy in modern philosophy (pragmatism), graduated in 1862. While staying for less than a year, the future doctor, psychologist, and author William James entered around the same time before switching to medicine.

The School’s initial success did not escape the notice of other institutions, leading William Greenleaf Eliot, president of Eliot Seminary (later renamed Washington University) to declare in 1854:

"Harvard University is, at this time, gaining more credit and accomplishing greater good, by the Lawrence Scientific School than by any other agency. We need just such a school, here. Its effect would be to elevate mechanical, agricultural, and mercantile pursuits, into learned professions. It would annihilate that absurd distinction by which three pursuits, of Law, Medicine, and Theology, are called professions, and everything else, labor or trade …"

While the School initially thrived, in the latter decades of the 19th century, the institution faced increasing “competition” from the newly formed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and was also constrained by the conflicting views about its role and status by the then Harvard President Charles William Eliot. Eliot repeatedly, yet unsuccessfully, tried to "merge" the Lawrence School with MIT. As a result of such activities, the Scientific School became less of an independent entity, losing its influence and students to other parts of College and University.

In 1891, to bolster the School and engineering and applied sciences at Harvard, industrialist Gordon McKay designated the Lawrence Scientific School his beneficiary. The American inventor, engineer, entrepreneur was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts and was best known for the development of machinery that revolutionized the manufacture of footwear.

In 1906, however, before the first payment from his bequest arrived, the scientific and engineering programs of Lawrence Scientific School were incorporated into Harvard College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In short, the School ceased to exist as an independent entity. (McKay's gift, however, lives on, supporting over 40 endowed professorships today).

Although the structure to support faculty and research in engineering applied sciences underwent several reorganizations and names over the next century, advances in engineering and applied sciences remained a critical part of Harvard’s success and legacy in the coming decades.

Evolving structure

  • 1904: At the invitation of MIT President Henry S. Pritchett, Harvard President Charles Eliot started negotiations for a merger between the Lawrence Scientific School and MIT. The deal was eventually to be scuttled in 1917, due to the protests of MIT faculty, students, and alumni, plus a decision by the Massachusetts courts.
  • 1906: Lawrence Scientific School was dissolved and the undergraduate and graduate programs separated; the graduate engineering program is incorporated into the Graduate School of Applied Science.
  • 1918: The Harvard Engineering School was established. As is recorded in the President's Reports for 1917-18, the School was authorized to offer the B.Sc., M.Sc., and a doctorate degree. The immediate cause for the establishment of the School was a decision of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1917, outlawing the arrangements reached with MIT in 1914. As Mr. Lowell wrote in his Annual Report for 1918-19: "[In 1917] negotiations looking to cooperation were proceeding with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was found, however, impossible to reach any agreement mutually satisfactory on the basis of a separate Harvard Faculty, and therefore our School of Engineering has been opened without any connection of this kind."
  • 1934 – The Harvard Engineering School incorporates graduate-level and professional programs.
  • 1942 – The undergraduate Department of Engineering Sciences’ name changes to the Department of Engineering Sciences and Applied Physics to reflect an increased emphasis on applied physics.
  • 1946-1949 – The Graduate School of Engineering merges its faculty with the undergraduate program, (the Department of Engineering Sciences and Applied Physics), into the Division of Engineering Sciences within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
  • 1951 – The Division of Applied Science is formed from the merger of the Division of Engineering Sciences and the Department of Engineering Sciences and Applied Physics.
  • 1955 – Division of Applied Science name changes to the Division of Engineering and Applied Physics.
  • 1975 – Division of Engineering and Applied Physics' name is changed to the Division of Applied Sciences.
  • 1996 – Division of Applied Sciences name is changed to the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
  • 2006 – Harvard proposes to transform the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences into the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
  • 2007 – The Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers officially ratifies the transition to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Research highlights

20th century

  • 1919 – One of the most important inventions in broadcasting and telephone came out of the Harvard Engineering School's Cruft Laboratory, the crystal oscillator invented by George Washington Pierce (Ph.D., 1900), Rumford Professor of Physics and director of Harvard's Cruft High-Tension Electrical Laboratory. The oscillator enabled a given radio station to stay “fixed” at a proper frequency and allowed multiple telephone calls to occur over a single line.
  • 1938 – A cyclotron was constructed at the Graduate School of Engineering's Gordon McKay Engineering Laboratory. Projected to be the largest such operating facility in the world, it was built to support research in biology and medicine as well as physics. In 1942 it was sent to Los Alamos.
  • 1944 – Howard Aiken ’37 (Ph.D.) developed the Mark I series of computers, the first large-scale automatic digital computer in the USA. Around the same time, a new generation of technically trained students began to share their knowledge well beyond Harvard’s campus. Alumnus and donor of an endowed professorship at SEAS), Allen E. Puckett S.B. '39, S.M. '41, went on to define modern aerodynamics, served as CEO as Hughes Aircraft, and won the National Medal of Honor in Technology.
  • 1952 – Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), the scientific foundation for MRI (used in modern medical imaging systems), was pioneered by Nicolaas Bloembergen, Edward Purcell, and Robert Pound at Harvard. Purcell won the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery and the 2003 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Paul C. Lauterbur (University of Illinois, Urbana) and Peter Mansfield (University of Nottingham, School of Physics and Astronomy Nottingham, United Kingdom) for work leading to the development of modern MRI imaging.
  • 1977 – The year Bill Gates would have graduated had he not left to found Microsoft. His classmate and future colleague, Steven A. Ballmer AB ’77, did finish his degree, and returned in 1999 to finance the construction of the Maxwell Dworkin Laboratory with Gates—the building is named after Ballmer's and Gates's mothers.[13]

