MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research sits on a busy street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but as soon as you enter the lobby, it’s clear that remarkable things are happening inside. A huge golden mobile representing the neurons in the human brain hangs from the ceiling, extending for several stories. The Director’s office is equally stimulating, with colorful artwork everywhere and intriguing mementoes of Robert Desimone’s appearances on the Chinese “reality TV” show about the brain. SEARCHING was filmed in two locations at the McGovern Institute, in the Imaging Center (when Alan and Robert Desimone discuss Alan’s “starry night” experience) and in Desimone’s office in part 3, where Robert shows off his “cabinet of brain science curiosities,” including a primitive-looking lobotomy instrument.
“Our mission is to understand the brain and to apply that knowledge to help people with brain disorders. To accomplish these goals, we study the brain at many levels—from molecular genetics to functional brain imaging—and collaborate with academic, clinical, and industry partners worldwide to challenge and probe the unknown. By exploring the origins of disease, our research also lays the foundation for improved treatments for those suffering from brain disorders.”
The McGovern Institute was established in 2000 by technology entrepreneur Lore Harp McGovern and the late Patrick J. McGovern, former chairman of International Data Group (IDG). The director is Robert Desimone, the Doris and Don Berkey Professor of Neuroscience at MIT and former head of intramural research at the National Institute of Mental Health. The McGovern Institute has grown from six founding faculty members to more than 20 distinguished investigators, including one Nobel laureate and six National Academy of Sciences members.
The McGovern Institute is an inclusive and collaborative community of MIT scientists, engineers, and support staff who work together to unravel the mysteries of the brain. Its researchers are committed to meeting two of the most significant challenges of modern science: understanding how the brain works and discovering new ways to prevent or treat brain disorders. To address this scientific challenge, scientists study the brain at many levels and collaborate with academic, clinical, and industry partners worldwide.
Understanding how the brain gives rise to the mind represents a tremendous scientific challenge, and the answers will not come through any single approach or technique in isolation. A multidisciplinary effort is needed, and research at the McGovern Institute employs the full range of modern neuroscience techniques, from molecular genetics to functional neuroimaging and computational modeling.
Powerful imaging methods like MRI and MEG (magnetoencephalography) provide neuroscientists with a detailed view of the human brain—including the spatial and temporal changes that occur as we interact with the world. The Institute’s researchers are using these tools to study how the brain develops from infancy, which regions underlie different aspects of our mental lives, and whether imaging can predict the onset of disease.
Cognitive neuroscientists examine the brain processes that come together to inform our thoughts and understanding of the world. The researchers use a range of approaches, including functional brain imaging and cognitive psychology, to ask fundamental questions about mental processes, including how we focus attention, how we process language and music, and how the brain develops and learns.
SEARCHING additionally notes that if you have questions about the brain, the McGovern Institute has an “Ask The Brain” function.