8 Things to Know About Neri Oxman (That Have Nothing to Do with Brad Pitt)

A non-exhaustive primer on the venerable MIT professor.

Best known as a triple-threat architect, designer, and artist, Neri Oxman has been making headlines for a completely different reason lately. Our June 2016 Technology Issue cover subject and the actor Brad Pitt have shared the media spotlight in recent days after allegedly igniting a romance. In an attempt to shift the attention from her supposed resemblance to actor Angelina Jolie to her numerous talents and accomplishments, we’ve provided a brief introduction to the Israeli creative. For a deeper dive into the brilliant mind, read our full cover story »


1. Coined the term “Material Ecology,” which Oxman describes as “form told from the point of view of matter, and it begins, naturally, with form’s predicament.” Put more simply: It’s a process by which products and buildings are considered in the context of their environments, and biologically informed by, with, and for nature.

2. Directs a Mediated Matter research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, where she is an associate professor. The group includes 25 affiliates and visiting students pursuing computational design, architecture, marine science, molecular biology, and physics. Together, they conduct research addressing synthetic biology and art, and apply the results to design. The research group has built 3-D printers capable of printing biological matter such as chitin, the material that composes the shells of crustaceans, and non-biological matter that takes cues from the natural world, including cement modeled off bone.

(From left) Oxman in her lab at MIT. Cell cultures.

3. Oxman grew up in Israel, in the city of Haifa, and her parents, Robert and Rivka, were well known in the design scene there, namely for their theoretical and computational work.

4. Oxman began her academic career as a pre-med student at the Hebrew University, before dropping out to attend the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology for two years. She then transferred to the Architectural Association, graduating in 2004. A year later, Oxman enrolled in the architecture PHD program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Materials in Oxman's lab.

5. In 2014, she designed prototypes for a clothing collection, titled “Wanderers.” The wearable avant-garde pieces were designed to hold microbes that could keep its user alive in hostile environments. She and her group at MIT later created three series of death masks in collaboration with 3D-printing company Stratasys that integrate data—including a map of an individual’s facial features, a heat map of his or her last breath, and the path the breath takes across his or her face—to create visually stunning designs.

6. Oxman has won 43 awards in total for her work, including the Cultural Leader award from the World Economic Forum in 2016, Earth Award for Future Crucial Design in 2009, The MIT Collier Medal in 2016, and the Vilcek Prize in Design, given to immigrants who’ve contributed to American society, in 2014.

Oxman with her experiments.

7. Oxman’s face was projected on the ceiling of Grand Central Station in September of 2017 when women of science and engineering were depicted as constellations rendered in LED lights as part of GE’s campaign to get young women thinking about careers in STEM. Other notable faces that appeared alongside Oxman included, Laurie Leshin, a geochemist who has spent time searching for life on Mars, and Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski, a quantum gravity researcher.

8. Oxman’s designs have been shown in institutions around the world, including the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and the Design Museum in London, among others.

3-D printed prototypes in Oxman's lab.
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