Columbia University in the City of New York

The Brain Trust

The Brain Trust of the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute serves as the voluntary board of advisors to guide the work of Columbia University researchers as they uncover the mysteries of the brain. The Brain Trust is a select group of individuals who have a shared commitment and passion for advancing our understanding of the brain. Together, the leadership and outreach of Brain Trust members helps to support the Institute's mission and to foster public awareness around the challenges facing society related to the mind and brain.


mortimer b. zuckerman

Mortimer B. Zuckerman


Mortimer B. Zuckerman is the co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of Boston Properties Inc., the Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News & World Report and the benefactor of both Columbia's Zuckerman Institute and the Zuckerman STEM Scholars of Israel and the United States.

Mr. Zuckerman is a trustee of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a member of the Bank of America Global Wealth & Investment Management Committee. He is a sponsor of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, a former Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, a former lecturer of City and Regional Planning at Yale University, a past president of the Board of Trustees of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and the former Chairman of the Principal’s International Advisory Board of McGill University. Mr. Zuckerman is a former trustee of New York University, the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Washington Institute for Near East Studies and a former Vice Chair & Treasurer of the International Peace Institute. He is a former Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and served as President of the America-Israel Friendship League.

Board Members

  • Joel Klein


    Joel Klein is Chief Policy and Strategy Officer at Oscar Health. From 2011-2015 he was EVP, News Corporation; and CEO at Amplify, an education technology company.

    From 2002-2011 Mr. Klein was Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education where he launched Children First, a comprehensive reform strategy that resulted in significant increases in student performance.

    Mr. Klein is a former Chairman and CEO of Bertelsmann, Inc., served as Assistant US Attorney until September 2000; and was Deputy White House Counsel from 1993-1995. Mr. Klein entered the Clinton administration after 20 years of public and private legal work in Washington, DC.

    Mr. Klein is a board member for several profit and non-profit organizations. He received his BA from Columbia University (magna cum laude), and earned his JD from Harvard Law School in 1971 (magna cum laude). He has received honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities.

  • Alan R. Batkin

    Board Member

    Alan R. Batkin was Vice Chairman of Eton Park Capital Management, L.P., a global, multi-disciplinary investment firm from March, 2007 to December, 2012. Prior to joining Eton Park, he was, from 1990 to 2007, Vice Chairman of Kissinger Associates, Inc., a geopolitical consulting company.  Before joining Kissinger Associates, he was an investment banker at Lehman Brothers for 18 years.

    Mr. Batkin is on the Board of Directors of four US-based public companies. He is Senior Advisor to Discovery Group, a South Africa-based health insurance and financial services company as well as Senior Advisor to Oaktree Emerging Markets Opportunity Fund.

    Mr. Batkin is Chairman Emeritus of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and is currently Chair of Airbel, the IRC’s research and innovation lab.

    He is Chairman of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Global Health Advisory Board and Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. He is a Trustee and Executive Committee member of the New York City Police Foundation and a member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board and Executive Committee.

    He is a Trustee of The Brookings Institution and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He previously served as a member of The Trilateral Commission and the Inter-American Dialogue.

  • Robert Buxton

    Board Member

    Robert Buxton is Co-head of investments at Peter Kimmelman Asset Management, a New York-based independent investment advisory firm focused on institutional private equity and alternative investments, and is a Chartered Financial Analyst. Mr. Buxton received his BS from Washington & Lee University and an MBA from Columbia Business School. Mr. Buxton served in the US Army and was awarded the Bronze star. He is a member of the leadership board at McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, patron and member of the Modern Circle at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, member of the Director’s Council at the Museum of Modern Art, and member of the Board of Directors of the American Friends of the Musee d’Orsay et Musee de L’Orangerie in Paris. His interest areas include research on Autism Spectrum Disorder, Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease.

  • Robert Choi

    Board Member

    Robert Choi is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Legacy Partners, LLC, which manages one of the largest private equity firms focused on the Asia region. Mr. Choi’s notable investments were in the early stages of Alibaba, DiDi, Sinopec and ANT Financial. He began his career in investment banking, having worked in the Corporate Finance Department at Bear Stearns & Co. and in the Mergers & Acquisitions Group at Wasserstein Perella & Co.

