The Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, which has pioneered in uniquely combining the experimental technologies of neurobiology and neuroscience with the theoretical power of artificial intelligence and cognitive science, will become part of the MIT School of Science in a reorganization announced by Provost Mark S. Wrighton.
Professor Wrighton, the Institute's chief academic officer, said the shift will facilitate interactions between faculty in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and colleagues from the departments of the School of Science, enhancing the already interdisciplinary nature of education and research in brain and cognitive sciences.
The provost and Professor Robert L. Jaffe, the chair of the faculty, reported on the shift of the department at the October 20 faculty meeting.
The change, which has been under consideration for well over a year, came with the concurrence of the department's faculty, the provost said. Professor Jaffe said an ad hoc committee of the faculty, chaired by Professor Paul L. Penfield Jr., reviewed the process by which the decision was reached. Such review is called for in Policies and Procedures.
Dean Robert J. Birgeneau of the School of Science said the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences is an important addition to the School. There is currently a School of Science Committee on Opportunities in the Neurosciences, he said, which is assessing research frontiers in that field and developing recommendations for how the special strengths of the School of Science can be used to ensure MIT leadership in the field.
"This change will bring new opportunities for faculty in the School of Science to become more involved in this area," Dean Birgeneau said.
"I consider the brain to be one of the great frontiers of basic science and I hope that this administrative change will facilitate MIT's role as a leader in neuroscience research and education well into the next century."
The department will continue to be headed by Emilio Bizzi, MD, Eugene McDermott Professor in the Brain Sciences and Human Behavior. Dr. Bizzi's work on how the brain organizes and controls movement has been central to modern neuroscience.
"The human brain is the most complex, sophisticated and powerful information processing device known," Professor Bizzi said. "At MIT, we have a formidable blend of disciplines that are being brought to bear on the problem of understanding how this incredible organ operates. The department's new link with the School of Science will enhance the interdisciplinary research and education focus that is at the core of our activities."
The department's research and graduate education is in the fields of neurobiology, neuroscience, cognitive science and computation.
Research in the area of neurobiology focuses on the development of neural connectivity, on the molecular basis of behavior in simple neural circuits, and on neurochemistry.
In neuroscience, the main concerns are with vision, movement and endocrine regulation, with the scientific goals of understanding transduction and encoding of sensory stimuli, the organization and development of sensory-motor systems, and the effects of circulating compounds on brain composition and behavior.
In the area of cognitive science, interdisciplinary methods that include experimental studies, linguistic theory and computational modeling are used to characterize the origin, acquisition and processing of knowledge. Research also focuses on psycholinguistics, visual perception and cognition, concepts and reasoning and their development in children. Research on neurologically impaired patients is another important area of investigation.
In computation, the emphasis is on the interdisciplinary study of the brain as an information processor and computing device. Research fields include robotics and the control of movement, vision, learning by neural networks and knowledge-based perception and reasoning.
Professor Bizzi said the laboratories and offices of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences will remain in the same locations, largely in Buildings E25 and E10. There will be some relocations when the new biology building is completed in 1994, he said.
Remaining in Whitaker College, which is directed by Professor J. David Litster, vice president and dean for research at MIT, will be the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, the Clinical Research Center, the Division of Toxicology, the Division of Comparative Medicine and the Center for Environmental Health Sciences.
Whitaker College will continue to be MIT's interdisciplinary center for activities in education and research related to health sciences and technology. One new program is the speech and hearing program led by Professor Nelson Kiang under the aegis of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. It is likely that the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences will continue to use facilities and instrumentation in Whitaker College in executing its education and research mission.
A version of this article appeared in the October 27, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 11).