Mary C. Boyce Wins Franklin Institute Award

Boyce recognized for her work in the physical behavior of polymers, leading to innovative product development of rubber and other soft materials.

Jan 30 2024 | By Holly Evarts
Mary Boyce

Mary C. Boyce, professor of mechanical engineering, Provost Emerita of Columbia University, and Dean Emerita of Columbia Engineering, has been awarded the prestigious 2024 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Mechanical Engineering for her expertise in the nonlinear mechanics of polymers and the multiscale design of soft composite materials. The award cites her “transformative contributions to our understanding of the physical behavior of polymers, materials made of long chains of molecules, leading to innovative product development of rubber and other soft materials.” 

“I am deeply honored to receive the 2024 Benjamin Franklin Medal,” Boyce said. “I feel that this recognition reflects my collaborative work with so many talented students, postdocs, and colleagues over many years. The award also highlights the importance and incredible impact of fundamental mechanics of materials, particularly multiscale microstructure and nonlinear behavior, in underlying the design and understanding of so much of the world around us.”

Research on nanotechnology and materials

Boyce’s research focuses on the mechanics of materials, including theoretical, computational, and experimental approaches. Her work blends fundamental mechanics with the study of the microstructure and behaviors of physical materials, particularly natural and man-made polymers and soft composites. Her modeling work has been included in software programs that engineers use in the design of wide-ranging products, including automobiles, airplanes, biomedical devices, sporting goods, and protective equipment. Her research has expanded understanding of the interplay between micro-geometry and the inherent physical behavior of a material. Doctoral students and postdocs from her group hold faculty positions across the country and around the world.

“We are very proud of our colleague, Mary C. Boyce, former Dean and Provost Emerita, whose pathbreaking work has been recognized with such a highly esteemed honor,” said Columbia Engineering Dean Shih-Fu Chang. “Mary is a fearless leader, accomplished scholar, inspiring mentor, and brilliant educator and we all – from our students to our faculty to our administration -- are very fortunate to have her in our midst, continuing to lead in extraordinary ways.”

From MIT to Columbia Engineering

Boyce taught at MIT for 25 years, beginning as an assistant professor, rising through the professorial ranks, and heading the Department of Mechanical Engineering from 2008 to 2013. She joined Columbia Engineering in 2013 as its first female dean, helping to establish the School as a leading center of multidisciplinary and translational research, and fostering an academic ecosystem of collaboration and innovation, encouraging faculty to collaborate with colleagues in other fields to find creative solutions to pressing global problems. She spearheaded the expansion of interdisciplinary research and education programs across the School, attracting faculty talent in cross-cutting fields as wide-ranging as data science, nanoscience, advanced materials and devices, sustainability and climate, and engineering in health and medicine.

Columbia University Provost

Boyce was named provost of Columbia University in 2021 and served as the University’s chief academic officer. In this role, she propelled the academic excellence, creativity, and integrity of the many facets of Columbia University. She led the development and implementation of Columbia’s academic plans and policies; she championed the education and research aspirations of the deans of all 17 Schools and faculties; and she led the tenure review process and managed all faculty appointments. She stepped down as provost in 2023 to take a scholarly leave and return to research and teaching as a member of the Columbia Engineering faculty.

Academic honors

Boyce’s many honors include election as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Mechanics, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. She has been awarded the 2015 Engineering Science Medal by the Society of Engineering Science and the 2020 Timoshenko Medal for Advances in Applied Mechanics, the highest honor accorded by the Applied Mechanics Division of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The Franklin Institute Awards Program

The Franklin Institute Awards celebrates nine of the world's brightest visionaries—individuals whose work has transformed our lives and an early-career researcher who has already raised the bar of scientific excellence. The 2024 laureates will be celebrated in Philadelphia April 15-19, 2024. Credit: The Franklin Institute

One of the oldest comprehensive science awards in the world, The Franklin Institute Awards Program is a cornerstone of the legacy of Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute since its founding in 1824. Over the past 200 years, The Franklin Institute Awards Program has honored the most influential scientists, engineers, and inventors who have significantly advanced science and technology. The roster of more than 2,000 laureates includes luminaries such as Nikola Tesla, Marie and Pierre Curie, Orville Wright, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking, and more recently, vaccine pioneers Kizzmekia Corbett, Drew Weissman, and Katalin Karikó. Notably, 125 of these laureates have also received the Nobel Prize.

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