President Alfred H. Bloom's Charge to Gershenfeld Charge '81
You grew up in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, wanted to train to build machines but, fortunately, came to Swarthmore where you majored in Physics, minored in Engineering, and graduated with high honors in 1981.
After a stint with Bell Labs working on laser interactions, you completed your Ph.D. in applied physics at Cornell. You then served as a junior fellow at Harvard, and in 1991 joined the MIT faculty where you currently direct the Center for Bits and Atoms and co-direct the media laboratory's physics and media research group.
You look to the way information is physically encoded from the level of atomic nuclei to the level of global networks and to the way that encoding influences the information itself. Realizing that molecules themselves compute, you developed with a colleague a form of molecular logic used to implement the first complete quantum computer. Combining futuristic vision with the skill of a craftsman, you have created low-cost technologies to meet local needs, such as devices that tune tractor engines and radio systems that allow Norwegian herders to track their reindeer. You have constructed refrigerators that monitor the freshness of milk and bathroom shelves that not only identify the medicine stored on them but also determine whether the patient is managing his or her medication well. And as special projects, built a computerized cello for Yo-Yo Ma and a computerized, interactive stage for The Flying Karamazov Brothers.
Your technologies have been on display at the Museum of Modern Art, at the White House, at the World Economic Forum, at Las Vegas shows and in Indian villages.
Your publications include The Nature of Mathematical Modeling, The Physics of Information Technology, When Things Start to Think, which contemplates future interactions between technology and everyday life; and FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop, published in 2005, which reports on new technologies with which you have been involved.
Your teaching galvanizes the imaginative powers of your students and your work has received the enthusiastic attention, among others, of The New York Times, The Economist, CNN and PBS.
Neil Gershenfeld, we marvel at your brilliant grasp of the complexities of evolving scientific understanding and at your singular talent for distilling that understanding into technologies and machines that extend human reach and serve human needs. We marvel at your inventiveness and foresight and take great pride in the fact that you are one of our own.
Upon the recommendation of the faculty, and by the power vested in me by the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I have the honor to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Science.