History of the Institute


Dr. Edwin H. Land. Photo copyright Naomi Savage.

The Rowland Institute at Harvard was originally founded by the late Edwin H. Land in 1980 as The Rowland Institute for Science, a privately endowed, nonprofit, basic research organization, conceived to advance science in a wide variety of fields. Currently members of the Institute are performing research in several areas of physics, chemistry and biology. During the Institute's 20-plus years, its scientists have discovered and published unique and exciting research results in their chosen research areas. 

Dr. Land was the founder of Polaroid Corporation and its Director of Research for 50 years, inventing and developing the first sheet polarizers and instant photography and amassing 533 patents. He served as chairman of the Intelligence Section of President Eisenhower’s Technical Capabilities Panel and was responsible for work on critical surveillance systems (U2/SR71/satellites). He worked closely with MIT and other universities in developing novel educational programs. The most well-known of these programs is the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), first developed at MIT and subsequently emulated at many universities in the United States. Dr. Land spent a lifetime cross-fertilizing various educational, industrial, scientific, and public service domains and institutions. He encouraged and supported the development of novel approaches in all these areas. His "last experiment" (to quote a 1992 Science article) was the creation of The Rowland Institute for Science. 

The concept of a relatively small yet highly productive interdisciplinary institution–whose culture is focused on the success of the group as well as the individual–was originally conceived by Dr. Land as a powerful instrument for scientific advancement. In addition, he understood the critical importance of stable and long-term support of research projects for enabling the careful and deep efforts required to explore the implications of an idea. The success of this research model, embodied in the development and current structure of the Rowland Institute at Harvard, is reflected in the publication of emerging and important findings in a range of core scientific disciplines by a surprisingly small group of exceptional researchers. While focused primarily on their own research projects, the scientists at Rowland keep in mind the aims and ideals of this unique institution, and are committed to helping the Institute evolve.