Paula Hammond, a leading innovator in nanotechnology and head of MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, has been named the recipient of the 2023-2024 James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award.
Hammond, an MIT Institute Professor, was honored for her work designing novel polymers and nanomaterials, which have extensive applications in fields including medicine and energy.
“Professor Hammond is a pioneer in nanotechnology research, with a program that spans from basic science to translational research in medicine and energy. She has introduced new approaches for the design and development of complex drug delivery systems for cancer treatment and non-invasive imaging,” according to the award citation, which was read at the May 17 faculty meeting by Laura Kiessling, the chair of the Killian Award Selection Committee and the Novartis Professor of Chemistry at MIT.
Established in 1971 to honor MIT’s 10th president, James Killian, the Killian Award recognizes extraordinary professional achievements by an MIT faculty member.
“I’ve been to past Killian Award lectures, and I’ve always thought these were the ultimate achievers at MIT in terms of their work and their science,” Hammond says. “I am incredibly honored and overwhelmed to be considered even close to a part of that group.”
Hammond, who earned her bachelor’s degree from MIT in 1984, worked as an engineer before returning to the Institute four years later to earn a PhD, which she received in 1993. After two years as a postdoc at Harvard University, she returned to MIT again as a faculty member in 1995.
“In a world where it isn’t always cool to be heavy into your science and your work, MIT was a place where I felt like I could just be completely myself, and that was an amazing thing,” she says.
Since joining the faculty, Hammond has pioneered techniques for creating thin polymer films and other materials using layer-by-layer assembly. This approach can be used to build polymers with highly controlled architectures by alternately exposing a surface to positively and negatively charged particles.
Hammond’s lab uses this technique to design materials for many different applications, including drug delivery, regenerative medicine, noninvasive imaging, and battery technology.
Her accomplishments include designing nanoparticles that can zoom in on tumors and release their cargo when they associate with cancer cells. She has also developed nanoparticles and thin polymer films that can carry multiple drugs to a specific site and release the drugs in a controlled or staggered fashion. In recent years, much of that work has focused on potential treatments and diagnostics for ovarian cancer.
“We’ve really had a focus on ovarian cancer over the past several years. My hope is that our work will move us in the direction of understanding how we can treat ovarian cancer, and, in collaboration with my colleagues, how we can detect it more effectively,” says Hammond, who is a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.
The award committee also cited Hammond’s record of service, both to MIT and the national scientific community. She currently serves on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and she is a former member of the U.S. Secretary of Energy Scientific Advisory Board. At MIT, Hammond chaired the Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity, and co-chaired the Academic and Professional Relationships Working Group and the Implementation Team of the MIT response to the National Academies’ report entitled “Sexual Harassment of Women.”
Among her many honors, Hammond is one of only 25 scientists who have been elected to the National Academies of Engineering, Sciences, and Medicine.
Hammond has also been recognized for her dedication to teaching and mentoring. As a reflection of her excellence in those areas, Hammond was awarded the Irwin Sizer Award for Significant Improvements to MIT Education, the Henry Hill Lecturer Award in 2002, and the Junior Bose Faculty Award in 2000. She also co-chaired the recent Ad Hoc Committee on Faculty Advising and Mentoring, and has been selected as a “Committed to Caring” honoree for her work mentoring students and postdocs in her research group.
“The Selection Committee is delighted to have this opportunity to honor Professor Paula Hammond, not only for her tremendous professional achievements and contributions, but also for her genuine warmth and humanity, her thoughtfulness and effective leadership, and her empathy and ethics. She is someone worth emulating. Indeed, simply put, she is the best of us,” the award committee wrote in its citation.