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Melis A. '08

Oct 4, 2007

David Berry: A “Fearless” Innovator with a Passion for MIT

Posted in: MIT Facts, Academics & Research

As Technology Review’s 2007 Top Young Innovator of the Year, MIT grad Dr. David Berry knows a thing or two about success. Though he is only 29 years old, he has 24 patents-pending and has been touted as a fearless innovator with “new and insightful ways to tackle problems.” While he admits that he wouldn’t jump out of a plane, his mantra that big ideas require big risks is evidenced by his various research endeavors. As an MIT undergrad, he worked for two and half years Ram Sasisekharan, a professor of Biological Engineering, and did his senior thesis project on visual image processing in the Schiller Lab. More recently, he has tinkered with bacteria to make them produce a petroleum-like fuel, engineered a protein that shows promise as a stroke treatment, and developed polymers that can kill cancer cells.

Berry may not know the exact ingredients in the special sauce that makes MIT such a mecca of talent, but it’s clear that he can’t get enough of its taste. He arrived at MIT’s campus in 1996 as an undergrad and has not ventured far from the Institute ever since. And why should he? After graduating in 2000 with a degree in Brain and Cognitive Science, he entered the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program and completed his PhD in Bioengineering in the famed Langer Lab and his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. Now a Principal at Flagship Ventures, a leading venture capitalist firm located down the street from MIT, David plays an active role in developing biotech companies.

From the vantage point of his office overlooking the Boston skyline, it seems that life is good for Berry and he admits that he’s “having a blast.” I asked him if he always knew what he wanted to do with his life, and he admitted that he always had a plan but never followed it. While his interests included business and management, David originally wanted to become a neuro or orthopedic surgeon. In his senior year of college, he decided to take the MD-PhD route and make research a priority. He was able to finish his Ph.D relatively quickly, partially due to his ability to pipette with both hands simultaneously (!) Armed with the skill of ambidexterity, he was well on his way to becoming a professor when he received a call from Flagship Ventures and decided to focus his career on finance and technology-based entrepreneurship. He is currently focusing on two companies: LS9, the renewable petroleum company whose technology he helped develop, and T2 Biosystems, a diagnostic company that will improve medical decision-making and treatment.

As a bona fide graduate, Berry remains active in the MIT community. He is on MIT’s board of trustees, called the Corporation, which ensures that the Institute “adheres to the purposes for which it was chartered and that its integrity and financial resources are preserved for future generations as well as for current purposes.” Only one person is chosen from 160 MIT alums nominees, so to the 5-year term position is clearly an honor and a privilege. Serving on the Corporation allows Berry to contribute to the evolution of MIT. He thinks that MIT is “true to itself as a school” and provides its students with the best skills sets, experiences, and background in science and engineering; graduates have innumerable opportunities since “everyone knows that you have earned your Brass Rat.” In addition to pushing its students to, he notes that MIT constantly pushes itself to improve- as evidenced by the rising success of the Sloan Business School.

In spite of all his success, Berry remains humble- he doesn’t think that he could have gotten into MIT now, given his less-than-perfect SAT scores (I respectfully disagree!). His advice to current high school students is to “Go to MIT!” Well, he also thinks that there are many rumors and stereotypes in the college application process and student should do their own research by talking to people who attend the schools on their wish list. Though these people may be quick to complain, he suggests paying more attention to what they say they enjoy. He also emphasizes that classes aren’t everything. His high school extracurricular activities included music (he played the piano and saxophone, and was a member of a Ska band) and sports (competitive tennis and soccer) in addition to the classic science and math clubs. His athleticism continued at MIT, where he was on the ski team, rowed crew, and participated in intramural sports. His final word of advice is that “school is a great place to be, so take the time to mentally explore and learn a lot about yourself.”

(The photo is from the MIT Corporation's website: http://web.mit.edu/corporation/members/Berry-D.html)

Comments (Closed after 30 days to reduce spam)

I too will respectfully disagree with the SAT thing. My scores weren't shiny, but I wangled my way in, and I'm doing fine now. I think. =) It always makes me happy when there are people like him, great but humble.

Great blog!

Posted by: Hunter '11 on October 4, 2007

Great story!
On a side note, of all the blogs I've read from you, it is an interesting coincidence how almost 75% of them have the name Harvard somewhere.

Posted by: 0 on October 4, 2007

AH, but is he married?

Posted by: anon on October 4, 2007

Anonymous: Clever observation =) Since my interests lie in the biomedical sciences, I tend to focus on people who have research in similar areas. MIT and Harvard have very strong collaborations in this field.

Posted by: Melis on October 4, 2007

i'd guess the frst anon is hawkins...is it possible?

Posted by: another anonymous on October 4, 2007

The more you post articles related to cognitie science and/or bioengineering, the more this major appeals me ! It looks so interesting.
He, I guess his words at the end unstress me a bit ^^

Posted by: Isshak on October 5, 2007

@another anonymous- Sorry, but my name is actually Edgar. I was distracted and forgot to put my name! =)

@Melis- I figured that would be the reason! wink

Posted by: Edgar on October 5, 2007

I am ex Indian Airforce engineer have many innovative ideas. i.e. a nexg generation automobile engine and an exciting new mode of tranasportation which will make life different and much easier on the mountains(it carries load up at a great speed and consumes no little energy , a new indicator for the weather (it can make watching weather very interesting),my honda's (100 cc) city riding condition mileage crossed 100 kmpl mark and more.
please help whom should i contact to?

Posted by: delam rathour on October 5, 2007

@Hunter '11
When you say they weren't shiny, any figures on that?(read: do you mean to say just a tad below 2400?:)...)

But seriously, hats off to Mr. Berry! Its people like him who truly show the innovative way in which MIT quietly caters to the world. The humility he shows considering his eye-watering accomplishments is rarely seen today. Does MIT really make you that sort of a person?....Wow...

Posted by: Nihar on October 5, 2007

@Nihar:

I guess that depends on what you mean by "tad" below 2400. I mean, really, 600 is only a tad below 2400 in the great scheme of things - in a universe that's a kazillion lightyears long, what does the difference of 2400cm or 600cm matter?

That's my roundabout way of saying I was below the MIT average, even in math. I'd prefer not to give actual numbers for fear that people may start trying to gauge their chances. DON'T DO IT. I thought I was a longshot. My father thought I was a longshot. My counselor thought I was a longshot. And yet not only was I admitted, I was admitted early. They look for more than scores, so don't focus on them!

And remember the average is the average - just as many people are above it as are BELOW it. =)

Posted by: Hunter '11 on October 5, 2007

This is such an inspiring story. It's pumped me up to go out and do something!

Posted by: Ginger on October 5, 2007

@Hunter'11
Thanks. What I realize is...that a "tad" is just a relative term wink. I gave my SAT 2's yesterday and considering I havent covered 60% of the course set for the test in school, lets see just how relative my scores are.

(P.S. Amazing how relativity pops up everywhere huh?. I think God has to accept that Einstein qualifies to share his nick wink

Posted by: Nihar on October 7, 2007

Omg...hopefully i will we able to register one patent at all :D Great article!

Posted by: SPD on October 27, 2007

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