Silbey joined the MIT faculty in 1966, becoming head of the chemistry department in 1990 and director of the Center for Materials Science and Engineering in 1998. He took over as interim dean of the School of Science in February 2000 and was named permanent dean the following year. He held that position until 2007.
Silbey's research focused on the theories of spectroscopy, energy transfer and nonlinear optical properties of glasses, solids and polymers.
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