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Neuroscience events to mark brain and cog complex opening

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In association with the opening of its new brain and cognitive sciences complex on Dec. 2, MIT will explore the frontiers of cutting-edge neuroscience research in a variety of major events.

Hosted by the complex's primary occupants -- the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory -- these events will showcase MIT's efforts to address one of the great scientific challenges of the 21st century: the understanding of the human brain and mind.

Located near the corner of Main and Vassar streets, the new 411,000-square-foot brain and cognitive sciences complex -- the latest building to open as part of MIT's extensive new building program -- will be the largest neuroscience research center in the world.

The bold and elegant facilities -- the result of a collaboration between two firms -- reflect the extraordinary vision of the lead designer, Charles Correa, and the exceptional design of the laboratories and research spaces by Goody, Clancy and Associates. The complex will house more than 40 faculty and their research groups, and will feature a 90-foot-high atrium, wet and dry research and teaching laboratories, an advanced imaging facility, and even a live freight-rail line that runs directly through the bottom floors of the building.

The brain and cognitive sciences complex is situated across from the new Frank Gehry-designed Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences, in an area of the campus that is fast becoming a meeting ground for multidisciplinary innovation and collaboration.

"MIT's new neuroscience complex helps to anchor a burgeoning new research community at the northeast corner of the MIT campus that is bringing together computer scientists, life scientists, linguists, philosophers and engineers," commented MIT President Susan Hockfield. "This unique collection of labs and centers, including the Broad and Whitehead Institutes, the Center for Cancer Research, and the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, is already generating a torrent of new collaborations, insights and research findings, some of which will be on display at events this fall."

"The study of the brain and its disorders is a scientific challenge that is in a tremendous period of growth," commented MIT Dean of Science Robert J. Silbey. "This sophisticated building makes it possible to do highly specialized, cutting-edge research, using the techniques of molecular biology and finer and finer imaging to solve many of the problems that have been impossible to address before."

The McGovern Institute will kick off the festivities on Friday, Nov. 4, with a gala marking the formal opening of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. The theme of the celebration is neuroscience and society, a topic of particular significance to donors Lore Harp McGovern and Patrick J. McGovern Jr., MIT Class of 1959. The McGoverns founded the institute with the largest donation ever made to MIT in the hopes that neuroscience research could play a leading role in improving the quality of human life and the capability of human beings to acquire knowledge and use it effectively.

Speakers at the Nov. 4 event will include Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), television host and author Jane Pauley, Nobel laureate Dr. Eric Kandel, and Robert M. Metcalfe, MIT Class of 1968 and the inventor of the Ethernet. As leaders in their own fields, each speaker will bring a unique perspective to the day's discussion, which will focus on the future impact of neuroscience research on society. Talks will touch on a range of subjects -- from new treatments for brain disorders to education to the development of new technologies and industries. Dinner guests will hear from Alan Leshner, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest scientific society.

Next, on Thursday, Dec. 1, the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, named in honor of Barbara and Jeffry Picower, whose foundation gave the single largest gift ever from a private foundation to MIT, will celebrate its formal opening with a major scientific symposium titled "The Future of the Brain." Moderated by Ira Flatow of National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation," the symposium will focus on the future of neuroscience research and will feature talks by five Nobel laureates, including Susumu Tonegawa, director of the Picower Institute, and James D. Watson, chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

The symposium will look at the impact of learning and memory research on human health and at the relationship between the human brain and the mind. Christoph Koch will speak on the biological basis of consciousness,
Alexander Shulgin, a synthetic chemist who has done research in the area of psychedelic drugs, will address the resident complexity and creativity in the brain, and philosopher Patricia Churchland will speak to the relationship between philosophic inquiry and brain research. President Hockfield, a neuroscientist herself, will open the day's discussion, and noted author Dr. Oliver Sacks will be the featured dinner speaker.

The next day -- Friday, Dec. 2 -- the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences will host a morning symposium to mark the 40th anniversary of its graduate program. Four noted neuroscientists and cognitive scientists with ties to the department will speak on a variety of topics reflecting the breadth of MIT's research and training. Moderated by Department Chair Mriganka Sur, this morning symposium, titled "Looking Back, Looking Forward: Shaping Neuroscience and Cognitive Science," will provide an overview of the intellectual framework of the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department and will highlight its many contributions to the study of the brain and the mind.

The formal dedication of the brain and cognitive sciences complex will follow on the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 2, marking the official opening of the new facility.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 19, 2005 (download PDF).

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