We provide an unprecedented environment for tackling some of the fundamental problems in science and engineering.
In the words of Dean Cherry A. Murray: “Given the stunning intellectual strength and breadth of Harvard, our engineers and applied scientists are smack dab in the middle of one of the most amazing places in the academic universe.”
Our traditional strengths in applied sciences and close connections to basic science departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences provide an exceptionally strong base in foundational science.
Our interdisciplinary and open nature—we do not have traditional departments and faculty carry out research in multiple areas—is ideal for tackling the next generation of problems.
Our existing and potential ties to Harvard’s professional schools offer unparalleled opportunities for collaborative work, education and research, and outreach to society.
Balancing Basic with Applied
Sustaining our traditional strengths in applied mathematics, applied physics, materials science and mechanical engineering, and environmental science and engineering is an essential part of our mission.
SEAS aims to give interdisciplinary researchers the space and resources necessary to advance foundational science, especially as such advances may shape research for decades to come.
At the same time, cultivating an ethos of invention and discovery will enable us better to translate research into possibilities for tomorrow, from new tools for scientific inquiry like optical tweezers and lasers to new ways of producing sustainable, eco-friendly energy.
To excel at both, researchers—whether computer scientists, engineers, or biologists—require the intellectual and physical resources to transcend existing disciplinary boundaries.
In the words of Harvard President Drew Faust, "Economic growth and scientific and technological advances are necessary but not sufficient purposes for a university.
"And within the domain of science, universities have a distinctive obligation to nurture and fulfill the deep human desire to understand ourselves and the world we inhabit and inherit, from the smallest elementary particle to the sweep of the galaxies—even when there is no practical application close in view and even as we rightly accelerate our efforts to harvest new technologies from knowledge in its most basic form.
"It is worth remembering that the most transformatively useful of scientific discoveries often trace their origins to research born of sheer curiosity about who we are and how we can fathom the most intriguing mysteries of the natural world."
Investing in Collaboration
SEAS has long enjoyed close collaborations and joint appointments with basic science departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as formal and informal connections with other schools throughout Harvard.
In addition, the revamping of existing degree programs and the introduction of potential new Harvard College concentrations provides an opportunity to increase collaborations in teaching and learning across all major fields.
Plans that are in place, or are currently under discussion, include:
- The SEAS bioengineering concentration is part of the Life Sciences cluster of concentrations.
- A math sciences cluster of concentrations (applied mathematics, mathematics, statistics) and a cooperative revamping of the math, applied math and statistics curriculum for freshmen and sophomores across Harvard College is in the early planning stages.
- The Electrical Engineering Task Force proposed a separate Electrical Engineering concentration.
- The Applied Physics Task Force proposed an applied physics undergraduate concentration in coordination with Physics, with the goal of combining the now two separate concentrations between the departments.
- A secondary field in environment and energy is being contemplated in coordination with Earth and Planetary Sciences.
There are also an increasing number of joint faculty appointments between SEAS and the professional schools, including the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Harvard Medical School (HMS), Harvard Law School (HLS), and the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD).
Specifically SEAS is strengthening broad-based collaborations with nearly every school and University-level initiative at Harvard:
- SEAS faculty members comprise 8 of the 10 core members of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, a cross-school initiative between HMS and SEAS.
- SEAS faculty members are connected to SCRB, Systems Biology, HST.
- A new Ph.D in bioengineering is being contemplated with HMS and affiliated hospitals. SEAS faculty are working with HSPH and across Harvard and MIT on global water resources as well as global health.
- The Harvard University Consortium on Energy and Environment has begun strong conversations across FAS, SEAS, HSPH, HKS on energy and environment, with potential for a larger coherent research program, connected to the water program and environmental health.
- The collaboration between HLS and SEAS on privacy and security of data, through the Berkman Center in HLS/Provost’s Office and Center for Computation and Society in SEAS, has the potential for a larger industrial consortium and partnership across many schools of Harvard.
- A collaboration with HDS has begun on biologically inspired architecture, with potential to extend to sustainable cities.
- Collaboration has begun with HBS on a new 4 year engineering degree, 5th year masters in entrepreneurship, centered in SEAS/GSAS.
- As SEAS grows, the intention is to grow with the rest of Harvard. By emphasizing collaboration with other fields and connections to the professional schools, SEAS will make an even greater contribution to the educational and research mission of the entire University.
Engineering the Possible
In our rapidly transforming world, engineering and applied sciences plays an ever more central role by fostering and disseminating direct knowledge from understanding the mechanisms of the fracture of materials to the properties of ultracold atoms; advancing basic science through the creation of new tools and processes never before possible, like microscopes that can visualize individual atoms and engineering models that accurately represent the functioning of complex cellular processes; and developing innovative technologies and fostering transformative breakthroughs, from the internet to efficient energy technologies.
At the same time, engineering research and education itself are being transformed. Our ability to observe, manipulate, and build devices at the nanometer (atomic) level has opened up unprecedented possibilities for new materials and technologies.
Engineering research is more closely linked to the applied physical sciences and to biology, not only affecting these fields (in emerging areas such as quantum physics and systems biology), but the nature of how research is conducted.
As the field changes, the training and education of engineers will need to evolve in parallel. A 21st century curriculum must incorporate integrative and interdisciplinary learning.
With the increased importance of sophisticated tools and techniques, we must ensure students receive a hands-on and interactive experience. More broadly, the critical and ever-changing relationship between technology and society means that students will benefit from exposure to a range of areas, from business to law to medicine, in whatever profession they choose to pursue.
Inspiring the next generation of leaders, discovering new theories and technologies, and solving the world’s most pressing problems, will take courage, creativity, and most essential, collaboration. By approaching every challenge with a nimble mind and open arms we will transform engineering and applied sciences at Harvard and beyond.