MIT associate professors Ellen Roche of the Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE) and Justin Solomon of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) have been named the 2023 winners of MIT’s annual Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award.
Established in fall 1982, the award exists as a permanent tribute to the late Institute Professor Emeritus Harold E. Edgerton for his great and enduring support for younger faculty members over the years. The purpose of the award is to recognize exceptional distinction in teaching, in research, and in service.
Ellen Roche, the Latham Family Career Development Professor in Mechanical Engineering (MechE) and the Institute for Medical Engineering Science (IMES), also directs the Therapeutic Technology Design and Development Lab (TTDD) at MIT. Since the creation of the TTDD Lab, she has explored the intersection of mechanical and biological assist devices and therapy delivery and made pioneering contributions in biomechanics, medical device design, soft robotics and materials, and bioengineering design and modeling.
Roche’s contributions to the medical field have impacted its progression in three significant areas; augmentation of failing organs to restore functional output, development of technologies to repair tissues and correct local defects, and high-fidelity ex vivo tests to evaluate new technologies.
As described in a recent Nature Biomedical Engineering publication, Roche and her team developed a soft robotic implantable ventilator designed to augment the diaphragm’s natural contractions. Roche and her team also hope to help doctors tailor treatments to patients’ specific heart form and function with a procedure they developed to 3D print a soft and flexible replica of a patient’s heart. Roche’s rigorous engineering design of implantable devices and medical simulators is grounded in a deep understanding of physiological and pathological biomechanics, advanced materials and soft robotics, and the integrated use of benchtop and computational models.
“IMES is absolutely delighted with this recognition of Prof. Roche, whose research is the future of medicine and therapeutics,” says Elazer Edelman, the Edward J. Poitras Professor in Medical Engineering and Science and the director of IMES. “She has uniquely integrated inspired engineering with physiologic insight in the most marvelous way, that would make Doc Edgerton excited and proud.”
“She is, above all, a paradigmatic example of a scholar’s dedication to science and pedagogy, mentorship, and community, and has gracefully served and brought together our two academic units. Her contributions to education and service at the department, Institute, and industry levels are excellent,” stated Roche’s nominators.
Roche’s highly appraised teaching style has connected with students across many disciplines. Her passion for the students’ development shines through her dedication to the many hands-on, project-based courses she teaches. Several of the student led projects from her 2.75 (Medical Device Design) course have led to publications and awards. In fall 2022, Roche also took on the challenge of leading course 2.009 (Product Engineering Processes), typically taught by Professor David Wallace. The MechE capstone class included 114 students and concluded with a successful seven-team, fully produced, product prototype launch in front of a live audience in Kresge Auditorium.
“Professor Roche has demonstrated herself to be an exemplary educator, garnering exceptional instructor ratings, and is an award-winning mentor … Given the dual nature of her faculty appointment, it is noteworthy that she has achieved these ratings and recognition in each of her respective units,” one faculty member wrote in a nomination.
Roche received her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from NUI Galway in Ireland and spent time working in the medical device industry before receiving her MS in bioengineering from Trinity College Dublin. She later received her PhD from Harvard University. Recent career honors include her NSF Career award, selection as a grand prize winner in the MIT Future Founders Initiative Prize Competition in 2022, selection as a finalist in scientific achievement for the Nature Research Inspiring Women in Science Awards in 2021, and the Thomas McMahon Mentoring Award in 2020.
Justin Solomon is an associate professor of EECS and an affiliate of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). He leads the CSAIL Geometric Data Processing group, which studies problems at the intersection of geometry, large-scale optimization, computer graphics, and machine learning. Solomon and his team have tackled a diverse array of challenges in applied geometry, from developing machine learning for 3D data to identifying geometric structures in abstract datasets, assessing compliance of political redistricting plans with civil rights law, and assisting digital artists as they create sketches and 3D models.
Solomon’s passion for geometry processing led him to create the Summer Geometry Initiative, a six-week research program designed to introduce undergraduate and graduate students alike to the field. The program, which takes place online and draws students from all over the world, was designed with equity in mind. “What we see in the graduate student pipeline is largely that the people who make it to the upper levels in [geometry processing] come from relatively few institutions and have relatively homogenous backgrounds,” Solomon explained in a 2021 interview. “So, the goal for SGI was to spark new collaboration between different labs and people who don’t normally work on this topic, while introducing a new cohort of students to geometry processing research who wouldn’t normally get a chance to work on this discipline.” To achieve his goal, Solomon structured SGI carefully, limiting the number of hours students were expected to meet online to make the program more usable to people across time zones; offering one-, two-, and three-week commitment periods for mentors to encourage more academic and industry participation; and finally, making SGI a paid experience, to lower the opportunity cost of participation. Since its inception in 2021, SGI has rapidly grown to become a hugely successful annual program with a highly competitive applicant list.
“The Department of EECS is delighted with this incredible recognition for Professor Solomon, whose remarkable work democratizes and opens his field, allowing students from all over the world to engage in collaborative research with some of the best faculty and research scientists in the discipline,” says Asu Ozdaglar, EECS department head. “Additionally, his research in the area of geometric data processing, including algorithms for processing geometric data and data processing using geometric techniques, continues to push boundaries, tackle complex challenges, and uncover new opportunities to improve our world. This honor is well-deserved.”
Solomon earned his BS, MS, and PhD from Stanford University before taking a postdoctoral appointment at Princeton University for a year and then joining MIT in 2016. Additionally, he has conducted research at Pixar Animation Studios, the University of Southern California, and the British Library Sound Archives. His textbook, “Numerical Algorithms,” was published in 2015. Solomon’s many awards and honors include the ACM SIGGRAPH Significant New Researcher Award (2022); the Seth J. Teller Award for Excellence, Inclusion, and Diversity (2022); the Google Research Scholar Award (2022); the Teaching With Digital Technology Award (2021); the Junior Bose Award (2020); the NSF BIGDATA Award (with P. Rigollet, in 2018), and the Amazon Research Award (2018).