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McGovern Institute names Robert Desimone as next director

Robert Desimone
Robert Desimone

The McGovern Institute at MIT, a leading research and teaching institute committed to advancing the understanding of the human mind and communications, announced Sept. 20 the selection of Robert Desimone as the next director, pending approval of his appointment as a tenured member of the MIT faculty. Desimone is currently the scientific director of the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Desimone will succeed founding director Phillip A. Sharp, a Nobel laureate and professor of biology. Sharp, who has led the McGovern Institute since it was established in 2000, has been responsible for the establishment of its world-renowned faculty and its groundbreaking work in the investigation and understanding of the systems and processes underlying human cognition.

"I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that I have had to oversee the creation of this important institute and to work with its investigators, who represent some of the most distinguished scientists working in the field of neuroscience today," Sharp said. "Bob is a wonderful scientist and leader and we are very proud that he has accepted the directorship of the McGovern Institute. His vision will lead the institute in the ultimate scientific adventure, understanding the human brain."

"Phil Sharp has been an outstanding leader of the McGovern Institute since its inception," said Provost Robert A. Brown. "He put in place the foundations of the institute and its investigators, and has led the development of a major new facility to house the McGovern Institute. We look forward to the continued scientific contributions of McGovern investigators and their collaborators under Dr. Desimone's leadership,"

An internationally known neuropsychologist whose own research explores the brain mechanisms underlying attention, memory and executive control, Desimone has for the past six years been director of the NIMH Intramural Research Program, the largest mental health research center in the world.

"We have arrived at a time when the rapidly advancing field of neuroscience can bring real benefits to human health and welfare, fulfilling Pat and Lore McGovern's dream for the institute," said Desimone. "I am honored by the opportunity to lead this effort at MIT, which has world-class faculty and students working not only in neuroscience, but in so many of the related fields that will play an essential role in this effort, including engineering, computation, genetics, biology, and cognitive science."

The creation of the institute was made possible by the vision and generosity of Lore Harp McGovern and Patrick J. McGovern (Class of 1959), whose pledge of $350 million is one of the largest philanthropic gifts in the history of higher education.

Desimone received his B.A. from Macalester College and his Ph.D. from Princeton University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a recipient of numerous awards, including the Troland Prize of the National Academy of Sciences and the Golden Brain Award of the Minerva Foundation.

The McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT is a research and teaching institute committed to advancing human understanding and communications. Its goal is to investigate and ultimately understand the biological basis of all higher brain function in humans. The McGovern Institute conducts integrated research in neuroscience, genetic and cellular neurobiology, cognitive science, computation, and related areas.

By determining how the brain works, from the level of gene expression in individual neurons to the interrelationships between complex neural networks, the McGovern Institute's efforts work to improve human health, discover the basis of learning and recognition, and enhance education and communication. The McGovern Institute contributes to the most basic knowledge of the fundamental mysteries of human awareness, decisions, and actions.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 22, 2004 (download PDF).

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