MIT’s Brains on Brains

  • Feature Story

MIT’s Brains on Brains

by 

BCS
President Rafael Reif greets Paul Newton

A day exploring the minds and research of building 46

One of the many exciting aspects of working in neuroscience or cognitive science is the fascination that our fields hold for our colleagues in nearly every part of academia, as well as the general public.  Since becoming Department Head, I have received many inquiries from researchers, journalists, and others looking to understand the cutting edge of brain research, with an expectation that it will inform or inspire their own work.

That widespread interest was in evidence at our “A Day with MIT’s Brains On Brains” event this past spring, when 200+ MIT community-members joined us in Building 46 for a full day of presentations.  I gave an introductory talk entitled “Why Study the Brain?”,  though most of our audience already seemed convinced of the value of our work.  In this issue of our newsletter, you’ll find a recap of that event along with a link to online videos of the talks— I highly encourage you to check them out.

One of the reasons for the widespread interest is a sense that we are entering a key moment for our field, a period in which powerful new technologies are allowing neuroscientists and cognitive scientists to join forces with computer scientists and engineers to accelerate progress on a monumental human endeavor: reverse-engineering the brain.  This fall, MIT launched two new interdisciplinary centers, spearheaded by BCS faculty members representing major steps forward in that synergy.  In this issue, we are excited to introduce you to both the Center for Neurobiological Engineering and the Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines.

One of the best ways we can prepare for a potentially bright future is by insuring that our students are prepared to lead it.  In this issue we’ll summarize some changes we are making to our undergraduate curriculum.  They include a new introductory class that will give our students a strong foundation in computational and quantitative approaches to neuroscience, along with a commitment to build on those skills in our intermediate classes.   These changes are the culmination of several years of discussion with our students and alumni and planning by our faculty and staff, so I am very excited to see them roll out.  Not only will they allow us to continue to meet our students’ expectation of a world-class education, but they will keep our department at the center of a field whose potential is evident to so many at MIT and throughout the world.