A Message from the Department Head Jim DiCarlo

  • Message from the Head

A Message from the Department Head Jim DiCarlo

When Hans-Lukas Teuber founded the Department of Psychology at MIT in 1960, his vision—to understand questions of the mind, we must study the brain—was a vision for the future. Under the wise stewardship of successive departmental leaders, that idea has advanced into our core research mission, to reverse engineer the mechanisms of the mind. And the driving force behind that mission is our vibrant BCS community of faculty, staff, and students.

Our mission is built upon a foundation of basic science, which means that the knowledge we seek will have world-changing impact in many unexpected ways. With this in mind, we are also motivated by how we will almost certainly affect human lives as we approach our goal. These include the amelioration of disorders of the mind, next-generation artificial intelligence to empower us, and transformative ways of educating our children and ourselves. In this issue, we highlight two centers within the BCS community that are working at the ground level to further progress on two of these areas

The Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines (CBMM) has been a key driver to bring the engineering and computation part of our reverse-engineering mission in contact with the science part of our mission. Funded by the NSF, it has yielded important insights in how neuroscience can further our efforts to solve intelligence since it was founded five years ago. CBMM will continue to play a key role in advancing MIT’s commitment to invest in artificial intelligence research, along with our new industry partner IBM. 

The Simons Center for the Social Brain (SCSB) is one of several key initiatives both within and beyond the BCS community to support research and provide education around disorders of the mind.  Others include new Yang Center for Autism Research led by the in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the Aging Brain Initiative led by the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.  SCSB has led the way, has had a remarkable impact on the BCS community mission over the past five years, and was recently renewed for its second phase.   You can read more about both SCSB and CBMM in this newsletter.

We are also thrilled to welcome Mike Halassa on board as a new assistant professor in BCS. A former BCS postdoctoral researcher, he returns to us from New York University, where he spent the last three years as a faculty member studying the mechanisms of cognitive functions like attention, executive function, and working memory. As a practicing psychiatrist, he brings a unique clinical perspective to his research approach, and will be a fabulous bridge between multiple areas of BCS community research and education.

The BCS community is not only building the future through its research today, it is also building the future by training the next generation of science and industry leaders.  There are so many remarkable stories among our students and postdocs — far too many to tell in one newsletter.  In this issue, we introduce you to junior Madison Darmofal, a UROP student working with BCS Professor and MIBR Investigator Guoping Feng and members of his laboratory.  Looking more broadly, the interest of MIT undergraduates such as Madison in doing research in BCS Community laboratories continues to grow and inspire, and such on-the-ground efforts and dedication of students, postdocs and staff is the key driver of our success.  I am deeply honored and humbled to be part of this amazing community.

James J. DiCarlo, MD, PhD
Peter de Florez Professor of Neuroscience
Head, Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences