History + Timeline

History + Timeline

The predecessor to today’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) was formed in 1964 in response to what was at the time a revolutionary concept: that the study of the brain and the mind are as intertwined as the mechanics of the brain itself. 

BCS was founded as the Department of Psychology by Professor Hans-Lukas Teuber, one of the founders of neuropsychology. Teuber came to MIT in 1960 to lead the psychology section of the Department of Economics. Teuber’s vision – that to understand questions of the mind, we must study the brain – was revolutionary at the time. But this concept drives the field today.

Professor Richard Held followed Teuber as department head. During his tenure we became the Department of Psychology and Brain Science, underscoring the breadth of our work and our commitment to the neurosciences. Under Professor Emilio Bizzi, whose leadership began in 1986, the Department merged with the neuroscience program of the Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology. Our research efforts intensified beginning in the late 1980s, and in 1993 we became the newest member of MIT’s School of Science, joining the departments of BiologyChemistryEarth, Atmospheric, and Planetary SciencesMathematics, and Physics.

Professor Mriganka Sur became department head in 1997, and the following decade marked a time of great expansion in key research areas, including molecular neuroscience and brain imaging. The establishment of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research in 2000 and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory in 2002 solidified our position as a leader in the areas of brain and cognitive sciences. In 2005, McGovern, Picower, and the Department came together under one roof for the first time.

In 2012, Professor Jim DiCarlo took over as department head fior the next nine years. Under his watch, DiCarlo oversaw significant progress in the department’s scientific and educational endeavors. While strengthening the department’s foundations in cognitive, systems, and cellular and molecular brain science, DiCarlo developed a new departmental emphasis in computation, deepening BCS’s ties with the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing and other MIT units such as the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines. He also developed and led an NIH-funded graduate training program in computationally-enabled integrative neuroscience. DiCarlo also worked to build a more open, connected, and supportive culture across the entire BCS community in Building 46, launching important initiatives in mentoring and DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice). In december, 2020 DiCarlo announceds that he was stepping aside as department head to become director of the MIT Quest for Intelligence

Michale Fee, who had served since 2012 as associate department head for education, was appointed department head in May 2021.

timeline

1964

1964

Hans-Lukas Teuber establishes the Department of Psychology. Teuber, an influential neuropsychologist, had been brought to MIT in 1960 as Psychology Section Head with a mandate to establish the department. 

1975

1975

Gerald Schneider proposes the existence of “two visual systems” or parallel pathways for visual processing in the brain.

1982

1982

Published posthumously, David Marr's Vision: A computational investigation into the human representation and processing of visual information establishes a computational approach to studying the brain and helps create the field of computational neuroscience.

1984

1984

Emilio Bizzi proposes the “equilibrium point” hypothesis for controlling the movement of limbs.

1985

1985

Ann Graybiel describes the modular organization of brain centers that control movement.

Building 46 Opens

2005

Building 46 opens, bringing together almost all of MIT's brain science faculty under one roof. At 411,000 square feet, it is the largest neuroscience research facility in the world. The design, by lead designer Charles Correa, features a 90-foot atrium. 

Dicarlo named Department Head

2012

James Dicarlo is appointed Department Head. He succeeds Mriganka Sur, who becomes director of the new Simons Center for the Social Brain. Dicarlo's research aims to build a systematic, quantitative understanding of the neuronal computations that underlie object recognition in the visual system. 

Expansion microscopy

2015

Ed Boyden leads a team that discovers that it is possible to physically enlarge biological specimens while preserving the spatial relationships of biological molecules. The technique, known as expansion microscopy, enables inexpensive nanoscale imaging.

Fee Becomes Department Head

2021

Michale Fee is named department head, succeeding James Dicarlo, who stepped aside as head to become director of the MIT Quest for Intelligence. Fee had served since 2012 as associate department head for education, overseeing major academic projects including the launch of Course 6-9, Computation and Cognition, in partnership with EECS. His research explores the neural mechanisms by which the brain learns complex sequential behaviors, using the learning of song by juvenile zebra finches as a model.