Born and raised in Pakistan, Mavalvala first got to know MIT during her undergraduate years at nearby Wellesley College. After earning her PhD at the Institute in 1997, she joined the faculty in 2002. She is the Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics and a leading member of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which made headlines in 2016 by detecting ripples in the fabric of spacetime caused by black holes colliding. The project earned a Nobel Prize for Mavalvala’s mentor, Rainer Weiss ’55, PhD ’62, and Mavalvala won a MacArthur fellowship, among other awards, for her part in the research.
As associate head of the Department of Physics for the past five years, she oversaw academic programming and student well-being, and she cofounded the Physics Values Committee to guide the department on such issues as respect and inclusion. “There’s this idea at places like MIT that to be as excellent as we are in science and education, that has to come at the cost of all other aspects of being human. I reject that idea,” she told the MIT News Office when her appointment as dean was announced.
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