Balance has always been important to MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield. Whether navigating the administrative challenges of a world-class research university or championing new models of interdisciplinary research — and often both at the same time — Hockfield has a keen appreciation for bringing disparate elements together for the greater good.
Her book, “The Age of Living Machines,” published in April 2019 by W.W. Norton & Company, celebrates the people and science stories behind the “convergence revolution,” which integrated the life sciences with engineering and the physical sciences to reshape the scientific enterprise. The American Institute of Physics honored her writing with a 2020 Science Communication Award, citing the narrative’s breadth of experience and optimism as key elements in “speaking against anti-science and reaching the public.”
“The abiding interest of non-scientists and non-engineers, my target audience, to understand why they might have confidence in a better future was a powerful inspiration,” Hockfield says.
“At a time when it’s easy to feel that confidence in science is at a low point, the enthusiasm of non-scientists and non-engineers for the possible future technologies motivated me to write technology stories they could understand.”
“The Age of Living Machines” describes how researchers from many disciplines, at MIT and elsewhere, are transforming elements of the natural world, such as proteins, viruses, and biological signaling pathways, into “living” solutions for some of the most important — and challenging — needs of the 21st century, such as providing sufficient energy, food, water, and health care for the world’s growing population. The AIP judges note that Hockfield provides “a balance of information without overloading the reader” and call it a “joy to read, both interesting and entertaining.”
AIP has presented its Science Communication Awards every year since 1968 to recognize the best science writing of the previous year. The award recognizes the writers' efforts to improve the general public's appreciation of the physical sciences, astronomy, math, and related scientific fields.
Hockfield is president emerita, a professor of neuroscience, and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. From 2004 to 2012, she served as the 16th president of MIT, the first life scientist and first woman in that role. As a biologist, she pioneered the use of monoclonal antibody technology in brain research, identifying proteins that affect brain development through neural activity early in life.