$200 Million Gift Supports New Center for Neuroscience at Columbia

Columbia University announced in March that it received a $200 million donation to build a major new facility to host its Mind, Brain, and Behavior initiative. Although many details remain to be determined, the Jerome L. Greene Center is expected to increase opportunities for collaborative research, teaching, and community outreach across the neurosciences.

The unprecedented gift, said to be the largest ever received by an American university for the creation of a single facility, was donated by Dawn M. Greene and the foundation named for her late husband, Jerome L. Greene. Before his death in 1999, Jerome Greene was a New York lawyer, real-estate investor, and philanthropist, as well as a Columbia alumnus.

University scientists and administrators described it as a significant landmark in the trajectory of the university. “Throughout its history, the university’s task has been to understand the human brain, the construct of the mind, and the relationship to human behavior,” said Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger, who described the Center as heralding “a new age of knowledge and discovery.”

Neuroscientists Thomas Jessel, Eric Kandel, and Richard Axel are leading the planning for the Center. Kandel described the Center and the work it will support as “a major step into the future” with ramifications far beyond the neurosciences.

For psychologists at Columbia, the Center will provide new opportunities for collaborative research and teaching. “We view the Center as an unprecedented opportunity for the psychology department’s faculty and students to work closely and synergistically with some of the premier neuroscientists in the world,” said Geraldine Downey, chair of the Columbia psychology department.

“The center will provide a venue for a spectrum of neuroscience research,” Downey added, “ranging from a bottom-up focus on circuits involving a small number of neurons to a top-down focus on the neural basis of human perception, thought, relationships, communication — the traditional focus of much of psychology.”

The Jerome L. Greene Center is expected to facilitate collaboration between psychologists and a range of specialists in other fields, including systems neuroscientists, psychiatrists, neurologists, and radiologists. “Building these bridges, and understanding how they relate to mental health and well-being, is something my colleagues and I in psychology are really excited about,” said Tor Wager, who studies cognitive and affective control processes using brain-imaging techniques.

Pending approval by the city, the Jerome L Greene Center is will be the first major building on Columbia’s new Manhattanville campus in West Harlem, less than a mile from the Morningside campus.

“People had been talking about something like this for several years, and there’s a tremendous amount of excitement about it finally happening,” said Kevin Ochsner, who uses brain imaging and other cognitive neuroscience techniques to address questions in social psychology.

In addition to facilitating research, the proposed center is also expected to provide significant new opportunities for education, both for Columbia students and for members of the local community. According to Sarah Woolley, who uses neurophysiological and behavioral techniques to study social communication in birds, the new center will encourage graduate students to conduct research between psychology and neuroscience laboratories. “Collaborations between labs are often the most creative projects and therefore result in scientific findings that advance the field in new ways,” she said. She added that the center will also likely increase the number of psychology undergraduates working as research assistants in neuroscience laboratories.

Observer Vol.19, No.6 June, 2006

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