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Graduate student Peter N. Curtin, 23, passes away while running Baltimore Marathon

Graduate student Peter Curtin
Graduate student Peter Curtin

On Saturday, Oct. 10, MIT graduate student Peter N. Curtin passed away while running the Baltimore Marathon.

Curtin, a graduate student in inorganic chemistry, was in his second year in the research group of Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry, and was recently selected to receive a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.

As part of a collaboration with the lab of Moungi Bawendi, the Lester Wolfe Professor in Chemistry, Curtin conducted research on sensors designed to assess the health of a tumor visually. Curtin attached chemicals to quantum dots to change the colors they emit and absorb; depending on the health of the tumor, the color of the quantum dots would change. In a collaborative effort with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, he was using the sensors to assess how well chemotherapy drugs were affecting a given tumor.

Curtin earned his AB in Chemistry with Highest Honors from Princeton in 2008. At Princeton, Curtin played goalie for the men's club lacrosse team, was a member of the Tiger Inn eating club, and was fondly referred to by friends as Dapper. Curtin attended East Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, N.C.

“Peter made MIT a better place to live and do science,” said Nocera. “Here was a typical interaction between Peter and me: I would bounce an idea off of Peter, he would listen to me with thorough concentration, digest what I had to say, and then respond with something better than I could have ever imagined. All too often, we professors at MIT forget to mention to our students how special they are to us. Peter was special, he was a joy to have in my life, and I will miss him dearly. I ask the MIT community to please keep Peter’s mother, dad and family in their thoughts.”

Andrew Horning, a fellow second-year graduate student in Nocera’s lab, remembers Curtin fondly. “He was a super guy,” said Horning. “Everybody loved Peter. Though he had only been here a short time, he seemed to know people everywhere in Boston. He was a brilliant chemist, but he’d never brag to anyone about it. You’d hang with him on a Friday night, and he’d be a normal guy, and on Monday morning, you’d see him in the lab and he’d know all the answers.”

“This is truly a tragedy,” said Marc Kastner, dean of the School of Science. “Peter was a gifted member of the MIT community, and our thoughts are now with his family.”

MIT is making counseling services available. Those who feel affected by the tragedy are encouraged to contact Mental Health Service for assistance at 617-253-2916.

A memorial service for Curtin will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 25, at the Princeton University Chapel.

Peter’s family has established the Peter N. Curtin, Class of 2008, Memorial Fund in his memory to support undergraduates in the Department of Chemistry at Princeton University. Donations in Peter’s memory may be made out to “Princeton University” with the note “Peter N. Curtin, Class of 2008, Memorial Fund” and mailed to Helen Hardy, Princeton University, Alumni and Donor Relations, PO Box 5357, Princeton, NJ 08543.

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