Koch Institute Dedication Ceremony

Friday, March 4, 2011

The dedication of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, our newest hotbed of research and education innovation, falls right in the midst of 150 days of events that celebrate MIT's first 150 years. In preparing for our Sesquicentennial, we have been delving into MIT's past to find fuel for the future. In 1861, when William Barton Rogers founded MIT, he aimed to make science more useful, and the "useful arts" – technology and engineering – more scientific. MIT's motto, Mens et Manus, or Mind and Hand, expresses that double aspiration. Rogers was passionate about fundamental scientific discoveries. Yet he was equally passionate about applying science and technology to solve the urgent, real-world problems of a nation developing new strength through industry. In his desire to speed the industrialization of America, he recognized the need to reach boldly across the boundaries between disciplines. A champion of learning-by-doing, Rogers pioneered the idea of teaching students by engaging them in hands-on research. In Rogers' day, these ideas were revolutionary. In most places, even today, they are still fairly rare. They are, however, vividly alive in the daily efforts and future promise of the Koch Institute.

Today, we dedicate a building that embodies Mens et Manus, Mind and Hand: Here in the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, MIT's world-class biologists and engineers, with their laboratories side by side, collaborate in understanding the most basic molecular mechanisms of cancer cells and in developing practical, patient-ready devices. Their work stretches across the entire continuum from abstract theory to advanced applications. Following the pioneering footsteps of our Department of Biological Engineering – and with the galvanizing leadership of Tyler Jacks – Koch Institute researchers are cultivating frontier-breaking ideas at the remarkably fertile intersection of biology with engineering and the physical sciences. As MIT has done so often in the past, the Koch Institute's faculty, students and staff are pooling their strengths to tackle a truly daunting human problem. Not surprisingly, the results are already inspiring, from chemically engineered nanoparticles that are molecularly equipped to selectively seek out and kill cancer cells, to embedded sensors that can detect cancer in its earliest stages or monitor its recurrence.

While our faculty members are building bridges of new knowledge at the frontier of understanding, they are, at the same time, dedicated to educating the next generation of research pioneers. The creative energy of the Koch Institute is markedly accelerated by the intelligence, curiosity and potential of more than 100 undergraduates engaged through our Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, or UROP; more than 150 graduate students; and another 150 post-doctoral scholars. To imagine the full, far-reaching impact of the Koch Institute, think of the future, when these students take the collaborative instincts, interdisciplinary skills and hands-on problem solving they have learned here and sow these seeds in universities, hospitals and companies around the world. And we should think of the Koch Institute not as an end-point, but as a beginning: the first of MIT's 21st century activities fueled by the power of the convergence of the life, physical and engineering sciences. William Barton Rogers would be proud.

Let me call out one more bright thread of MIT history that weaves through the story of the Koch Institute: the transformative power of philanthropy. Philanthropic giving has been crucial from MIT's beginning. In fact, the gap between 1861, when MIT received its Charter, and 1865, when the first students enrolled, was mainly a long, intense struggle for funds. Despite the chilling shadow of civil war, Boston's leading citizens grasped the power of Rogers' idea. They supplied the funding, and MIT was truly born. In the decades that followed, philanthropists with vision and purpose transformed MIT in indelible ways. Recall the magnificent generosity of Kodak's founder, George Eastman, who financed MIT's transplantation from Boston to its ambitious new home here in Cambridge in 1916, or of Katherine Dexter McCormick, Class of 1904, who in the early 1960s funded MIT's first on-campus residence for women to make sure the Institute wouldn't give up on coeducation.

Since then, many MIT alumni and friends, including many here today, have also made gifts that vaulted MIT into the future, transformative gifts that gave us the power and confidence to fulfill the promise of "Mind and Hand" in each generation. There are no better examples than the many generous and visionary donors to the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, led by David Koch himself, who has powerfully encouraged us at every turn. By virtue of his advocacy and support for several of the very best cancer research centers in the country, David has a unique understanding of cancer research, from bench to bedside. His passion for accelerating progress made his involvement in this project sophisticated, insightful and inspiring. David has supported MIT generously over many decades, and in this project he has been a true partner.

David Koch was not alone, however, in grasping the importance of the project. We also received magnificent support from Judy and Erica Swanson; Charles B. and Anne Johnson; and the Koch Institute Leadership Council. Individually and together, they provided funding for this phenomenal building. They funded the Swanson Biotechnology Center, the Center for Nanotechnology Science, the Philip Alden Russell (1914) East Gallery, and the Koch Institute Public Galleries. They have supported our Frontier Research Fund and Clinical Investigators program. They established faculty chairs, and they have inspired other donors to join the cause. On behalf of MIT, I extend my most enthusiastic thanks to all of you.

Until very recently, cancer, in its many forms, has defied nearly every human intervention. Thanks to the work of many people over many years, new approaches now give new promise. Today – thanks to David Koch and all who contributed to this project – MIT's Koch Institute has the resources and the facilities to become a hub of transformative collaborations, with near neighbors like the Whitehead and Broad Institutes, and Boston's extraordinary academic hospitals, as well as with colleagues at work on cancer around the globe. With so much strength behind us, we have the courage to apply the full force of Mind and Hand to turning the tide on cancer. We could not be more grateful for, nor humbled by, this powerful new opportunity to serve the world.