Remembering Michael Cohen (1992-2017)

Michael B. Cohen ’14, SM ’16, a doctoral student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), passed away due to natural causes in the end of September. On Monday, Daniela Rus, Director of CSAIL, notified her community in an email, that Cohen’s family informed her of his death.

Cohen was passionate towards mathematics and the theoretical foundations of computing. He was visiting the University of California at Berkeley, where he had gone to meet with colleagues at the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing when he passed away. The incredibly talented Cohen first came to MIT as an undergraduate student and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 2014 and later went on to pursue a graduate degree in computer science. He skipped his sophomore year at MIT to work at Facebook. He was also a member of CSAIL.

According to MIT News, Cameron Musco, a doctoral student who worked in the same lab as Cohen and co-authored many papers with him, wrote, “It was impossible to ignore his energy, wonder, and excitement for research, current events, and everything in between.” Musco also said that Cohen was “always … surrounded by a group of friends happy to banter or simply to listen. He was a natural teacher — truly kind, humble, welcoming, positive, and always willing to slow his thoughts for a moment to share his brilliance.”

Cohen also worked at Microsoft Research, last summer. Sébastien Bubeck, a researcher in the Theory Group at Microsoft Research and Cohen’s colleague, included the MSR statement on Cohen’s death in one of his blogs. According to the statement, Cohen made “sweeping progress in online learning and online algorithms, two fields he had just recently become acquainted with.” His teammates at Microsoft mentioned that in addition to solving five open problems in online learning and online algorithms, he continued his substantial progress on the k-server problem, one of the most difficult challenges in the space of adaptive algorithms.

James R. Lee, a professor of computer science at University of Washington, said, “His mind was always going at 100 mph, so it was remarkable that he didn’t miss a beat in calibrating (i.e., slowing down) for an audience (or for those who did not know him).”

The MIT community offers its heartfelt condolences and loving support to Michael’s family and friends during this difficult time.  

Anyone who wishes to make a contribution in Cohen’s name could donate to, a charity he admired that provides money to individuals in extreme poverty in Kenya and Uganda.

Members of the MIT community can access MIT student support resources and Mental Health Services at, or via phone at 617-253-2916 during the day and at 617-253-4481 during nights and weekends.