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Alum Gives $350M for Brain Research

By Frank Dabek

A new institute dedicated to brain research will open at MIT thanks to a donation of $350M by alumnus Patrick J. McGovern, Jr. ’59 and his wife Lore Harp McGovern.

The donation, to be distributed to MIT over 20 years and equivalent to approximately $200M in today’s dollars, tops the recent gift of $100 million by Kenan E. Sahin ’63 to become the largest donation ever to MIT.

Patrick McGovern, who graduated from MIT with a degree in the life sciences, said that his interest in the functioning of the brain goes back to his childhood. The present represents “the moment of opportunity” for brain research, he said.

“The tools are now available to make major advances,” he said referring to new advances such as magnetic resonance imaging of the brain and powerful computing resources.

President Charles M. Vest said at a signing ceremony yesterday that understanding the human mind is “the great adventure of the 21st century.”

Sharp to head new institute

Institute Professor Phillip A. Sharp has been chosen to head the new Institute.

Sixteen faculty members will work at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research (MIBR). Faculty appointments will be made in the interim period before the building housing them is built, Sharp said.

Sharp said that the new institute will benefit undergraduates and be “very much a part of the fabric of MIT.”

“UROPs will be doing research in labs, faculty will all hold academic appointments in the department where they will teach,” Sharp said.

The majority of the sixteen faculty will come from the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department, said Mriganka Sur, head of the department of BCS. Ten of the 16 faculty will be new hires.

Sur said that the institute will primarily “focus on systems neuroscience” but will reach out to “include computation and molecular, genetic, and cognitive sciences.”

The new center “represents a quantum leap for the department,” Sur said.

Building to be near Med Center

The construction of the 85,000 square foot McGovern Institute will add to MIT’s recent building spree.

Lydia S. Snover, assistant director for planning information, said that the new building will probably open by 2004 or 2005, and it will be located “on the east side of campus, close to the Medical Center.”

Finding a suitable location could be difficult given the city’s prevailing anti-development stance. The recent Larkin petition, for instance, prohibits such a large building from being constructed in a large area east of Main Street.

Planning officials are currently looking into “how big the building should be [and] how many faculty will be in building,” Snover said. The new structure “will have to be an efficient building, more like the Biology building than the Stata Center,” she said.

McGovern’s gift is independent of MIT’s ongoing 1.5 billion dollar capital campaign and is not tied to corporate research such as the recent Microsoft I-Campus project.

The gift bears “no direct relationship” to International Data Group, the computer publishing business that McGovern founded, he said. Indirectly, the center could aid the understanding of how the brain processes information and help the publishing company transmit information more effectively, he said.

MIT was chosen as the site of this new center in a selection process that considered a number of universities including Stanford, CalTech, and the University of California at Berkley. Schools submitted proposals which were evaluated by a committee.

McGovern said that he was “delighted that MIT, on its own merits,” presented the best proposal. He cited MIT’s excellence in the field of cognitive sciences and its cross-disciplinary environment as deciding factors.

McGovern’s gift will be presented to MIT as a series of $5M cash payments each year for twenty years. The payments will increase each year according to the Higher Education Cost Index, which, like the Consumer Price Index, tracks change in the cost of selected goods and services from year to year but is tailored to higher education.

In the twentieth year, McGovern will make a payment equal to 20 times the inflation adjusted payment for that year.

Naveen Sunkavally contributed to the reporting of this article