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2008 News in Brief



Rafael Bras named dean of UC Irvine School of Engineering

Written by:

Contact: Denise Brehm
MIT Civil & Environmental Engineering

Professor Rafael L. Bras, who joined the MIT faculty shortly after earning his doctorate here in 1975, and who has served as a lab director, department head, and chair of the MIT Faculty, was named last week as the new dean of engineering at the University of California, Irvine, effective Sept. 1.

“Rafael Bras is an internationally renowned scientist and educator with extensive expertise on water and the environment — two tremendously important topics to our community, state and to the world at large,” said Chancellor Michael V. Drake of UC Irvine. “I am excited to welcome this distinguished leader and scholar to our university.”

Bras, 57, is currently the Edward A. Abdun-Nur Professor in the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. He served as head of the Ralph M. Parsons Laboratory at MIT from 1983 to 1991; head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering from 1992 to 2001; and chair of the MIT Faculty from 2003 to 2005. He currently is an associate director of the Center for Global Change Science and director of the alternative first-year program, Terrascope.

“I lived in Puerto Rico for the first 17 years of my life and at MIT for the last 40. Leaving home is never easy,” said Bras. “My career at MIT has been blessed with great colleagues, in and out of my departments, with wonderful mentors and extraordinary students. I leave with wonderful memories and hopeful that my efforts somehow contributed to make this extraordinary institution even better and that I will be remembered as a good, loyal, friend, mentor and teacher.”

“I’m truly honored and excited about accepting the dean of engineering position at UC Irvine,” Bras said. “The Irvine campus is young, energetic and eager to achieve excellence across the board. The Samueli School of Engineering is an enormous asset, recognized as a keystone to building a top-tier modern university in a world where engineering and science are increasingly the drivers of the economic engine and hold the promise of a better society. My wife, Pat, and I are also taken by the warmth, friendliness and eagerness to help of everybody we have met.”

UC Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service, founded in 1965. The university has more than 27,000 undergraduate and graduate students and nearly 2,000 faculty members. It is the third-largest employer in Orange County, and contributes an annual economic impact of $3.6 billion. Bras will succeed Nicolaos G. Alexopoulos, who served as dean since 1997.

“All of us in the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering will miss Rafael greatly,” said Professor Patrick Jaillet, head of the department. “I know he is looking ahead to tremendous and unique opportunities at the UC Irvine, but we are very sad to see him leave. Rafael is an outstanding researcher, a prolific writer, an impressive educator, and a very caring mentor, whose service to the department and to MIT will have long-lasting effects. How can we say goodbye properly to someone who has been director of the Parsons Lab, director of the Terrascope freshmen program, head of the department, and chair of the MIT Faculty? By wishing him tremendous success in his new role as dean of engineering at Irvine and reminding him that as an outstanding alumnus of CEE, he will always be an integral part of our community.”

“Rafael has been with Parsons Lab since the early 1970s — now approaching 40 years,” said Professor Dara Entekhabi, director of the Parsons Laboratory for Environmental Science and Engineering. “He has made tremendous contributions to the lab, the department and the Institute with his scholarship. His ideas, papers and books have been transformational and path breaking for the field. As director of the lab, Rafael led significant expansions of its research portfolio and faculty recruitment in new areas.  I will certainly miss having him close by and in the lab as a colleague and a friend. University of California at Irvine has gained a great asset and we wish Rafael the best in his new role there as dean of engineering.”

Bras is well known for his contributions to soil-vegetation-atmosphere system modeling, and he has been recognized for his innovative work describing and forecasting floods and precipitation. His landscape-river basin-evolution models are widely used in hydrology and geology. Bras also has pioneered ideas about how the deforestation of the Amazon will impact regional and continental climates.

He has authored more than 170 refereed journal publications, two textbooks, several monographs and many other publications and presentations. His numerous awards and accolades include his 2001 election into the prestigious National Academy of Engineering. He is a corresponding member of the National Academy of Engineering of Mexico, and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.

He received the Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize for his work on water science and technology, and he also was awarded the Macelwane and Horton medals of the American Geophysical Union for his geophysical and hydrology work. This May he receives the Simon W. Freese Award of the Environmental and Water resources Institute of ASCE and the Honorary Diplomate of the American Academy of Water Resources Engineers.

His dedication to issues of diversity in the faculty and student body earned him MIT’s Martin Luther King Leadership Award in 2000.

Bras chairs an international panel of experts overseeing a $7.9 billion project to develop and construct a system of barriers that will protect Venice, Italy, from flooding during unusually high tides. The project is scheduled for completion in 2014.

Bras holds three degrees from MIT: the S.B. in civil engineering (1972), the S.M. in civil engineering (1974) and the Sc.D. in water resources and hydrology (1975). He worked as a professor at the University of Puerto Rico before joining the MIT faculty in July 1976.

Rafael Bras