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Sharp Shares Plan For Research Center


At an informal information session yesterday afternoon, Institute Professor and Nobel Laureate Phillip A. Sharp unveiled his vision as director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

Founded in February 2000 with a $350 million donation by Lore Harp McGovern and Patrick J. McGovern ’60, the McGovern Institute will serve to concentrate MIT’s neuroscience resources.

While the Institute has yet to break ground for its new facility, six of 16 research appointments have been made in what Sharp anticipates will be “a magnificent expansion of neuroscience research here at MIT.”

The McGovern Institute’s charter says it will be the new home to 16 leading research scientists and full-time MIT faculty members working in three interrelated areas: systems and computational neuroscience, imaging and cognitive neuroscience, and genetic and cellular neuroscience.

Professors of Brain and Cognitive Science Thomaso Poggio, Ann M. Graybiel PhD ’71, Emilio Bizzi and Nancy Kanwisher ’80 and Assistant Professor James DiCarlo of MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences have all been appointed as McGovern investigators. MIT’s Department of Biology is represented at the McGovern Institute by Professors Martha Constantine-Paton, H. Robert Horvitz ’68, and Sharp, who in 1993 received the Nobel Prize for his work in the field of genetics. The recruitment process for the remaining 10 spots continues.

The diversity of backgrounds of the principal investigators reflects what Constantine-Paton described as an “exciting collaborative approach” to a comprehensive study of the brain.

While part of MIT, the McGovern Institute will have its own nine-member board of directors.

Main/Albany chosen for facility

The McGovern Institute will share 85,000 square feet of space with the Center for Learning and Memory, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Martinos Imaging Center in a new neuroscience complex to be built on MIT’s campus at the corner of Albany and Main Streets. The complex has been designed to maximize collaboration and is set to open at the end of 2004 at the earliest. Though the facility will serve mainly house the workspace for faculty researchers, Sharp said “it will definitely be undergrad-friendly.”

Center to help build field

“Neuroscience at MIT has been a strong department with a long tradition. But as this frontier field continues to expand we are finding that we are sub-critical in terms of the number of faculty researchers,” Sharp said. Sharp hopes that the McGovern Institute will attract leading scientists who may benefit from the additional funding.

Constantine-Paton, who studies the central nervous system at the cellular level, came to MIT from Yale University, where she said little effort was made to bring the faculty together across a large specialized department.

“These days, no one person can be the expert, and standard funding agencies will not fund you until you have proven what your research is meant to prove,” she said. Constantine-Paton thinks that the McGovern Institute will address both of these issues and encourage the research of young ideas.