    Mr. Choi received an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1992 and a BS from the University of Southern California in 1987 and he serves on numerous corporate boards. He founded the Robert I. Choi Asia Pacific Endowment at Harvard Business School and serves as the Co-chairman of Major Gift Fundraising. Mr. Choi is also a member of the Global Advisory Board of Harvard Business School.

  • Philippe Dennery, PhD

    Board Member

    Philippe Dennery is a French citizen who studied Physics in the United States. He earned a BS in Physics from MIT, then went to graduate school at Columbia University where he obtained a PhD in Theoretical Physics. His advisor was Charles Townes, who won the Nobel Prize for developing the first lasers. Dr. Dennery began his career with several top research positions, including at the University of Pennsylvania, at CERN in Geneva, and in the physics department of the University of Paris. He published a dozen papers in the Physical Review and wrote 2 books—Mathematics for Physicists, and An Introduction to Statistical Mechanics.


    Until 1999, he ran Société Dennery, a family-owned French real estate, design, and construction company with projects in the Middle East and Africa, as well as museums and national buildings in France.

  • Yale M. Fergang

    Board Member

    Yale M. Fergang is a managing partner of Royal Capital Management, a global long/short fundamental value oriented investment fund he co-founded in 1998. After completing the 3-2 program with a BA in 1987 from Columbia College and a BSE in 1988 from Columbia's School of Engineering, Mr. Fergang joined Goldman, Sachs & Co. as an analyst in the M&A department. Following the receipt of an MBA from Harvard Business School, he became an associate and then vice president at The Blackstone Group. He later left banking to become a portfolio manager at SC Fundamental Value Fund prior to co-founding Royal Capital Management.

    Mr. Fergang is on the board of the Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst. He currently serves as Chair of the Investment Committee at Collegiate School, after having just completed his two term limit as a trustee. He is now emeritus member of the Board of Visitors, having recently completed three terms as active member and a two-year term as Chair. Mr. Fergang was a founding member and co-chair of Columbia’s Undergraduate Campaign Council.

  • Takis Georgakopoulos

    Board Member

    Takis Georgakopoulos is head of Wholesale Payments for J.P. Morgan, a business that combines cash management, payment solutions and merchant services to corporate clients, financial institutions and governments. In this role, he also oversees the Product, Client Service & Implementations and Sales teams globally.

    Prior to this role, Mr. Georgakopoulos led Treasury Services for two years, a business that provides all aspects of cash management solutions for client treasurers. From 2012 to 2017, he served as the head of CIB Strategy and Chief of Staff, developing and executing the firm’s strategic initiatives. Before that, he spent four years in London building JP Morgan’s Global Corporate Bank, first as Chief Financial Officer and then as global head of Coverage for Multinational clients. Mr. Georgakopoulos first joined JP Morgan in 2007 as head of Corporate Strategy. In that role, he was responsible for addressing a broad range of strategic issues impacting the firm, including those resulting from the financial crisis of 2008-09 and M&A activity during the same period.

    Before JP Morgan, Mr. Georgakopoulos was a partner at McKinsey & Company in New York, where he advised US banks and asset managers, and helped lead McKinsey’s Asset Management and Retirement practice.

    Mr. Georgakopoulos has a PhD in Mathematical Economics from the Technical University of Athens. He holds an MA in Mathematics of Finance and an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Columbia. During his PhD, he worked as a researcher for the European Commission helping to evaluate the economic impact of European integration and environmental regulation.

  • Eric J. Gertler

    Board Member

    Eric Gertler is Executive Chairman and CEO of U.S.News & World Report, where he has overall responsibility for editorial and business operations of this multifaceted digital media company.


