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Neuroscience Professor Named New Picower Institute Director

By Swetha Kambhampati

Brain and Cognitive Sciences Professor Mark Bear was appointed director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory on Jan. 1. He succeeds Biology Professor Susumu Tonegawa, who stepped down as director at the end of last year after serving 12 years.

Bear will serve a one-year term as MIT searches for a permanent director, according to the MIT News Office.

Bear said that his first goal is to launch the Center for Neural Circuit Genetics, a new initiative that will focus on ways to study the contributions of specific neurons to brain function.

Another major goal is to secure “venture funding” for all PILM laboratories with priority given to faculty early in their careers.

There has been tension between PILM’s former director Tonegawa and other MIT faculty over the failed recruitment of a young female scientist to the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, another neuroscience group at MIT. A report investigating the controversy criticized the competitive relationship between the research groups.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned and incorporated from the recent report investigating the neurosciences at MIT, Bear said. The investigative committee is planning to release a modified version of the report.

Bear said that he hopes to improve communication and collaboration between the departments and research centers. “The success of McGovern is necessary for Picower, and vice versa,” Bear said. “We have already started collaborating in research projects and we hope to continue that in the future.”

Dean of Science Robert J. Silbey consulted with the neuroscience faculty to determine the new director. “We are very proud and happy to have Professor Bear as our next director,” Silbey said. “He is a well-known scientist, fine teacher, and has all the personal skills it takes to be the leader.”

“I’m honored,” Bear said. “Now I know what Harry Truman felt after Roosevelt died. Suddenly you’re thrust into a position of great responsibility and expectation.”

Bear, a Howard Hughes investigator, was a professor at the Brown University School of Medicine for 17 years prior to coming to MIT. He has written a number of books, including a popular introductory neuroscience textbook.