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Space engineer takes over as head of the MIT Media Lab

07 Jul 2021
Dava Newman

An expert in the human exploration of space has become director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. Dava Newman, is professor of astronautics at MIT, took over the post on 1 July, becoming the first woman to do so. She replaces Joi Ito who resigned in the wake of last year’s scandal over MIT’s acceptance of grants from financier and convicted child-sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.

Newman received her Bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 1986 that was followed by a PhD in aerospace biomedical engineering from MIT in 1992. After a year at the University of Houston, she joined MIT in 1993, and has been a member of the faculty ever since.

Newman is best known for her invention of the BioSuit, which she designed for future exploration of the Moon and Mars. She has served as the principal investigator on four space missions as well as being NASA’s first female deputy administrator from 2015 to 2017.

“Leading the Media Lab is a dream for me, and I can’t wait to help write the next chapter of this uniquely creative, impactful, compassionate community,” Newman said in a statement. “I plan to start by doing a lot of listening and learning to tap into everyone’s creativity.” In a statement, Hashim Sarkis, dean of the school of architecture and planning, noted that Newman “stood out for her pioneering research, wide range of multidisciplinary engagements, and exemplary leadership”.

The Media Lab has some 400 faculty, researchers, students and staff. Since its founding in 1985, the Media Lab has promoted an interdisciplinary culture and has 22 research groups working in robotics, smart prostheses, cognitive enhancement, innovative learning and music. MIT says it identified 60 candidates for the director role, of which 13 were interviewed.

Newman will replace Ito, who resigned in September 2019 following revelations that the lab and he had secretly accepted financial support from Epstein, who had been convicted of child sex-trafficking in 2008. Epstein was convicted of other sex-related crimes more recently and died in his jail cell in August 2019.

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