“I use ‘disruptive’ in both its good and bad connotations. Disruptive scientific and technological progress is not to me inherently good or inherently evil. But its arc is for us to shape. Technology’s progress is furthermore in my judgment unstoppable. But it is quite incorrect that it unfolds inexorably according to its own internal logic and the laws of nature.”
Debbie Chachra spent many Sundays of her childhood in the visitor center of the nuclear generating station outside Toronto, carried out doctoral research on fluoride in municipal drinking water, and walked the full length of the LA River over a long weekend. She was one of the early faculty at Olin College of Engineering, which graduated its first class in 2006, and writes, speaks, and consults widely on education, diversity and inclusion, and social issues around technology. She is currently writing her first book, provisionally titled Public Utility, about what infrastructure is, what it means to us, and what its future could be.
Dr. Chachra is committed to improving undergraduate engineering education. In addition to working closely with Olin students, she carries out research in the field, and speaks and writes widely on the topic, including writing a regular column, “Reinvention,” in the American Society for Engineering Education’s Prism magazine. She also collaborates with educators worldwide, often through Olin College’s Collaboratory and its programs. Dr. Chachra’s other research interests include gender and engineering, infrastructure, and biological materials (including a type of plastic made by bees). She also works at the intersection of technology and society, and has written commentaries for the Atlantic, the Guardian, the journal Nature, and the comic book Bitch Planet.
Prior to joining the faculty of Olin College, Dr. Chachra was a postdoctoral associate at MIT in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. She joined MIT from the University of Toronto, where she received her master's degree and Ph.D. in materials science. Dr. Chachra has a bachelor's degree in engineering science, also from the University of Toronto. She was a recipient of a National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada postdoctoral fellowship and a Medical Research Council of Canada graduate fellowship, as well as numerous other honors for her research and publications. In 2010, she received an NSF CAREER Award in support of her research on engineering education.