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Professors Cassell and Lloyd receive Edgerton Award

Associate Professors Justine Cassell of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences and Seth Lloyd of mechanical engineering are this year's Edgerton Award winners.

The winners were jointly announced at the April faculty meeting by Professors Triantaphyllos R. Akylas of mechanical engineering, John S. Carroll of management, and William L. Porter of architecture.

The award is presented annually to honor Harold "Doc" Edgerton (ScD 1931), professor of electrical engineering and Institute Professor. His pioneering research in stroboscopic photography was the foundation for the development of the modern electronic speedflash.

In accepting the Edgerton Award, Professor Cassell was characteristically enthusiastic.

"I'm grateful to my colleagues and students and honored to have my work associated with Doc Edgerton, since he exemplified the kind of interdisciplinarity -- breaking down walls between disciplines -- and also the kind of community building -- breaking down walls between people -- that is so important to me, and so possible at MIT," she said.

Professor Lloyd said, "It really is an honor. I don't feel worthy but I will accept it. I see people in this room who have helped me in every area of my work. Thank you all."

The decision to give the annual faculty award to two people was described in a prepared statement, read by Professor Akylas.

"In splitting the award between Professors Cassell and Lloyd, the committee acknowledges it was presented with two extraordinary candidates -- candidates whose qualities are complementary and span the range so admired in Doc Edgerton. Both recipients have achieved the highest levels of excellence. In sharing this award each brings honor to the other and to Doc Edgerton's memory," Professor Akylas said.


Professor Cassell works towards developing the technology to permit natural forms of human communication and linguistic expression in the digital world.

"Her rare combination of creative research, her breadth and interdisciplinary approaches, and her social conscience and community service make her an ideal recipient of this award and tribute to Doc Edgerton," the committee members said.

"Her breadth across disciplines and cultures is manifest in her research as well as in her impact on the MIT community. Professor Cassell's work has had an impact upon the international community as well. She has been extremely productive; in addition to numerous research articles, she is the first author on two books and has organized important international conferences including "Thinking Outside the Box," a conference on how toys are designed and used, and "Junior Summit," a conference that brought together 1,000 children from around the world to discuss their cultures and possible uses of technology for social change."

Henry Jenkins, professor of literature and director of the Program in Comparative Media Studies, commented, "Professor Cassell's work bridges the divide between the humanists and the technologists because it speaks at heart to the question of what makes us human."


Of Professor Lloyd, a leader in the field of quantum computing, the Edgerton committee said, "The combination of grounding-breaking, innovative research and teaching commitment is the basis on which Dr. Lloyd was selected for the Edgerton Award."

In a statement to the Edgerton Committee, Nam Pyo Suh, the Ralph E. and Eloise F. Cross Professor of Mechanical Engineering and department head, said, "We have the best quantum computer architect in the world in Seth Lloyd. He has become the premier quantum-mechanical engineer of his generation as well as one of the best-known researchers in the field of complex systems."

While at MIT, Professor Lloyd compiled a "stunning string of accomplishments which include defining the fundamental limits to the speed and power of computers; designing quantum computers and a quantum Internet; developing algorithms for quantum computing together with methods to protect, stabilize and manipulate quantum systems; and determining the amount of information needed to control a system," the committee noted.

Professor Paul L. Penfield Jr. of electrical engineering and computer science offered a "charming example" of Professor Lloyd's teaching style to the Edgerton Committee.

"In a lecture introducing probability, he traced the roots of the concepts to the need to understand gambling. Then he pulled out that day's morning newspaper and guided the students through an analysis of the handicap at Wonderland dog track, bringing in the concept of house odds, etc. All in one hour, and the students (freshmen) really got it.

"In our course, his wrap-up lecture on quantum computing had the students enthralled even though they knew the material would not be on the exam," said Professor Penfield.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 25, 2001.

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