    In August 2019, Gertler was nominated to serve as Commissioner / President & CEO-designate of Empire State Development, New York State’s principal economic development agency, a position he held through July 2021. Gertler’s tenure was characterized by: 1) meeting the unprecedented economic needs arising from Covid-19; 2) completing critical infrastructure projects (including Moynihan Train Hall); 3) attracting companies and jobs to the state; and 4) implementing economic initiatives with long term benefits (including the largest small business assistance program in the state’s history).


    From 2013 to 2015, Gertler was Executive Vice President of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and Managing Director of the Center for Economic Transformation under multiple mayoral administrations. He was responsible for spurring economic development by managing more than 100 initiatives and directing hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy.


    Gertler has also held leadership roles at the intersection of technology, data and media. He served as Co-Chairman and Co-Publisher of the New York Daily News and engineered its 2017 sale to the Tribune Company. He was the CEO of several technology companies in the early 2000s and served concurrently in the late 1990s as President of U.S.News, Fast Company and The Atlantic.


    Gertler is a trustee to the Zuckerman Family Office, Zuckerman Family Foundation and Zuckerman Institute. He is also the Chairman of the American-Israel Friendship League. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and Young President’s Organization (YPO). He has written and spoken extensively on economic development policy issues, including workforce and employment matters, infrastructure investment, urban development, entrepreneurship and innovation. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Prying Eyes: Protect Your Privacy From People Who Sell To You, Snoop on You or Steal From You (Random House), which predicted the security crisis around personal data.


    A graduate of Brown University, Gertler holds degrees from the Sorbonne at the University of Paris, the Institut D’Etudes Politiques in Paris, with honors, and a law degree, with honors, from American University, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review. In May 2022, Gertler was awarded an Honorary Doctorate degree from Tel Aviv University in recognition of his public service work and his commitment to furthering relations between the United States and Israel.


  • James S. Gertler

    Board Member

    James S. Gertler is President and CEO of Drew Lane Capital, LLC, a private investment firm based in New York City; Vice Chairman and Senior Managing Director of Legacy Partners, Inc. a private investment firm focused on Greater China; and trustee and advisor to the Zuckerman Family Office and Foundation.

    Mr. Gertler is a board director of U.S. News & World Report. He is also a board director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a governor of the International Board of Governors of Tel Aviv University and Technion — Israel Institute of Technology, on National Leadership Council of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, treasurer and a board director of America’s Voices in Israel, and a board director of the America-Israel Friendship League.

    Mr. Gertler is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, receiving a Master in Business Administration in 1992. He received a Bachelor in Science in Economics degree (magna cum laude) from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania in 1988.

  • Merve Gursel

    Board Member

    Merve Gursel is an international interior designer and deeply involved in philanthropy, social awareness, education and sports. She is a founder and a board member of the Turkish Coffee Culture and Research Association; Acikkapi Sosyal Sorumluluk Dernegi (Open Door Social Responsibility Association) in Istanbul; and is a member of the Istanbul Chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization. She is also on the board of trustees of the Hisar Schools in Turkey and the Turkish Philanthropy Funds, where she chairs the Development and Events Committee.

    Mrs.Gursel is a highly accomplished equestrian and fencer, and has been the National Turkish Horseback Riding Champion five times. She has remained committed to sports, was a board member of the Fencers Club, NYC and the Veteran National Turkish Fencing Team. She competed in the Veterans European Championships twice and was named MVP by the Fencers Club. 

    Mrs. Gursel holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts in interior Design from the American College in London as well as a degree in Art History. Mrs. Gursel comes from a Columbia family. Her brother, Emre Kurttepeli (’90SEAS), attended Columbia, as did her cousins Reha Elci (’89SEAS, ’90SEAS) and Omer Mehmet Koc (’85CC,’88BUS). She is married with two children (Defne and Can Gursel) and lives in NYC. She is passionate about research on neuroplasticity, learning and development.

  • Alan Kanzer

    Board Member

    Alan Kanzer graduated with a BA (magna cum laude) from Columbia College in 1965, where he was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He graduated with an LLB from Yale Law School in 1968, where he was a member of the Yale Law Journal. Mr. Kanzer was admitted to the New York Bar Assocaition in 1969. He is currently senior counsel (formerly partner), at Alston & Bird LLP, specializing in complex international civil litigation.

