Asu Ozdaglar and Joel Voldman appointed to new chairs within EECS

September 16, 2020

L to R, Joel Voldman and Asu Ozdaglar


July saw two new chair appointments within the department’s leadership. Please join us in congratulating Asu Ozdaglar and Joel Voldman on their accomplishments, and learn more about the new chairs below.

Asu Ozdaglar has been appointed the inaugural MathWorks Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, effective July 1, 2020. Recognizing an outstanding senior faculty member, the inaugural professorship honors Professor Ozdaglar’s exceptional leadership and accomplishments.

Ozdaglar, a principal investigator at the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems and Deputy Dean of Academics for the Schwarzman College of Computing, was named head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in January 2018. In 2018 she was also appointed the School of Engineering Distinguished Professor of Engineering, a professorship she held until June 2020.

A member of the MIT faculty since 2003, Ozdaglar earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey in 1996, and SM and PhD in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, in 1998 and 2003.

As the 2014 recipient of the Spira Award for Excellence in Teaching, Ozdaglar’s educational contributions to MIT are substantial. She has developed a range of graduate and undergraduate courses, including a graduate-level game theory subject and an undergraduate course on networks that is jointly listed with the Department of Economics. She likewise served as a champion of curriculum innovations through her role in launching the new undergraduate major in 6-14: Computer Science, Economics and Data Science, and the creation of Course 11-6: Urban Science and Planning with Computer Science, a new program that offers students an opportunity to investigate some of the most pressing problems and challenges facing urban areas today. Ozdaglar also served as technical program co-chair of the Rising Stars in EECS career-development workshop in 2015.

In her role as Deputy Dean for Academics in the College of Computing, Ozdaglar is working on developing the Common Ground for Computing Education, an interdepartmental teaching collaborative that will facilitate the offering of computing classes and coordination of computing-related curricula across academic units.

Through her research, Professor Ozdaglar has made fundamental contributions to optimization theory, economic and social networked systems, and game theory. Her research in optimization ranges from convex analysis and duality to distributed methods for large-scale systems and optimization algorithms for machine learning. Her work has integrated analysis of social and economic interactions within the study of networks and spans many dimensions of these areas, including the analysis of learning and communication, diffusion and information propagation, influence and misinformation in social networks, and cascades and systemic risk in economic and financial systems.

Recently, her research around targeted interventions in networked and multi-risk SIR models (and its impact on reopening the economy while containing the spread of the pandemic), was provided funding through the new Digital Transformation Institute – a new consortium for which Ozdaglar also serves as MIT’s faculty lead.

Among many honors and achievements Ozdaglar has received a Microsoft fellowship, the NSF CAREER Award, the 2008 Donald P. Eckman Award of the American Automatic Control Council, and in 2011, she was named a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences.

Joel Voldman has been named the Clarence J. LeBel Professor, effective July 1, 2020. This chair appointment recognizes his pioneering research, excellent teaching and mentoring, and outstanding contributions to the department and MIT.

Joel is a principal investigator in the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) and the Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL). He received the B.S. degree in electrical engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1995. He received the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from MIT in 1997 and 2001, respectively. He did his postdoctoral research at Harvard Medical School before joining the MIT faculty in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 2002. Joel has been the Faculty Head of Electrical Engineering since January 2020. From 2018 to 2019, he was the Associate Department Head in EECS.

Joel is an exceptional educator. Since joining the EECS faculty in 2002, Joel has taught 6.01 (Introduction to EECS), 6.002 (Circuits & Electronics), 6.003 (Signals and Systems), 6.021 (Quantitative Physiology), and 6.777 (MEMS). In addition, he co-developed two introductory EECS courses. 6.03 (Introduction to EECS via Medical Technology) uses medical devices to introduce EECS concepts such as signal processing and machine learning, while 6.S08/6.08 (Interconnected Embedded Systems) uses the Internet of Things to introduce EECS concepts such as system partitioning, energy management, and hardware/software co-design.  This latter course has been immensely successful, drawing over 350 students in its offerings. He was also part of the team that substantially revised 6.002 in 2017.

Joel’s research has also made pioneering contributions to BioMEMS, applying microfabrication technology to illuminate biological systems, ranging from point-of-care diagnostics to fundamental cell biology to applied neuroengineering. His work develops microfluidic technology for biology and medicine, with an emphasis on cell sorting and immunology. He has developed a host of technologies to arrange, culture, and sort diverse cell types, including immune cells, endothelial cells, and stem cells. His group was the first to demonstrate microfluidic culture of pluripotent stem cells, and the first to show that such culture conditions could productively alter the local environment of the cells. His group also has developed the highest-performance device to pair and fuse cells, and used this to establish microfluidic systems for longitudinal monitoring of cell-cell interactions. By careful arrangement of fluids and electric fields, Joel was also able to develop the first microfluidic system capable of continuous separation of cells based specifically on their electrical properties, and has recently used this technology to monitor the immune system during sepsis.

Joel’s awards include a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award, an American Chemical Society (ACS) Young Innovator Award, a Bose Fellow grant, MIT’s Jamieson Teaching Award, a Louis D. Smullin (’39) Award for Teaching Excellence from EECS, a Frank Quick Faculty Research Innovation Fellowship from EECS, IEEE/ACM Best Advisor Award (2017 and 2019), AIMBE Fellow, and awards for posters and presentations at international conferences. 

The LeBel chair was created in 1967-1968 by a bequest from the late Mr. LeBel, who received SB and SM degrees from MIT in 1927, was a founder of the Audio Engineering Society, and served as its President in 1958. The chair was held by Professors Kenneth Stevens and Charles Sodini in the past, and is currently held also by Professor Duane Boning and John Tsitsiklis.