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 Biology; Chemistry; Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences; Mathematics, 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.