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Four in physics selected to hold professorships

Four faculty members in the Department of Physics -- Professors Wit Busza, Claude Canizares, John D. Joannopoulos and Toyoichi Tanaka -- have been awarded named professorships.

Professor Busza is the next Francis L. Friedman Professor of Physics. The chair acknowledges outstanding contributions to the department's teaching program in addition to research contributions. As departmental academic officer, Professor Busza oversaw introduction of 8.01L, the highly successful longer version of Introductory Physics for students with less preparation in mathematics and physics, and more recently he introduced the small class format for teaching mechanics to freshmen.

His research interests focus on the use of nuclei for the study of fundamental interactions, particularly the nature of confinement and the space-time evolution of particle production. He is the originator and spokesperson for "Phobos," one of four detectors being built for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory, with which his research group hopes to obtain the first evidence for the existence of the quark-gluon plasma phase of nuclear matter.

Professor Busza received the BSc (1960) and PhD (1964) from University College in London and joined MIT in 1969 and became a full professor in 1979. In 1990 he was awarded the Buechner Prize for Outstanding Contributions to the Education Program in the Department of Physics, and in 1993 the School of Science Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at MIT. In 1995 Professor Busza was appointed a Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow.

The first holder of the Bruno Rossi Professorship of Experimental Physics is Claude Canizares, an expert in X-ray astronomy -- the area researched by the late Professor Rossi, who earlier pioneered the field of cosmic ray physics -- and one who benefited from Professor Rossi's professional guidance and friendship. The chair was established by the department with a gift from an anonymous donor to honor Professor Rossi, who pioneered the development of X-ray astronomy as well as the study of interplanetary plasma.

Professor Canizares came to MIT in 1971 as a postdoctoral researcher; he became an assistant professor in 1974, an associate professor in 1978 and a full professor in 1984. He is now director of the Center for Space Research and is a principal investigator in the AXAF project, the major X-ray observatory scheduled for launch next year. His primary research areas are high-resolution X-ray spectroscopy of cosmic sources, studies of galaxies, clusters of galaxies, supernova remnants and quasars. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1993 and chairs the Academy Space Studies Board.

Professor Joannopoulos was recently named the Francis Wright Davis Professor. The generosity of Dr. Francis Wright Davis, inventor of power steering for trucks and automobiles, led to establishment of this chair more than 20 years ago. Provost Joel Moses announced that Professor Joannopoulos was chosen because he "emphasized the importance and excitement of seeking technological applications of physical theories or computational advances."

Professor Joannopoulos has pioneered large-scale computational approaches for understanding the structural, electronic and optical properties of important materials. He has applied his techniques to the study of electromagnetic wave propagation in photonic materials and has co-authored the first textbook devoted to photonic materials, Photonic Crystals (Princeton University Press), and holds nine US patents.

He received the BA from the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) in 1968, the MA from the University of California at Davis in 1970 and the PhD from UCB in 1974. Professor Joannopoulos joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor in 1974, was promoted to associate professor in 1978 and became a full professor in 1983.

The School of Science named Professor Tanaka as the inaugural holder of the Otto and Jane Morningstar Professorship of Science. He was named to the chair to recognize his pioneering research on gels and for his contributions to the department and the Institute. The professorship was established last year with a contribution from Otto (PhD '39) and Jane Morningstar, who have also endowed a physics student scholarship fund.

He discovered phase transitions in gels (jello-like materials), where polymer networks can expand, contract or change shapes when triggered by tiny changes in temperature, light, a solvent or other stimuli. The finding has revolutionized the understanding of polymer behavior in general and also the functions of proteins and enzymes. Based on his research, technological applications of gels in controlled release of drugs and chemicals, toxic cleaning, molecular separation, and as actuators and sensors are being developed.

Professor Tanaka received the BS (1968), the MS (1970) and the DSc (1973) in physics from the University of Tokyo and joined the MIT physics faculty in 1975 after working for the department as a sponsored research staff member. He has received many awards including the Nishina Memorial Prize, Polymer Society awards, the Da Vinci Prize, the Inoue Prize, an R&D 100 Award and a Discover Award.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 5, 1997.

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