Portrait of astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala ’90. She is smiling and wearing a baseball hat.
Nergis Mavalvala ’90, astrophysicist and dean of MIT's School of Science, is Wellesley's 2022 commencement speaker.
Photo provided by MIT

Astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala ’90 is Wellesley's 2022 Commencement Speaker

April 22, 2022

Nergis Mavalvala ’90, the Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics at MIT and the first woman to be the dean of the MIT School of Science, will address the Wellesley College class of 2022 at the College’s 144th commencement on May 27.

Mavalvala was born in Lahore and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. She came to the United States to attend Wellesley in 1986, where she majored in physics and astronomy, and received her Ph.D. in physics at MIT in 1997. She focused on astrophysics, working on the detection of gravitational waves and quantum measurement science. She was a member of the scientific team at the California Institute of Technology that in 2016 announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), groundbreaking work that fulfilled the last prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. 

Mavalvala has received many prestigious awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship (also known as a “genius grant”), a Sloan Foundation Fellowship, the 2014 LGBTQ Scientist of the Year award from the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals, the Gruber Prize in Cosmology as part of the LIGO team, the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, and the Carnegie Corporation’s Great Immigrant Award. Mavalvala was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2017 and was honored with a Wellesley College Alumnae Achievement Award in 2018

Mavalvala joined the MIT faculty in 2002 and served as the head of the physics department for five years. She describes herself as an “out, queer person of color” and frequently discusses her lesbian and immigrant identities. The class of 2022 sees her as a role model and an inspiration for any student who has wished to pursue a field where they might not see themselves represented.

Wellesley’s 2022 commencement ceremony will be held in person on Severance Green on Friday, May 27, at 10:30 a.m. EDT, and it will be livestreamed on the WellesleyLive website.