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Intelligent Machines

Cherry Murray '73, PhD '78

Physicist heads Harvard’s engineering school

When Cherry Murray was in high school, her brother returned home from MIT and suggested that she could not handle physics. Murray took it as a dare. She applied to MIT herself and soon found that she loved the subject. “For the first time, I had the opportunity to perform scientific research and discovery on my own, which was both thrilling and awe-inspiring,” she says. “I knew then that that was what I wanted to do with my life.”

After earning her undergraduate degree and PhD in physics, she joined Bell Labs, which became part of Lucent Technologies in 1996. For nearly 30 years, Murray worked her way from technical staff member to director of physics research to senior vice president of physical science and wireless research. She became known for her study of light scattering and imaging.

In 2009, Murray was named dean of Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“I am so pleased there is so much willingness to collaborate across schools at Harvard to address the biggest 21st-century problems, such as feeding and keeping healthy the world’s burgeoning population, sustainably providing energy … dealing with security and privacy in a networked world,” says Murray. “Engineering is at the heart of every one of the potential ways to address these problems.”

To strengthen collaborative ties, Murray oversaw hiring of the first faculty member with joint appointments in law and engineering and the launch of a computational science and engineering program open to all graduate students, not just scientists. And she wanted to expand the thinking of undergraduates.

“My goal is to have all Harvard College students be profoundly touched by engineering and engineering thinking,” says Murray. “It is essential for global leaders to understand and leverage the evolving technology that surrounds us.”

Murray is the author of more than 70 papers in peer-reviewed journals and holds two patents in near-field optical data storage and optical display technology. She advised President Obama during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and is a member of professional groups such as the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. She is past president of the American Physical Society.

Murray is upbeat about Harvard-MIT collaborations. “I want to encourage scientists and engineers at Harvard and MIT to forge new and exciting collaborations,” she says. “After all, we are neighbors.”

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