Robert Langer

There is a strong likelihood that, among the thousands of people assembled at Columbia University’s 2019 Commencement, some have you to thank for saving their lives. Though you never treated them as a physician, you contributed to their care, as a chemical engineer drawn to biomedical research. Growing up in Albany, New York, you excelled in math and science. With degrees in chemical engineering from Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, you could have gone to work for a major oil company. Instead, you opted for a postdoctoral fellowship with cancer researcher Dr. Judah Folkman at Boston Children’s Hospital. There, at the dawn of an astonishing career that is still going strong four decades later, you developed a way to choke off a tumor’s blood supply by striking it precisely with a flow of medicine. In so doing, you revolutionized the way cancer is treated. In the early years of your career, many considered your ideas unconventional. Even when your work was published in major medical journals, your ideas were greeted with skepticism. Today, more than 20 million cancer patients have received care based on your discoveries, not to mention the millions more who have benefitted from treatments you pioneered for conditions including diabetes, schizophrenia, and heart disease. You joined the MIT faculty in 1977. Nearly a decade later, when a colleague suggested forming a company, you became an entrepreneur. Since then, your lab has incubated some 40 businesses. You hold more than 1,000 patents licensed or sublicensed to pharmaceutical, chemical, biotech, and medical device companies. You are now one of ten Institute Professors at MIT, the highest honor awarded to a faculty member. Among the countless awards you have received are the Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering, the National Medal of Science, and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. And you have not stopped innovating. Your research now includes nanotechnology—tiny chips that can be implanted in the body to dispense drugs when a signal is activated—and tissue generation used to repair spinal cord injuries. For your groundbreaking work as a scientist, engineer, entrepreneur, scholar, and educator, Columbia is proud to present you with the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.