History of the Office

Biographies of past deans

While Harvard's first formal programs related to engineering began with the creation of the Lawrence Scientific School in 1847 (Rumford Professor Eben Horsford was appointed the first dean in 1848), the creation of a modern Dean's Office traces back to 1955, when the Division of Applied Science name changed to the Division of Engineering and Applied Physics.

Former Deans

Venkatesh "Venky" Narayanamurti

Term of Deanship: 1998 to 2008.

Education: B.A. and M.A., in Physics, St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University; Ph.D., in Physics, Cornell University.

Of Note: Currently is serving as the Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Engineering and Director of the Science, Technology and Public Policy Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). He has served on numerous national and international advisory committees and is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; and the Indian Academy of Sciences.

Professional Background: From 1968 to 1987, Narayanamurti worked at the famed AT&T Bell Laboratories, where he became head of the Semiconductor Electronics Research Department in 1976 and served as Director of the Solid State Electronics Research Laboratory from 1981 to 1987. On assignment from Bell Labs, he then became vice president of research and exploratory technology at Sandia National Laboratories, serving in that role from 1987 to 1992. In 1992 he became Richard A. Auhll Professor and dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), where he served from 1992 to 1998. During his deanship at Harvard, he directed the renewal and expansion of the former Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences and its transition to a School.

Frans Spaepen,  John C. and Helen F. Franklin Professor of Applied Physics and Director of the Rowland Institute at Harvard, served as Interim dean from 2008-2009.


Paul Martin

Term of Deanship: 1977 to 1997.

Education: B.A and Ph.D. in Physics, Harvard University.

Of Note: In 1982 he became the first occupant of the Van Vleck chair, named for one of Harvard's most distinguished physicists. Martin's primary work has been in the area of condensed matter theory.

Professional Background: Martin, who holds bachelor's and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard, joined the faculty in 1957 and was promoted to professor of physics in 1964.

In 1982 he became the first occupant of the Van Vleck chair, named for one of Harvard's most distinguished physicists. Martin's research has been in the field of condensed matter theory. 


Harvey Brooks

Term of Deanship: 1957 to 1975 (1915-2004).

Education: B.A. in Mathematics, Yale University. Ph.D.in Physics, Harvard University.

Of Note: Founder in 1976 and director until 1986 of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy in the Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Science and International Affairs, today known as the Belfer Center. Brooks was an exceptionally active and influential member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, participating in (and most often chairing) many major committees and studies for the National Academies and serving as President of the American Academy from 1971 to 1976.

Professional Background: Brooks' last appointment at Harvard was as Benjamin Pierce Professor of Technology and Public Policy Emeritus in the Kennedy School of Government, and Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics Emeritus, in the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences (DEAS).

In 1976, he founded and became the first director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program of the Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He remained in that position until his retirement in 1986.


John Hasbrouck Van Vleck

Term of Deanship: 1951 to 1957 (1899-1980).

Education: B.A., University of Wisconsin; M.A. and Ph.D., Harvard University.

Of Note: Co-awarded the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics, for his contributions to the understanding of the behavior of electrons in magnetic solids and honored with the President's National Medal of Science.

Professional Background: Van Vleck taught at Harvard for one year before moving on to the University of Minnesota in 1923 for five years. He then taught at the University of Wisconsin, returning to Harvard in 1934.

In 1935, Van Vleck was named a full professor and ten years later, chairman the physics department. In 1951, he was named the Hollis professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. He retired from teaching in 1969.