About BCS / History

The Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences was founded by Hans-Lukas Teuber in 1964 as the Department of Psychology with the then-radical vision that the study of brain and mind are inseparable. Teuber came to MIT to head the existing psychology section within the Department of Economics, where faculty members Peter Schiller and Stephan Chorover were beginning a graduate-level neuropsychological research and training program focused on the study of learning, memory, and perception through animal experiments.

The department's evolution from 1964 to today can be charted through four phases. The first phase started with Teuber and continued under Richard Held's leadership through the mid-80's, during which the department became the Department of Psychology and Brain Science, reflecting its growing attention to neuroscience. In the second phase, beginning in 1986 under the leadership of Emilio Bizzi, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences was formed through the merger of the department with the neuroscience program of the Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology. In 1993, the department became the newest member of MIT's School of Science, joining the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Mathematics and Physics.

The third phase commenced under the leadership of Mriganka Sur in 1998, and was marked by consolidation of the department's existing strengths together with expansion of key research areas, including molecular neuroscience and brain imaging. Two new neuroscience centers were envisioned and founded - the McGovern Institute for Brain Research in 2000, and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory in 2002. A significant number of BCS faculty are investigators in one of these centers; in turn, new faculty members recruited through the centers have expanded the BCS roster significantly. The department, as well as the two centers, moved into a new building during the fall of 2005.

During the spring of 2012, Sur stepped down as head of the department, becoming the first director of the newly created Simons Center for the Social Brain. Jim DiCarlo took over leadership, committing to the vision that the department must build strong community ties between faculty, staff, students and postdocs as it leads the world in developing a fundamental understanding of how neuronal cellular and circuit mechanisms give rise to behavior and cognition.

Envisioned from the outset as an interdisciplinary department, BCS has continued to shape the frontiers of the rapidly evolving fields of molecular and cellular neuroscience, systems neuroscience, cognitive science, computation, and cognitive neuroscience. Today, at a time of increasing specialization and fragmentation, the department remains committed to its original goal of studying and understanding cognitive processes and brain mechanisms at multiple levels of analysis. All of these initiatives are in keeping with the ambition of BCS and of MIT to be a world leader in the study of the brain and mind.

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