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Article: MIT pools its brain power

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  • Robert Karl Stonjek
    Amy Schneider, an associate at MIT s new McGovern Institute, worked in the Teuber Library, overlooking Cambridge. (Wendy Maeda/ Globe Staff) MIT pools its
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 30, 2005
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      Amy Schneider, an associate at MIT’s new McGovern Institute, worked in the Teuber Library, overlooking Cambridge.
      Amy Schneider, an associate at MITÂ’s new McGovern Institute, worked in the Teuber Library, overlooking Cambridge. (Wendy Maeda/ Globe Staff)

      MIT pools its brain power

      United under a roof, neuroscientists seek breakthroughs

      By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff  |  November 30, 2005

      On Friday, MIT plans to dedicate what it bills as the largest collection of brain scientists under one roof in the world.

      The new 411,000-square-foot building of limestone and glass, the largest research building on campus, stands on what must already be one of the brainiest corners in the world: at Vassar and Main streets in Cambridge. Its neighbors include the genetics powerhouse of the Broad Institute, the engineering might of the computer science department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the start-up energy of the 150 or so biotech companies in Kendall Square.

      So close to one another and to such neighbors, researchers in the $175 million Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex say they will have the opportunity to collaborate in ways that promise progress on some of the thorniest problems of neuroscience, from the nature of consciousness to the origins of schizophrenia and autism.

      ''Geography is destiny, after all," said neuroscience professor Earl K. Miller. The building, he said, will bring together researchers who attack the brain at radically different levels, from those who study molecules to those who study memory. ''The next leap forward in understanding the brain will come from coordinated efforts" across that spectrum, he said.

      Take autism, said Mriganka Sur, head of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences: The disorder is complex, both in its genes and its symptoms. Genetically, it appears to depend on small effects from many genes, and such complex diseases are ''the hardest ones to crack," Sur said. But ''we think we can crack them in this building, because of the expertise that exists."

      Or take lying, said Susumu Tonegawa, director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, which will occupy the building along with Sur's department and the new McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

      Some day, he said, a device the size of a Red Sox cap will be able to read out and analyze data from billions of neurons so quickly that it will be possible to tell whether the person wearing it is lying.

      But to develop such tools, you need ''young, brilliant engineers and physicists who are interested in totally new technology for noninvasive brain imaging," he said. ''We want to promote the interaction of neuroscientists with engineers and physicists."

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      Robert Karl Stonjek (Thanks Gene Johnson)
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