L. Mahadevan wins MacArthur "genius" grant

Applied mathematician recognized for investigating everything from how a flag flutters to how the Venus flytrap snaps

Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), has been named a 2009 MacArthur Fellow. He is among 25 winners, including Assistant Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences Peter Huybers in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard, of the so-called "genius" grants.

"Bravo to Maha! We are thrilled to have among us a researcher who has the relentless desire to explore in-depth every nook and cranny of the world," said Cherry A. Murray, dean of the Harvard School of  Engineering and Applied Sciences and John A. and Elizabeth S. Armstrong Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "With a mix of beautiful  mathematics and elegant theory and through collaboration with colleagues in all fields (including doing some of his own experiments), he shows how much we can learn from being careful observers, whether it is figuring out how a flag flutters, a map folds, or honey coils. Maha demonstrates time and again that we can find true wonder by looking no farther than our own doorsteps."

Each winner will receive $500,000 in “no strings attached” support over the next five years. All were selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future.

Lene Hau, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics, a joint appointee in the Department of Physics and SEAS, was named a MacArthur fellow in 2001.

Read the press release from the MacArthur Foundation

Read the press release from Harvard University

Listen to L. Mahadevan on NPR

L. Mahadevan, or "Maha" for short, studied engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology-Chennai before turning to applied mathematics and mechanics at Stanford University, where he obtained his Ph.D. Prior to joining Harvard University in the fall of 2003, he was the inaugural holder of the Schlumberger Chair in Complex Physical Systems in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University, and simultaneously a Professorial Fellow at Trinity College.

He started his independent career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has taught and held positions around the world including stints at Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris and the University of Chile, Santiago, and is currently also the Schlumberger Visiting Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University.

His work centers around using mathematics to understand the behavior of living and nonliving matter, particularly at the scale of the everyday world and is thus closely tied in with experience and experiments. A particular joy is to try and uncover explanations of robust everyday phenomena that are easy to observe, often not so well understood, and are of relevance far beyond what might be first envisaged.

Awards and named lectures include the Chaire Paris Sciences at the Ecole Superieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles, Paris (2001), the Chaire Condorcet at the Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris (2001), the G. I. Taylor Lectureship of the Cambridge Philosophical Society (2001), the Alan Tayler Lectureship at Oxford University (2003), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2006), and a Visiting Miller Professorship at the University of California, Berkeley (2007). He was also awarded the George Ledlie Prize at Harvard (2006) and was presented with an Ig Nobel award for the study of wrinkle patterns on sheets in 2007. Upon receipt he said, "there's no reason good science can't be fun."

Mahadevan is currently the Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics in the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a Core Member of the Wyss Institute. He is also an Affiliate Professor, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (Faculty of Arts and Sciences) and Affiliate Professor, Systems Biology (Harvard Medical School). For more information, see his lab website.