Advancing Basic Science for Humanity
University of California, San Diego
Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind
Scientists have made great strides toward understanding how the human brain works. But as they unlock the secrets of the brain’s cellular machinery, they face a question that has occupied science and philosophy for centuries: What is the relationship between the brain and that complex set of experiences and behaviors we call the "mind?"
That question is central to the mission of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at the University of California, San Diego (KIBM). Under the leadership of director Nicholas Spitzer and associate director and Ralph J. Greenspan, KIBM seeks to discover the physical and biochemical processes that underlie learning, consciousness, memory, emotions and perhaps even political views. Such knowledge has broad potential applications, ranging from improved treatment for mental illness to new ways of settling social and political disagreements.
Founded in 2004, KIBM integrates knowledge from all disciplines that deal with the nature of the brain and mind. Its advisory board includes scientists and clinicians from UCSD departments of cognitive science, neurobiology, psychology, psychiatry, neurosciences, radiology, and philosophy. Neighboring research centers – The Scripps Research Institute, The Salk Institute, and The Neurosciences Institute – are also represented on the KIBM board.
A key element of KIBM’s activity is its “Innovative Research Awards” program. Each year, it funds the work of about a dozen researchers or research groups, generally with grants of up to $30,000. Each of the funded projects focuses on some aspect of the brain-mind connection. In the 2007-2008 academic year, for instance, awards supported research on topics such as the imaging of brain regions involved in the learning of words, the relation between memory and the growth of brain cells in adulthood, the neural activity behind birdsongs and the processing of sensory data in the brains of infants at risk for autism. Awards have gone not only to researchers in the life sciences but to those in political science and anthropology as well.
In addition to funding research, KIBM each year invites a distinguished scholar to San Diego to give public lectures and workshops to the scientific community. Its “Grey Matters” lecture series (co-sponsored by the UCSD Division of Biological Sciences, Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Gemini Sciences Inc.) features leading scientists in brain-mind studies. It also sponsors workshops and other events at UCSD and the Salk, Neurosciences and Scripps institutes.