After serving two five-year terms, Professor J. David Litster of physics has chosen to step down as vice president and dean of research, effective July 1, to devote himself to teaching and research. He will step down as director of Whitaker College at the same time.
"It's been a fascinating job, partly because I've been able to be vicariously involved with outstanding research activity across the institution," said Professor Litster. "And partly because I've enjoyed getting to know the wide variety of MIT people I've worked with over the past 10 years."
President Charles M. Vest said Professor Litster had provided "superb service" to MIT. "His role in managing our large laboratories through a turbulent period of changing federal research support and priorities has been critical to maintaining our excellence," President Vest said. "He has applied the same rigor, objectivity and values to his administrative duties that he does to his own outstanding scientific research. His concern for our graduate students and the research enterprise at MIT and across the nation has led him to be highly respected and effective."
Provost Robert A. Brown and Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow are expected to name a successor in late spring.
"Dave has demonstrated tremendous leadership and service to MIT in all facets of the research enterprise at MIT," said Provost Brown. "His participation in the Academic Council and his roles in oversight of our large interschool laboratories and in representing MIT in national forums have been exemplary."
Chancellor Bacow said, "In addition to stewarding our research programs, Dave Litster has also played a leadership role in strengthening graduate education at MIT. Throughout his tenure, he has been a vigorous advocate for graduate students and postdocs."
Professor Litster is recognized internationally for his pioneering experimental and theoretical studies of phase transitions in unusual states of matter and statistical mechanics. "I look forward to having more time for research and teaching," he said.
As dean for research, he is responsible for overseeing $390 million in on-campus research, an increase of about $90 million during his tenure. His office oversees the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, the Division of Comparative Medicine, the MIT Sea Grant College Program, the Woods Hole Joint Program in Oceanography and Oceanographic Engineering, the Technology and Development Program, the Technology Licensing Office, and 11 other laboratories and research centers.
He will retain oversight responsibility for the joint research program of the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI). In this capacity, he will coordinate collaborative research between MIT and the University of Cambridge that is funded as part of CMI.
Professor Litster, a native of Toronto and a graduate of McMaster University, joined the MIT faculty in 1966 as an assistant professor of physics shortly after he received the PhD from MIT. He became an associate professor in 1971 and professor in 1975.
From 1988-91, Professor Litster was director of the Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory. For five years before that, he was director of the Center for Materials Science and Engineering. From 1979-83, he headed the Division of Condensed Matter, Atomic andPlasma Physics in the Department of Physics.
Professor Litster served a four-year term on the executive committee of the American Physics Society's Division of Condensed Physics Matter, which he chaired from 1998-99. He was a member of the National Research Council's Solid State Sciences Committee from 1986-95 and served as its chair from 1991-93. He was regional editor of Molecular Crystals and Liquid Crystals from 1986-93.
He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received an honorary doctorate from McMaster University in 1992 and the Irving Langmuir Prize in Chemical Physics from the American Physical Society in 1993.
From 1996-1999, he served as dean for graduate education as well as dean for research.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 24, 2001.