MIT Media Lab names new director, 15 months after Jeffrey Epstein scandal

Previous director Joi Ito resigned in 2019 after it was revealed the school had taken donations from the convicted sex offender.

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Corinne Reichert
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MIT Media Lab

MIT Media Lab has a new director.

Andy Ryan

MIT Media Lab announced Tuesday that Dava Newman, an MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics, will serve as its next director, starting in July. The news comes more than a year after the tumultuous departure of Joi Ito from the storied tech innovation center.

In her academic work, Newman has integrated engineering, design, and biomedical research, including the development of the BioSuit concept for spacesuits that could be worn on missions to the moon and Mars. Newman has been a principal investigator for four space missions, developing experiments and techniques for studying astronaut activity on the space shuttle and the International Space Station. 

She served as deputy administrator of NASA under the Obama administration from 2015 to 2017.

"I really see the MIT Media Lab as the best place in the world to bring together science, engineering, art and design, to creatively deal with the huge challenges humanity is facing," Newman said in a statement.

Ito, her predecessor, resigned in September 2019 after it was revealed that he had accepted donations to the Media Lab from Jeffrey Epstein, the financier and convicted sex offender, and that the lab had worked to conceal those dealings.

The Media Lab said in an August 2019 statement that MIT had received around $800,000 in donations from Epstein over 20 years. Later, Ito acknowledged taking $525,000 from Epstein for the Media Lab, as well as $1.2 million for his personal investment funds, according to The New York Times. The donations from the financier were used for purchasing lab equipment and supporting the scientists.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif acknowledged that he not only knew about those donations to the Media Lab but also signed a thank you letter to Epstein in 2012, six weeks into his presidency. "I am aware that we could and should have asked more questions about Jeffrey Epstein and about his interactions with Joi," Reif said at the time.

Epstein last year died by suicide in jail while facing charges of sex trafficking.

Watch this: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir talks about her new Artemis assignment and spacesuit struggles