Engineering Dean Delivers Prestigious Award Lecture at MIT

Rafael L. Bras, Sc.D., distinguished professor and dean of The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, stood before a packed audience at MIT to give the 2008-2009 James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award lecture at the end of March.  Addressing "Planet Water: Complexity and Organization in Earth Systems," Bras talked about the intricate relationships found among oceans, land, atmosphere and plant life.

The prestigious James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award was established in 1971, and is a tribute to MIT's 10th president.  Each year, an MIT faculty member is honored for their outstanding professional accomplishments and contributions that represent the “best of the best” at MIT. 

Bras was recognized and celebrated by his former MIT colleagues for his numerous academic and social contributions to the study and research of water over the last 33 years, as well as his compassion and advocacy for social justice and his drive to make the world a more humane place.

Prior to UC Irvine, Bras was the Edward A. Abdun-Nur Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT, and also held an appointment in the university’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

He served as head of the Ralph M. Parsons Laboratory at MIT from 1983 to 1991; head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering from 1992 to 2001; and chair of the MIT faculty from 2003 to 2005. He was also an associate director of the Center for Global Change Science and directed the Terrascope freshman alternative program.

“My wonderful and happy career at MIT was made possible by extraordinary mentors, extraordinary staff, and truly extraordinary students. To have this extended family come together to share this occasion was like a dream, a wonderful dream that I will never forget,” said Bras.

Bras is an internationally recognized hydrologist and hydroclimatologist, leading research in soil-vegetation-atmosphere system modeling, as well as innovative work describing and forecasting floods and precipitation. His landscape-river basin-evolution models are widely used in hydrology and geology. Bras has also pioneered ideas about how the deforestation of the Amazon will impact regional and continental climates.

He chairs an international panel of experts overseeing a multi-billion dollar project to develop and construct a system of barriers that will protect Venice, Italy, from flooding during unusually high tides. The project is scheduled for completion in 2014.

A native of Puerto Rico, Bras holds three degrees from MIT: a bachelor's in civil engineering (1972), a master’s in civil engineering (1974) and a science doctorate in water resources and hydrology (1975).
Photo credit:  L. Barry Hetherington

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