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Bras wins faculty's Killian Award

Rafael L. Bras
Rafael L. Bras

Rafael Bras, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who pioneered the field of hydrologic science, is MIT's James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award winner for 2008-2009.

The award was announced at the Wednesday, May 21 faculty meeting.

Bras is "an internationally acclaimed researcher in surface hydrology and hydrometeorology whose work encompasses many aspects of the Earth's water cycle," said Wanda Orlikowski, chair of the Killian Award selection committee, reading from the award citation.

Established in 1971 as a tribute to MIT's 10th president, the Killian Award recognizes extraordinary professional accomplishment by an MIT faculty member. The winner is asked to deliver a lecture in the spring term.

"The Killian Award is, for me, a culmination of a wonderful career and a very happy life at MIT," said Bras, the Edward A. Abdun-Nur Professor in the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

Bras, who has been on the MIT faculty for 32 years, was recently appointed dean of the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California at Irvine, effective Sept. 1.

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, he came to MIT in 1968 as a freshman and stayed for his master's degree and Ph.D., joining the faculty in 1976. He has served as head of civil and environmental engineering and chair of the faculty.

"Never in my wildest dreams did the scared seventeen year old freshman of 1968 ever imagine, 40 years later, receiving such a recognition from the MIT faculty," said Bras. "I am terribly proud, enormously grateful and absolutely humbled. MIT has been home and will always be home. I look forward to delivering the lecture in the spring of 2009."

Early in his career at MIT, Bras and MIT colleague Peter Eagleson "spearheaded a fundamental rethinking of the crucial role of water in all the various components of the Earth system, resulting in the creation of a new discipline -- hydrologic science -- formed from the innovative integration of traditional land hydrology with such Earth sciences as atmospheric science, ecology, geology, and geomorphology," according to the award citation.

Bras has contributed to significant international projects, including chairing a panel of experts overseeing the development and construction of tidal gates to protect the city of Venice against flooding. He has also pioneered ideas about how the deforestation of the Amazon will impact regional and continental climates.

Bras is currently the principal faculty organizer of the highly successful freshman "Terrascope" course.

In addition to Orlikowski, the Killian Award selection committee for 2008-2009 included faculty members Tommi Jaakkola, Michael Kenstowicz, Alexander Klibanov and Terry Knight.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 4, 2008 (download PDF).

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