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MIT opens world's largest neuroscience research center

On Friday afternoon, Dec. 2, MIT officially opened the new Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex (BCS), the largest neuroscience research center in the world. The complex will advance 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 complex is the latest building to open as part of MIT's extensive new building program. It will house three primary occupants: the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, as well as the Athinoula A. Martinos Imaging Center.

"For the first time in history, we now possess the research tools to fully understand the complexities of human consciousness and to find cures for diseases like Alzheimer's and autism," commented MIT President Susan Hockfield. "These spectacular new facilities will allow MIT scientists to take advantage of the intellectual opportunities offered by new technologies and to realize the full promise of neuroscience for human health and behavior."

The new complex is a finely calibrated machine for scientific activity. The state-of-the-art facilities, built around a soaring five-story atrium, include wet and dry labs for molecular, cognitive and systems neuroscience, the imaging center with fMRIs, classrooms, offices, seminar rooms and a large auditorium.

Bold and elegant in its design, the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex was born of a collaboration between two architecture firms and reflects the extraordinary vision of the lead designer, Charles Correa, and the exceptional design of laboratories and research spaces by Goody, Clancy and Associates.

"Every place has its own soil, its own culture," commented Charles Correa. "And the culture of MIT is that of science; that is to say, the gravitas of science. This is the crucial territory that I knew this project must reclaim."

The architects faced a variety of design challenges. A live rail line runs right through the narrow, triangular building and needed to be incorporated into the building design. This was the impetus behind one of the key features of the complex -- a soaring 90-foot-high daylit atrium. The design approach also needed to satisfy the building's three major entities, each seeking its own identity and its own entrance.

The end result is a luminous limestone and glass structure, serene and elegant in tone, with a sun-drenched interior urban plaza, giant bamboo plants towering over hallways and sidewalks, and windows that reveal or reflect the surrounding urban landscape.

The complex is designed to bring scientists from disparate backgrounds together, and to encourage chance encounters and conversations that may lead to new ideas. "If there's a single theme for the building, it would be fostering interaction, and thus the creation of a scientific community," commented Roger Goldstein (S.B. '74, M.AR. '76) of Goody, Clancy.

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 in biotech and the life sciences. The Broad and Whitehead Institutes, MIT's Biology Department and Center for Cancer Research, and the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research are across the street, and there are more than 150 biotech companies within walking distance.

"BCS scientists are next door to computer scientists, electrical engineers, philosophers and linguists, and just down the street from the genome center, the biology building and other biological centers, all of whom have interest in the general questions being asked," commented Dean of Science Robert Silbey.

"Proximity and buildings matter a great deal in science" said Mriganka Sur, head of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. "We expect that [the BCS Complex] will expand the imagination of our students and researchers by allowing them easy access to other ways and levels and scales of thinking and knowing. And we believe that the building Charles Correa has designed for us, with its soaring spaces and light, will allow our imaginations to soar as well."

The Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex was dedicated on the afternoon of Friday, December 2, in a ceremony hosted by MIT President Susan Hockfield. A reception for the community followed.

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