Robert Langer SCD '74 is inspiring the next generation of scientist-entrepreneurs. Image: Chemical Heritage Foundation
Robert Langer SCD ’74 is inspiring the next generation of scientist-entrepreneurs. Image: Chemical Heritage Foundation

Two recent articles look inside the largest biomedical engineering lab in the world and provide insight into how Robert Langer SCD ’74 is inspiring the next generation of scientist-entrepreneurs.

Langer is one of just 11 Institute professors at MIT—the Institute’s highest faculty honor. Widely regarded as the father of tissue engineering, he is the youngest person in history to be elected to all three American science academies (the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine). He holds more than 800 patents, and has launched more than two dozen companies. Amid this busy career, he has remained passionate about serving as a mentor to the students conducting research in his lab.

On his blog What’s “In” Innovation, former executive director of the MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research Dr. Robert Urban notes that Langer often assigns the most difficult problems to undergraduates who sign on with the lab. He does this not only to validate their place in the lab, but also because this counterintuitive approach instills collaboration and teamwork.

Urban recalls discussing this concept with Langer when they were colleagues. According to Langer, “These underdog successes underwrite our culture and demonstrate that anything is possible—that with passion and resilience all of us can tackle huge mysteries and make a difference.”

Langer expanded on his attitudes toward science education and entrepreneurship in a career Q&A with Science Magazine. Among the highlights are his thoughts on the bridge from graduate study to entrepreneurship:

“When you’re a student, you’re judged by how well you answer questions. Somebody else asks the questions, and if you give good answers, you’ll get a good grade. But in life, you’re judged by how good your questions are. You want students and postdocs to transition from giving good answers to asking good questions. Then they’ll become great professors, great entrepreneurs, great something—if they ask good questions.”

Read the full interview at Science Magazine.

Robert Urban’s thoughts on the Langer Lab.

Watch: Robert Langer was recently profiled in the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s video series “Scientists you must know.

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