Events Celebrate Research and Donor Impact on BCS Community

  • Feature Story

Events Celebrate Research and Donor Impact on BCS Community

by 

Amanda O’Neill
Donors Jim and Muguette Alder met the Brain Fellow they support, Anthony Martorell (center) at the Champions of the Brain Fellows event in October.

During the spring 2017 semester, BCS hosted its biennial symposium, A Day with MIT’s Brains on Brains, which showcases the various research initiatives that the members of the BCS community are working towards.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif welcomed attendees to the event, followed by Department Head Jim DiCarlo, who provided an overview about why we study the brain.

“Connecting the physical mechanisms of the brain to the mental states of what we call the mind is what our department is all about” said DiCarlo.

After hearing from Li-Huei Tsai, Director of The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and Robert Desimone, the Director of McGovern Center for Brain Research, guests enjoyed talks on brain disorders, reverse-engineering the mind, and a new non-invasive way to potentially treat Alzheimer’s disease.

During lunch time, attendees sat at faculty-hosted tables around themes such as cognition, autism, intelligence, and memory. Guests enjoyed the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the issues and ideas from the morning talks. This year featured a new series of lightning talks from graduate students and post docs. These were short, five-minute presentations moderated by a member of the faculty around four themes: Intelligence and Cognitive Computing; Tools and Technologies; Science of Education; and Disorders of the Mind.

Postdoctoral associate Caroline Robertson and graduate students Dheeraj Roy'17, Tobias Kaiser and Amanda Vernon discuss their research during the "Disorders of the Mind" lightninght talk. Photo credit: Bryce Vickmark Photography

Postdoctoral associate Caroline Robertson and graduate students Dheeraj Roy'17, Tobias Kaiser and Amanda Vernon discuss their research during the "Disorders of the Mind" lightning talk. Photo credit: Bryce Vickmark Photography.

The day concluded with remarks by Jim ’58 Simons, who spoke spoke about his personal philanthropic journey and the decision he and his wife Marilyn made to support discovery-based science.

On October 18, 2017, BCS held its fourth annual Champions of the Brain Fellows. The event celebrates BCS graduate students and those champions who make it possible for students to explore their scientific dreams and to drive the department’s exciting research.

DiCarlo provided opening remarks for the dinner, detailing the importance of fellowship support to attracting the top students and faculty. He discussed how students connect labs across the department and foster collaboration.

“The students are driving our quest in understanding how the brain gives rise to the mind, and they are the reason that we are leaders in the field,” said DiCarlo.

The night continued with dinner and talks by three current graduate students and fellows. Heather Kosakowski, a first-year student in the Kanwisher and Saxe labs, spoke about how she uses fMRI in infants to study cortical specialization for speech perception and vision. The second speaker, Karen Cruz, a third-year student in Professor Mriganka Sur’s lab, spoke about her project studying economic approaches in the rodent brain in an effort to understand why decision-making changes in social settings. The final student speaker of the night was Anthony Martorell, a third-year student in Professor Li-Huei Tsai’s lab, who discussed his work investigating the therapeutic effects of non-invasive gamma auditory stimuli on Alzheimer’s disease.

The evening concluded with remarks from Barrie R. Zesiger HM, MIT Corporation Life Member and the founding Champion of the Brain Fellows. Zesiger discussed the impact of supporting neuroscience research through the next generation of scientists. She also encouraged continued involvement and support from the audience.

The annual Champions of the Brain Fellows honors those donors who commit $70,000 or more through an endowed, expendable, or corporate gift to support graduate students at the forefront of cutting-edge research in BCS. 

To learn more about supporting BCS, visit bcs.mit.edu/give-bcs.