Fun Facts

  • Applied mathematician L. Mahadevan was presented with a 2007 Ig Nobel award for the study of wrinkle patterns on sheets, saying, "there's no reason good science can't be fun."

  • “Squirrel fishing,” an unusual sport of “‘catching’ squirrels and attempting to lift them into the air using a peanut tied to a string or fishing line, and optionally some kind of fishing pole,” is thought to have been partially popularized (if not invented) by two engineering graduate students, Nikolas Gloy and Yasuhiro Endo, at Harvard in the late 1990s.

  • On Sep 9, 1947 Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, USNR, (1906-1992) who worked with computer pioneer Howard Aiken, found one of the first literal computer bugs: a moth from Relay #70, Panel F, of the Harvard University Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator (now in the Science Center).

  • A SEAS graduate student appeared on a reality television show (about science and engineering); a graduate of the Harvard Design School currently hosts a reality show on engineering and design.

  • A current SEAS faculty member in bioengineering and a current graduate student in applied math have both published works of fiction; a late SEAS faculty member, an expert on animal locomotion, published 4 novels; the late famed author Norman Mailer concentrated in aeronautical engineering at Harvard.

  • SEAS is responsible, by the will of donor Gordon McKay, to maintain his family’s grand, marble mausoleum located in Pittsfield, MA.

  • John H. van Vleck (1899-1980), who served as the first modern dean, has been called “the father of modern magnetism” because of his fundamental work in the 1930s in understanding the behavior of magnetic fields. Van Vleck shared a Nobel Prize in 1977.

  • Faculty member Bernard Budiansky (1925-1999) made innovative contributions to nearly every subfield of solid mechanics.

  • Arthur Casagrande, whose last appointment was as the Gordon McKay Professor Emeritus of Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering, developed design principles that changed the construction of earth and rockfill dams throughout the world.

  • Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), the scientific foundation for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), was pioneered by Nicolaas Bloembergen, Edward M. Purcell, and Robert V. Pound at Harvard. Purcell won the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery. Bloembergen, a Harvard graduate student who went on to become a faculty member of DAS, went on to share a Nobel Prize in physics in 1981 for contributions in the development of laser spectroscopy.

  • Grace Murray Hopper is generally credited with developments that led to COBOL, the programming language for business applications on which the world's largest corporations ran for more than a generation.

  • Harold Thomas, Jr., whose last position was as Gordon McKay Professor of Civil and Sanitary Engineering, was one of the principal members of the Harvard faculty who guided the Harvard Water Program in the late 1950s through the early 1960s. The program was unique in that for the first time it established a working interdisciplinary approach to the development of water resources. It was based in the Government Department and jointly administered by the Economics Department and the then Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

  • APL (A Programming Language) is an array programming language based on a notation invented in 1957 by Kenneth E. Iverson '51, '54 while pursuing his master's at Harvard University. It originated as an attempt to provide consistent notation for the teaching and analysis of topics related to the application of computers. IIverson received the Turing Award in 1979.

  • From 1956 to 1970, Werner Stumm (1924-1999) created the leading research and teaching program in aquatic chemistry at the then Harvard Division of Applied Physics. In a memorial piece, the National Academy of Engineering reported: “Stumm began to formulate a broad vision encompassing both applications to water technology and processes in the natural water environment.”

  • In 1966, Ivan Sutherland was appointed associate professor of electrical engineering at Harvard University. While there, he conducted research that resulted in the first HMD (head-mounted display), one of the first attempts at virtual reality. The HMD contained special binocular glasses through which the user viewed graphics displayed on tiny computer screens.

  • In 1992 John Hutchinson, the Abbott and James Lawrence Professor of Engineering, and Zhigang Suo, the Allen E. and Marilyn M. Puckett Professor of Mechanics and Materials, authored a paper on cracking in complex materials systems that is among the 10 most cited papers in the field of engineering.

  • Lene Hau and her colleagues created a new form of matter to bring a light beam to a complete stop, then restart it again.

  • Computer scientist Michael Rabin embedded messages in rapidly moving streams of random digital bits in ways that cannot be decoded, even with unlimited computing power.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Electrical engineering created the tiny microrobotic fly, hailed by its as "the first robotic fly that is able to generate enough thrust to takeoff." The artificial bug was showcased at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 2008. The life-sized Flybot has a wingspan of 1.2 inches (3 cm) and weighs a mere 0.002 ounces (60 mg).

  • Engineers led by Howard Stone whipped up the first long-lived nanoscale bubbles. With the aid of kitchen mixers, engineers whipped up, for the first time, permanent nanoscale bubbles—bubbles that endure for more than a year—from batches of foam made from a mixture of glucose syrup, sucrose stearate, and water. Their study appeared in the May 30 issue of the journal Science.

  • A group of engineers and applied physicists in the Capasso lab demonstrated the first room-temperature, electrically pumped semiconductor laser source of Terahertz (THz) radiation, also known as T-rays. The breakthrough in laser technology, based on commercially available nanotechnology, has the potential to become a standard Terahertz source to support applications ranging from security screening to chemical sensing. T-rays can penetrate efficiently through paper, clothing, cardboard, plastic, and many other materials.

  • 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.

  • Bioengineers, including David Edwards, Professor of the Practice of Bioengineering, 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.

  • 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 bioengineer 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.

  • In collaboration with Hakho Lee in Ralph Weissleder’s group at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, the two engineering graduate students who work with Donhee Ham, the John L. Loeb associate professor of the natural sciences, built what may be the smallest complete Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) system to date. The system, about as big as a breadbox, delivers 60 times more sensitivity than a 120-kilogram commercial machine costing $70,000.

  • A cancer vaccine carried into the body on a carefully engineered, fingernail-sized implant is the first to successfully eliminate tumors in mammals. The new approach, pioneered by bioengineera led by David Mooney and immunologists at Harvard University, uses plastic disks impregnated with tumor-specific antigens and implanted under the skin to reprogram the mammalian immune system to attack tumors.

  • Bioengineer David Edwards launched Le Whif, a culinary art experiment originating with the help of Harvard students.