Faculty Deans

L. and Amala Mahadevan Faculty, Deans of Mather House


L. Mahadevan  L_Mahadevan@fas.harvard.edu 

Amala Mahadevan amala@fas.harvard.edu

Phone - (617) 495-4834


Welcome to Mather!  As you venture into new intellectual, social and cultural worlds, we hope that Mather will provide a nurturing environment. We look forward to getting to know you.


A bit about ourselves:

L. Mahadevan (Maha) is the Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Physics at Harvard University. He was born and brought up in India, where he studied engineering as an undergraduate. An opportunity to come to the USA for graduate school allowed for an exploration of new worlds, eventually leading to a Ph.D. in applied mathematics at Stanford University. Following postdoctoral work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Chicago, he joined the faculty of engineering at MIT. Wanderlust and opportunity led to a move across the pond when he was elected a  fellow of Trinity and the inaugural Schlumberger Chair in Complex Physical Systems in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University. In 2003, inspired by the hope of new intellectual adventures at the interface of the physical and biological sciences, he moved back to Cambridge, MA, but slightly further up the river.


Mahadevan’s work centers around using theory and experiment to understand the patterns of shape and flow in  matter. A particular joy is to uncover explanations of natural phenomena that are easy to observe, often not so well understood, and of relevance far beyond what might be first envisaged, “looking for the sublime in the mundane”. For example, he has studied how a stream of honey coils onto toast (and  the shape of island arcs on earth), the Cheerios effect (and its implications for self-assembly), how leaves ripple, shoots grow, tendrils coil and Venus fly traps snap  (providing inspiration for biomimetic engineering), how the body grows, guts loop and brains fold (and a mathematical theory of morphogenesis), how  worms crawl, snakes undulate and fish swim (and the development of coordinated locomotion) and how social insects solve problems collectively (and the development of complex behaviors from simple rules) etc. He has also designed methods for engineering shape using origami, algorithms for detecting structure in networks, and invented a few toys, including a coin that lands on its edge one-third of the time. For a study on how sheets wrinkle, he shared the IgNobel Prize in Physics in 2007 for “research that first makes people laugh, and then makes them think” and celebrated it with a ditty. At Harvard, Mahadevan has taught over 20 different courses in mathematics, physics, biology and engineering,  and advised more than 50 students and postdoctoral fellows. He is a MacArthur Fellow (class of 2009), and a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. When he is not thinking about new problems, Mahadevan enjoys swimming and biking, and reading (history).


Amala Mahadevan is a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and serves as faculty in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography for graduate studies. While trekking in the Himalayas and exploring forests in India, Amala cultivated a love for nature and a desire to study earth and environmental science. She did her undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering in Mumbai, India and her graduate work in environmental fluid mechanics at Stanford University, where she earned a Ph.D. in 1995. As a postdoctoral scientist at the University of Chicago, she developed an interest in the earth’s oceans, and the role that the ocean biota plays in the earth’s carbon cycle and climate. Moving from one Cambridge to another with Maha, she worked as a research scientist at MIT/Harvard, the University of New Hampshire, Cambridge University, and at Boston University as research faculty, before joining WHOI in 2011.


Amala’s research addresses how the ocean’s physical processes and dynamics transport and mix properties and affect the ocean’s ecosystems. For example, she has explored the dynamics of marine planktonic blooms coupled with the dynamical instabilities of ocean currents and eddies, and the role that these play in the transport of carbon and its exchange with the atmosphere. Her work ranges from building computational models of physical and biological processes in the ocean, to planning and participating in research cruises to gather data, most recently in the Bay of Bengal and the Mediterranean. She shares her time between WHOI and MIT, where she advises students and postdocs, and teaches graduate courses. More recently, she spent a year (2014-15) as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.  Amala is particularly interested in increasing awareness about the role of the ocean in the earth's changing climate and is currently writing a book on the subject.  Outside science, Amala has learned Indian classical music and dance, and used to perform dance recitals before coming to the US. This has led to an abiding interest in promoting the arts, with a recent stint as the chair of a South Asian performing arts organization at MIT (MITHAS).


The Mahadevans met as graduate students at Stanford, and have traveled around the world together since then. They have two children at Harvard, and a dog named for a cat “Cheetah” who can often be seen in the Mather courtyard.  They enjoy the outdoors, and are committed to sustainable living and conserving the environment.