In recognition of his world-renowned research and his service to the MIT community and the nation, Phillip A. Sharp has been named Institute Professor -- the highest honor awarded by the faculty and administration at MIT.
Dr. Sharp's appointment brings the current number of Institute Professors to 13. There are 18 Institute Professors Emeriti.
"The excellence of Professor Sharp's scientific work is well known. When combined with the impact he has had on national science policy, on industry and on Institute affairs, he clearly belongs in the very special group of Institute Professors," said Lotte L. Bailyn, chair of the faculty and the T Wilson (Class of 1953) Professor of Management.
Professor Sharp was informed of the honor -- traditionally initiated by the faculty and bestowed jointly by the administration and the faculty -- in a recent meeting with President Charles M. Vest, Provost Robert A. Brown, Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow, Dean of Science Robert J. Birgeneau and Professor Bailyn.
"Phil Sharp is simply one of our best, in every dimension," said President Vest, who also noted the significant role Professor Sharp plays in the MIT community. "He is not only one of the world's leading molecular biologists -- he is a leading citizen of MIT, the nation and the world. His dedication to teaching, fostering excellence within the department, building community at MIT and advising on national science policy is unsurpassed."
The title of Institute Professor recognizes the recipient's exceptional distinction, as manifested by "leadership, accomplishment and service in the scholarly, educational and general intellectual life of the Institute or wider academic community," according to MIT's Policies and Procedures.
In addition to the prestige associated with the title, an Institute Professor enjoys a distinctive measure of freedom. Reporting directly to the provost, an Institute Professor defines the scope and extent of his or her responsibilities at MIT.
Professor Sharp, head of the Department of Biology since 1991, shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for work that fundamentally changed scientists' understanding of the structure of genes. He and Dr. Richard J. Roberts of New England Biolabs were awarded the prize for their independent discovery that some of the genes of higher organisms are "split," or present in distinct segments along the DNA molecule.
Individuals are nominated for Institute Professor by MIT faculty members, after which an ad hoc committee appointed by the faculty chair and the president prepares a full case for consideration by the Academic Council. Following approval by the Academic Council, the case then must be approved by the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation.
In recommending Professor Sharp, the ad hoc committee described several of his contributions to the nation, society, industry and MIT. For example, from 1994-97 he was a member of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). He has also served on the National Cancer Advisory Board and on an NIH panel to evaluate the government's AIDS research program. He is a founder of Biogen, the second-oldest biotechnology company in the country.
As an example of Professor Sharp's service to MIT, the committee cited his role as cochair of the Working Group on Dangerous Drinking, which was charged with addressing the problem of binge drinking and its effects on the safety of students, the community, and the educational process. The Working Group recommended a series of steps to strengthen education about dangerous drinking and change MIT's social norms about the role of alcohol in campus life. The committee noted that Professor Sharp has continued to be active in following up on these recommendations.
Professor Sharp joined the MIT faculty in 1974 as an associate professor in the Department of Biology and Center for Cancer Research(CCR). He was promoted to full professor in 1979. He was director of the CCR from 1985 until 1991, when he became head of the biology department. In 1992 he was named the Salvador E. Luria Professor of Biology.
A graduate of Union College in Kentucky, Professor Sharp received the PhD in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana. Inaddition to the Nobel Prize, he has received numerous awards and honors including the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (1988), honorary doctorates of science from five universities, and the James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award from MIT (1993).
The Killian Award is an honor bestowed by faculty colleagues in recognition of extraordinary professional accomplishments and service to MIT. In announcing his selection as Killian Lecturer, that Award committee noted that Professor Sharp was not only "one of the giants of modern molecular biology" but an "institutional treasure."
He is a member of many societies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and the American Philosophical Society.
In addition to Dr. Sharp, current MIT Institute Professors are Noam A. Chomsky, John M. Deutch, Peter Diamond, Mildred S. Dresselhaus, Jerome I. Friedman, John Harbison, John D.C. Little, Thomas Magnanti, Isadore M. Singer, Mario Molina, Daniel I.C. Wang and Sheila E. Widnall.
A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 22).