MacGregor freshman found dead

Satto Tonegawa, son of MIT Nobel laureate, is 2nd death of term

4360 tonegawa
Satto Tonegawa ’15.

Satto Tonegawa ’15 was found dead in his MacGregor dormitory room Tuesday evening.

Tonegawa, the son of MIT professor and Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa, was discovered shortly after 5 p.m. by MIT police in his J-entry room. Tonegawa had not been seen for a week and an odor was noticed near his room.

Tonegawa lived in Chestnut Hill, M.A., about 6 miles from MIT.

There is no reason to suspect foul play, the MIT News Office has reported.

“This is a very sad situation, and the entire MIT community shares a deep sense of loss and grief,” said Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 in a statement on the MIT News Office’s website. “Our thoughts go out to the family, friends, classmates and dormmates of Satto, as well as to the graduate resident tutors, housemasters and others in the student-life system who knew and worked with Satto.”

“Students should look out for their neighbors right now,” said Undergraduate Association President Allan E. Miramonti ’13. “Random acts of kindness can go a long way.”

Tonegawa is the second MIT student to have died in less than two months. Nicolas E. Del Castillo, a sophomore, was found dead in his East Campus dormitory room on Sept. 4 in an apparent suicide.

As is protocol in the case of a sudden death, Massachusetts State Police and the Middlesex County District Attorney have begun an investigation into Tonegawa’s death. The MIT News Office says they do not know how long the investigation will take.

Tonegawa was an avid musician, playing both piano and cello. He attended the Milton Academy before coming to MIT this fall, according to the Academy’s website, and graduated cum laude. Like his father, Tonegawa had an interest in the life sciences — he worked in the Orr-Weaver lab at the Whitehead Institute as a high-school student.

Prof. Tonegawa, recipient of the 1987 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, is a controversial figure. In 2006, Tonegawa resigned as director of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory after an investigation found he had inappropriately discouraged neuroscientist Alla Y. Karpova from taking a job at MIT because their research interests overlapped. Prof. Tonegawa was in Japan when he was alerted to his son’s death, the Mainichi Daily News reported, but has since returned to the U.S.

News of Tonegawa’s death traveled quickly through Facebook, said Anne Michelle T. Juan ’12. As of last night, The Tech’s web update on Tonegawa’s death had been shared nearly 150 times.

It was “shocking to me that he was a freshman,” said Bonny Jain ’14, who said that was also the general sentiment among his friends.

Hidde Tonegawa ’09, Susumu’s other son, graduated from MIT in 2009 and majored in Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

“It’s very difficult,” Hidde told the Boston Globe on Wednesday. “Everyone’s still in shock.”

Members of the community who feel affected by this death are encouraged to contact Mental Health Services at 617-253-2916, or talk to their housemasters or GRTs.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

So is the presumption suicide? (versus say... alcohol poisoning?)

Anonymous over 11 years ago

They haven't announced anything yet, so it would be wrong to assume that it was suicide. While rare, it is possible for young people to die of undiagnosed heart conditions or other medical conditions.

Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

Even if it wasn't suicide, how does no one notice he is missing for one week? And even then, all that was noticed was the odor, not that he hadn't been seen or communicated with?? I think regardless of the cause of death, MIT needs to address this clear lack of community.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

3 - The community here is wonderful and strong, but it is something a student must choose to take part of.

Omri over 11 years ago

"3 - The community here is wonderful and strong, but it is something a student must choose to take part of."

I'm sorry, but those students who DON'T choose to open their door and be part of events around then, THEY are the ones who need the community's help. Tonegawa's death is evidence prima facie that the community is not strong at all.

Anonymous over 11 years ago

5 - What kind of system are you advocating?

There are plenty of students perfectly content to not socialize, as they would rather study or read or code. There are students in emotional distress who do socialize. Being uninterested in spending time with those around you is neither a clear indicator of depression nor does depression always result in social withdrawal.

The idea that one death is proof that the community is "not strong at all" sounds ridiculous to me, so I'd like to hear you elaborate.