DMSE promotes Rafael Gómez-Bombarelli and Elsa Olivetti

MIT professors Rafael Gomez-Bombarelli and Elsa Olivetti

Rafael Gómez-Bombarelli (left) pairs computational design with machine learning to accelerate the discovery of new materials; Elsa Olivetti focuses on sustainable and scalable materials design, processing, and manufacturing.

DMSE has promoted two of its faculty members: Rafael Gómez-Bombarelli, to associate professor without tenure, and Elsa Olivetti, to full professor.
“This is truly one of the best parts of my job—sharing the news that our faculty have reached these important milestones in their careers,” said DMSE head Jeffrey Grossman. “Not only are Elsa’s and Rafa’s promotions exceptionally well-deserved—they’re a validation of the impact these incredible researchers are making in their fields and the ways in which they’re moving the needle and changing the way people think about materials science and engineering.”
Gómez-Bombarelli earned degrees in physical chemistry from the University of Salamanca in Spain and did postdoctoral work in computational chemistry and machine learning at Heriot-Watt University in the United Kingdom and Harvard University. He joined the DMSE faculty in 2018. His research blends computational design with machine learning to bypass the traditional trial-and-error method of materials design, enabling swifter discovery of new materials. Gómez-Bombarelli and researchers in his Learning Matter laboratory collaborated with Olivetti to design a new form of zeolite, a porous material used in catalysts, chemical filters, and catalytic converters, that can remove pollutants from diesel engine exhaust. 
“Rafa’s research spans the boundaries and pushes the cutting edges of computation and materials science and engineering,” Grossman said. “He is truly ‘multi-lingual’ in the unique ways he approaches materials problems across simulation, data science, and theory as well as in the diversity of materials he designs.”
Gómez-Bombarelli developed a new class in the application of machine learning to molecular engineering with the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and other School of Engineering departments. And since 2022 he has co-taught 3.091 (Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry) with Professor Caroline Ross and Kirk Kolenbrander, linking concepts of organic and inorganic pedagogy.

Gómez-Bombarelli was recently named a 2023 Sloan Research Fellow.

Olivetti earned her PhD in DMSE, studying the electrochemistry of polymer and inorganic materials for electrodes in lithium-ion batteries. In 2014, she joined DMSE as an assistant professor and built a research program centered on improving the environmental and economic sustainability of materials. Specifically, she develops analytical and computational models to provide early-stage information on the cost and environmental impact of materials across their life cycles. She was awarded tenure in 2020 and since has expanded on her work in computation and experimental inquiry, focusing on, among other things, the increased use of recycled and waste materials and the implications of manufacturing processes on supply chains.
“Professor Olivetti’s work is world-renowned for its impact in sustainable and scalable materials design, processing, and manufacturing,” Grossman said. “She has pioneered an interdisciplinary approach to blend industrial ecology with materials science and engineering to inform and then mitigate the environmental and economic impact of materials across length scales.”
As an educator, Olivetti overhauled DMSE’s undergraduate curriculum and developed new courses, including one for the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium Climate Scholars. She serves on departmental committees for undergraduates and graduate admissions. For the institute more broadly, she’s a member of the MIT Climate Nucleus and co-director of the MIT Climate & Sustainability Consortium—Jason Sparapani