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Bertoldi named Harvard College Professor

Prestigious professorship rewards excellence in undergraduate teaching


Katia Bertoldi

Katia Bertoldi, William and Ami Kuan Danoff Professor of Applied Mechanics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has been named a Harvard College Professor.

Bertoldi received the prestigious appointment from Claudine Gay, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. She is one of five Harvard faculty members to receive the professorship this year. Launched in 1997 through a gift from John and Frances Loeb, the Harvard College Professorships are five-year appointments. They include support for research or scholarly activities and a semester of paid leave or a summer salary.

Bertoldi’s teaching method is all about firing up students and getting them to find less-obvious solutions to conventional challenges.

“Teaching undergrads is my favorite,” said Bertoldi. “I like seeing how excited people can get. I try to engage students as much as possible by continuously stopping and asking questions. I try to explain the equations I teach and how they can be used to solve real problems.”

Bertoldi planned to be an architect when she was growing up in Italy, but ended up pursuing structural engineering. In her lab, researchers exploit nonlinearities to design structures with enhanced functionality. These include soft robots that can jump and move, tunable devices to guide elastic waves, as well as deployable, large-scale objects like emergency shelters.

“There are many applications across different scales” for this kind of experimentation, she said. “You look at toys, or buildings, and then get inspired, and there is an exchange of ideas among people in the lab to try to figure things out. There is a lot of creativity [involved].”

Bertoldi has managed to keep that energy flowing this semester after all Harvard courses were moved online as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.

“From the very beginning of each lesson, I try to have a continuing dialogue with my students,” she said.

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