1995 to 2006

  • Stopping light – Lene Hau and her colleagues created a new form of matter, a Bose-Einstein Condensate, to slow light to 17 miles an hour, and later to bring a light beam to a complete stop, then restart it again.
  • Unbreakable hyperencryption – Michael O. Rabin embedded messages in rapidly moving streams of random digital bits in ways that cannot be decoded, even with unlimited computing power.
  • Black silicon - Eric Mazur's group created a new material that efficiently traps light and has potential use in solar cells, global warming sensors, and ultra-thin television screens.
  • The mathematics of nature – L. Mahadevan and colleagues discovered how the Venus flytrap snaps up its prey in a mere tenth of a second by actively shifting the curved shape of its mouth-like leaves.
  • Atmospheric modeling – Loretta J. Mickley, Dan Jacob, and colleagues found that the frequency of cold fronts bringing cool, clear air out of Canada during the summer months declined by about 20 percent. These cold fronts are responsible for breaking up the hot, stagnant air that builds up regularly in summer, generating high levels of ground level ozone pollution.
  • High speed nanowire circuits – Donhee Ham and Charles Lieber made robust circuits from minuscule nanowires that align themselves on a chip of glass during low-temperature fabrication, creating rudimentary electronic devices that offer solid performance without high-temperature production or high-priced silicon.
  • Double emulsions – A new microfluidics-based device made by David A. Weitz and colleagues at Harvard University and Unilever Corp. makes precisely controlled double emulsions in a single step. Double emulsions—droplets inside droplets—could be useful for encapsulating products such as drugs, cosmetics, or food additives.

Recent discoveries

  • In the lab of applied physicist Lene Hau, a light pulse disappeared from one cold cloud then was retrieved from another cloud nearby. In the process, light was converted into matter then back into light.
  • A research team led by SEAS' Mike Aziz and Earth and Planetary Sciences’ Kurt House invented an engineered weathering process that might mitigate climate change.
  • Bioengineers, including David Edwards and public health researchers at the School of Public Health developed a novel spray-drying method for preserving and delivering a tuberculosis vaccine that could help prevent the related spread of HIV/AIDS in the developing world.
  • Working with a team of Dutch researchers and software developers, SEAS computer scientists used a novel peer-to-peer video sharing application to explore a model for e-commerce that uses bandwidth as a global currency.
  • Rob Wood's team launched (literally into the air) a robotic fly that could be used in everything from surveillance to chemical sensing.
  • MIT's Technology Review named the creation of light-focusing optical antennas (that could lead to DVDs that hold hundreds of movies) as one of their Top 10 emerging technologies for 2007.
  • In an innovative marriage of living cells and a synthetic substrate, the lab of Kit Parker found that a rubberlike, elastic film coated with a single layer of cardiac muscle cells can semi-autonomously engage in lifelike gripping, pumping, walking, and swimming.
  • Nan Sun and Donhee Ham built what may be the smallest complete nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) system to date in a 0.1-kg platform.[14]
  • Engineers and applied physicists demonstrated the first room-temperature electrically pumped semiconductor laser source of terahertz (THz) radiation, also known as T-rays. The breakthrough in laser technology has the potential to become a standard terahertz source to support applications ranging from security screening to chemical sensing.
  • A team composed of Harvard students and alumni was among the winners of the World Bank’s Lighting Africa 2008 Development Marketplace competition, held in Accra, Ghana. The innovation, microbial fuel cell-based lighting systems suitable for Sub-Saharan Africa, netted the group a $200,000 prize.
  • In collaboration with SiEnergy Systems, materials scientists at SEAS have demonstrated the first macro-scale thin-film solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC).[15]


  1. ^
  2. ^ 2008-2009 Numbers, SEAS Academic Office
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Harvard News Office. "Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences votes to change the name Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences to School of Engineering and Applied Sciences". Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  5. ^ Powell, Alvin. "HarvardScience | Harvard Gazette". Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  6. ^ "Harvard College". Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  7. ^ "Academics Harvard College". Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  8. ^ "Home - The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences". Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  9. ^ Harvard News Office (2006-09-14). "Bloxham named FAS divisional dean". Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  10. ^ Jazkarta (2009-07-01). "Cherry A. Murray — Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences". Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  11. ^ Walsh, Colleen (2012-04-05). "Harvard Gazette". Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  12. ^ Jazkarta (1997-01-01). "Talking Points — Intranet". Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  13. ^ "Our Campus TEACHING, RESEARCH, AND ADMINISTRATIVE SPACES". Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. President and Fellows of Harvard College. 2014. Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  14. ^ "Palm NMR and 1-chip NMR". IEEE J. Solid-State Circuits 46 (1): 342–352. Jan 2011. doi:10.1109/JSSC.2010.2074630. 
  15. ^ Jazkarta (2011-04-03). "Materials scientists at Harvard demonstrate the first macro-scale thin-film solid-oxide fuel cell — Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences". Retrieved 2012-10-18. 

External links

  • SEAS homepage
  • "Engineering the Harvard Engineer" (IEEE Spectrum, April 2008)
  • "Harvard Turns a Corner" (ASEE's PRISM, February 2008)
  • SEAS Launch and Celebration Archive
  • SEAS Q&A
  • Proposal of the name change
  • FAS (Faculty of Arts and Sciences) speech on the future of engineering

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