Sally Kornbluth became MIT’s 18th president on January 1, 2023. She is a cell biologist whose eight year tenure as Duke University’s provost earned her a reputation as a brilliant administrator, a creative problem-solver, and a leading advocate of faculty excellence and student wellbeing.
A native of Fair Lawn, New Jersey, Kornbluth graduated from Williams College in 1982 with a BA in political science. Making a sharp pivot toward biology, she received a scholarship to attend Cambridge University, where she earned a BA in genetics in 1984.
In 1989, Kornbluth received her PhD in molecular oncology from Rockefeller University, and then completed postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Diego. In 1994, she joined Duke as an assistant professor of pharmacology and cancer biology, and by 2005 had risen to full professor. She stepped into administration the following year as vice dean for basic science at the Duke School of Medicine, a post she held until she became provost in 2014.
As Duke’s provost, Kornbluth served as the university’s chief academic officer, with broad responsibility for carrying out its teaching and research missions, developing its intellectual priorities, and partnering with others to achieve wide-ranging gains for faculty and students. She led efforts to develop a pipeline of faculty from underrepresented groups, aiming to make Duke more diverse and inclusive, and created an Office for Faculty Advancement that led a 30% increase in the number of Black faculty from 2018 to 2022.
Now at MIT, Kornbluth has carried forward this emphasis on the student experience and the needs of faculty and staff. In her inaugural address, she began to outline bold objectives for the Institute, which include leading the development of solutions to dramatically accelerate progress against climate change; helping to realize the societal benefits of AI and ensure that its power is harnessed for good; and redefining the future of biomedicine by forging new links between engineering and life science.
In her research, Kornbluth has focused on the biological signals that tell a cell to start dividing or to self-destruct — processes that are key to understanding cancer as well as various degenerative disorders. She has published extensively on cell proliferation and programmed cell death, studying both phenomena in a variety of organisms. Her research has helped to show how cancer cells evade this programmed death, or apoptosis, and how metabolism regulates the cell death process; her work has also clarified the role of apoptosis in regulating the duration of female fertility in vertebrates.
Among other honors, in 2012, Kornbluth received the Basic Science Research Mentoring Award from the Duke School of Medicine and in 2013, the Distinguished Faculty Award from the Duke Medical Alumni Association. She is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Inventors, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
She lives in Gray House with her husband, Daniel Lew, a professor in MIT’s Department of Biology. They have two grown children.
Today, the problems before us – the problems of human society, and of its only planet so far – require that we harness our curiosity in exceptionally productive ways. The people of MIT have always wanted to know how things work, and how we can be part of big solutions. Now, it’s imperative that we know – and that we help lead the world to action.”