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Sharp Is Named An Institute Professor

By Rima Arnaout

Members of the MIT administration recently recognized the accomplishments of Nobel Prize-winning biologist Phillip A. Sharp by naming him an Institute professor.

An Institute professor is selected by both the faculty and the administration.

“To be chosen to be an Institute professor is a very special honor” and those individuals are highly distinguished scholars, Sharp said.

“[MIT] is an institute that looks out to the world,” Sharp said. “[MIT’s] biology program is very molecular and genetic, and that’s it’s real strength.”

According to MIT policies and procedures, “the title of Institute professorship... is given to someone who has made, and is expected to make, extraordinary contributions to our intellectual and collegial life.”

As an Institute professor, “I now report to the provost which now gives me the ability” to be more active in cross-campus issues than departmental ones, Sharp said.

Namely, Sharp will work to coordinate the new focus on expanding the life sciences at MIT. The life sciences are “where I have experience and understanding and where I have built up a series of connections” that will be useful, Sharp said.

In particular, Sharp sees the biology department at MIT growing and networking with other departments in the subfields of neuroscience, bioengineering, environmental health, and computational biology.

“With the emergence of massive amounts of sequences... we will be able to approach biology in new ways,” Sharp said.

Sharp expects that this broadening of the department’s horizons will be done by recruiting top young researchers to build their careers at MIT. Just “bring the highest quality people here, make them happy. Make that environment...and people will be excited to work here,” Sharp said.

Sharp highly recognized

Sharp graduated from Union College in Kentucky and earned his PhD in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“What got me into [biology] is that it’s such a rapidly moving science” that there’s so much to learn, Sharp said.

Sharp has worked at MIT’s Center for Cancer Research since 1974, first as an associate professor, and later as professor in 1979. Sharp has headed the biology department since 1991.

A recipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology, Sharp’s work is highly recognized, as are his specific contributions to the MIT community.

This summer, Sharp will step down as head of the Biology Department, to be replaced by Associate Department Head Robert T. Sauer.

“I have enjoyed that experience [administrating the biology department], but I’m confident that Bob will do an excellent job” as head, Sharp said.

Sharp enters elite group

Sharp brings the number of institute professors to 13, and there are 18 Professors Emeriti. Other Institute Professors from the Biology Department include David Baltimore ’61 and the late Salvador E. Luria.

Jane Yoo contributed to the reporting of this story.