    Mr. Kanzer is on the advisory board of Columbia Global Centers (Paris). He is a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Objects Conservation Visiting Committee. Mr. Kanzer endowed an Artist-in-Residence program at Columbia's Zuckerman Institute.

  • Kenneth Lipper

    Board Member

    Kenneth Lipper is the Chairman of Lipper & Co LLC, an investment management and investment banking firm. He has had a varied career in the arts, finance, and government. He served as Commissioner of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from 2013-2018 and was Chairman of the Governance and Ethics Committee. He previously was an Executive Vice President at Cushman & Wakefield, an Advisor and Deputy Mayor of the City of New York under Mayor Ed Koch, a General Partner and Managing Director at Salomon Brothers, and a General Partner at Lehman Brothers. Earlier, he was an Associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, and later worked in the Office of Foreign Direct Investment in the US Department of Commerce. Mr. Lipper also served as an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He is an Academy Award-winning movie producer for The Last Days, and he produced both the play and film versions of The Winter Guest. Mr. Lipper wrote the screenplay and produced the film City Hall starring Al Pacino and John Cusack, and he was the Chief Technical Advisor for the film Wall Street starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen. He also wrote the novelizations of both films.


    Mr. Lipper received a BA in History from Columbia University, a JD from Harvard Law School, and a Master of Civil Law from New York University School of Law. He is a member of the Precision Medicine Council at Columbia University Medical School, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Economic Club of New York, the Century Association, and the Harvard Club of New York. He has been on the Board of Directors of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Neutrogena Corporation, CNH Corporation (Fiat Industrial), Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Javits Convention Center, and on the Visiting Committee, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard University.

  • Thomas R. Reardon, PhD

    Board Member

    Dr. Thomas Reardon is an American neuroscientist and the CEO and co-founder of CTRL-labs, acquired by Facebook in 2019. He is currently Director of Neural Interfaces at Facebook Reality Labs. He trained in the Jessell and Losonczy Labs in the department of neuroscience at Columbia, where he received a PhD in May 2016. Formerly, he was a software developer at Microsoft.

    Dr. Reardon is credited with creating the Internet Explorer project at Microsoft, which for many years was the world's most-used browser. He was a founding board member of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), where he was instrumental in the development and implementation of the languages HTML4, CSS, and XML, and served as Openwave’s chief technology officer, where he led development of the first mobile web browsers. As an inventor and entrepreneur, he holds dozens of US patents. In 2003, he was included in the list of the world’s 100 Top Young Innovators by MIT Technology Review, and has published in Science, Nature Neuroscience, and Neuron.

    Dr. Reardon received a BA in classical languages and literature from the Columbia School of General Studies in 2008, an MS in neuroscience from Duke University in 2010, and an MPhil and PhD in neuroscience and behavior from Columbia University in 2013 and 2016, respectively.

  • Gillian Sandler

    Board Member

  • Nicole Seligman

    Board Member

  • Neil P. Simpkins

    Board Member

    Neil P. Simpkins is a Senior Managing Director of Blackstone in the Private Equity Group. He has responsibility for investments in the healthcare services and industrial sectors, and serves on the group’s Investment Committee. Since joining Blackstone in 1998, Mr. Simpkins has led the acquisitions of TRW Automotive, Vanguard Health Systems, TeamHealth, Apria Healthcare Group, Summit Materials, Gates Corporation and Change Healthcare.

    Before joining Blackstone, Mr. Simpkins was a Principal at Bain Capital. Prior to joining Bain Capital, Mr. Simpkins was a consultant at Bain & Company in the Asia Pacific region and in London. Mr. Simpkins graduated with honors from Oxford University and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. He currently serves as a Director of Gates Corporation, Apria Healthcare Group, Change Healthcare and TeamHealth. Mr. Simpkins is also Chairman of Americans for Oxford, Inc., Oxford University's primary charitable organization in North America and is a Trustee of the Brooklyn Museum.

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