Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger announced Dec. 17 that Mortimer B. Zuckerman has pledged $200 million to endow a Mind Brain Behavior Institute to support interdisciplinary neuroscience research and discovery by scholars across the University. Later that morning, Zuckerman and Bollinger attended a university forum featuring the Institute’s founding co-directors, Thomas Jessell and Nobel laureates Richard Axel and Eric Kandel, to discuss plans for the Institute. They were joined at the announcement by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“This country has provided me with extraordinary opportunities, and I am glad for the chance to support scientific leadership in a field I believe is so essential to all our lives,” said Zuckerman. “With an inspiring team of neuroscientists at its core, Columbia’s Mind Brain Behavior Institute is not only researching vital questions about diseases of the brain, especially as we age, it is bringing together talented researchers across many academic fields to address the central questions we face as a society. At its root, this is an investment in accomplished scholars whose collective mission is both greater understanding of the human condition and the discovery of new cures for human suffering. I can hardly think of anything more important than that. I feel deeply privileged to participate in this path-finding venture.”
The Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute will build upon Columbia’s existing strengths in the biological and physical sciences, supplement its medical excellence, and coordinate its world-class neuroscience research communities on the Morningside Heights and Washington Heights campuses.
At its root, this is an investment in accomplished scholars whose collective mission is both greater understanding of the human condition and the discovery of new cures for human suffering.
“On behalf of the University, I want to express our gratitude to Mort Zuckerman for this historic gift and also acknowledge the profound responsibility we have to marshal these resources to expand our knowledge of the mind, brain and human behavior,” Bollinger said. “His vision and generosity will help ensure that Columbia will be home to an enduring community of great scholars pursuing scientific exploration of the brain and human behavior, where the scale and variety of research will touch upon virtually every area of human endeavor and understanding.”
The Institute’s academic leadership and many of its principal investigators will be located within the 450,000 square-foot Jerome L. Greene Science Center, now rising as the centerpiece of the University’s new Manhattanville campus. It will become the hub of cross-campus research on brain science, bringing together researchers from Columbia University Medical Center, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and other schools to collaborate on pioneering research in the neural sciences and a wide array of academic fields involving human behavior.
“Mort Zuckerman’s generous gift will fund research that will unlock the workings of neurological and psychiatric disorders, and help liberate humankind from the suffering they produce,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “And like the City’s support for new applied sciences institutes at Columbia and other campuses, it will keep New York at the forefront of the scientific research and development critical to our city’s economic future.”
The Zuckerman Institute will pursue cutting-edge research in neurobiology and deeper insights into human mental functions in both health and disease. A key goal will be facilitating translational programs focused on new therapies and potential cures for disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and Asperger’s, schizophrenia and mood disorders, memory loss, neurotrauma and stroke, decision making, theoretical neuroscience, sensory perception and neural stem cell biology.
“Mort Zuckerman’s vision, insight and commitment in supporting truly innovative science that probes the deep mysteries of brain and mind are quite remarkable,” said Jessell, Claire Tow Professor of Motor Neuron Disorders in the departments of neuroscience, biochemistry and molecular biophysics. “In essence it ensures the future success of the Mind Brain Behavior initiative and more generally will propel the field of brain science into a new and exciting phase of discovery and translational relevance.”
Interdisciplinary thinking represents a critical and distinctive element of the Zuckerman Institute. It will ultimately include an innovative mix of scientists and scholars from such fields as statistics, mathematics, structural biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, psychiatry, engineering, law, business, political science and economics. It will link the neural sciences with academic programs in areas stretching across the humanities and the arts on all campuses.
“Mort Zuckerman’s extraordinary gift places Columbia in a position to produce a paradigm shift in how brain science is practiced by connecting to the many facets of the academic enterprise that are concerned with mind and behavior including, law, economic decision making, sociology, psychology and art,” said Kandel, University Professor and Kavli Professor of Brain Science. “As Lee Bollinger has said, brain science is central to the academic enterprise because in a sense everyone at the University works on issues of the mind.”
Kandel, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000 for demonstrating how changes of synaptic function are central for learning and memory, co-hosts a monthly televised discussion series about the brain on The Charlie Rose Show. He is the author of the recently published The Age of Insight, about the role of the unconscious in the perception of art from turn of the century Vienna to the present.
“Mort Zuckerman is a deep and thoughtful man, who once again has revealed his generosity with a gracious gift to the Mind Brain Behavior initiative,” said Axel, University Professor and professor of biochemistry, molecular biophysics and pathology. “It is now our responsibility to use this gift creatively to gain greater insight into the most complex, the most fascinating structure in the universe, the human brain.” Axel shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004 for his pioneering research on the olfactory system, expanding our understanding about the sense of smell.
Over the next several years, through carefully planned recruitment, the Institute’s faculty will grow to 65 members plus a number of independent junior fellows and visiting scholars. At full strength, there will be 1,000 scientists and staff working across Columbia’s campuses.
“The Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute will reinforce and catalyze key collaborations between Columbia University’s Morningside Heights campus and the Washington Heights health sciences campus,” said Dr. Lee Goldman, Columbia’s Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and of Medicine. “Working together, these Columbia scientists will bring an unprecedented commitment to neuroscience, from the most basic discoveries to the most rapid translation of those discoveries into precision medical care.”
Supported by a visionary and extraordinarily generous gift from the late Dawn Greene and the Jerome L. Greene Foundation, the Jerome L. Greene Science Center was designed specifically by architect Renzo Piano to serve as the hub for this neuroscience research and the study of mind, brain and behavior. The Center will include a neuroscience public outreach and education center on Columbia’s new Manhattanville campus in West Harlem. The campus plan was recently awarded New York City’s first LEED-ND Platinum designation for environmentally sustainable urban design, a first for a university campus in the United States.
“The Mind Brain Behavior Institute will be transformational as one of the key interdisciplinary priorities for the science departments in Columbia’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences,” said Amber Miller, dean for science in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Strong science provides a foundation for good decisions across many issues facing our society; and strong social science, humanities, and professional schools provide a framework for integrating new scientific discoveries and inventions. We can all be grateful that Mort Zuckerman has given us this extraordinary opportunity.”
The Dec. 17 forum was held in the Rotunda of Low Memorial Library, on the Morningside Heights campus. It provided insight and context on the breadth of scholarship that the Zuckerman Institute will engage across Columbia. In addition to the Institute’s three founding co-directors, the conversation featured Geraldine Downey, professor of psychology; Dr. Kenneth Forde, professor emeritus of clinical surgery and University Trustee; Elizabeth Hillman, associate professor of biomedical engineering and radiology; and Dr. David H. Strauss, deputy director for research, New York State Psychiatric Institute and vice chair of Columbia’s department of psychiatry.
This article first appeared on Columbia News.