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Tuesday, 29 February, 2000, 14:15 GMT
Computing couple's $350m brain research gift
mcgoverns visiting an MIT lab
The McGoverns (centre): Long-held interest in brain study
Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been given $350m (about 220m) to set up a multidisciplinary institute to study the brain.

The money, to go to MIT over 20 years, is thought to be the largest gift of its kind in modern times.

The benefactors are computing publisher Patrick J McGovern Jr, who graduated from MIT in 1959, and his wife, the computer entrepreneur Lore Harp McGovern, who also chairs the Board of Associates at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.

Mr McGovern founded International Data Group, which has launched more than 290 magazines and newspapers in 80 countries.

Recalling his days as a life sciences student, Mr McGovern said: "I was thrilled to study the physical basis of consciousness.

New opportunities

"Now, the development of powerful new tools such as whole brain imaging allows researchers to address the daunting complexity of the mammalian brain and to begin to understand the biological basis for human thought, language and behaviour."

Mrs Harp McGovern said the process of setting up the McGovern Institute for Brain Research had been "an incredible journey" that had aroused an enormous appetite to learn more about the brain.

"As a child I always wanted to know if you could touch thought, if thought had a physical presence.

"I remember how awed I was when my parents took me to the Science Museum and I saw a brain floating in formaldehyde, a simple grey mass that looked terribly uncomfortable all twisted, folded and stuck together, nothing like the dangling skeleton I had admired earlier.

"And I wondered how a poet using that unattractive thing could formulate such beautiful words, or how a composer could put notes to paper that would evoke such deep emotions when executed on a violin or other instruments."

MIT's President, Charles Vest, said the creation of the institute marked "one of the most profound and important scientific ventures of the next century".

Nobel prizewinner

The institute is to take an interdisciplinary approach involving neuroscience, molecular neurobiology, bioengineering, cognitive sciences, computation and genetics.

Its founding director will be Phillip Sharp, the molecular biologist who won the Nobel Prize in 1993 for his discovery of surplus DNA and gene-splicing.

He has taught at MIT since 1970, and from 1991 until last year was head of the Department of Biology.

"The McGovern Institute will do ground-breaking research on how the brain works," Professor Sharp said.

"It will allow us to move to a new level of pre-eminence in neuroscience.

"This is an exciting addition to the MIT community that will enrich the body of existing work at MIT in neurosciences, imaging technology, and molecular, cellular and genetic science."

He will be putting together a team of 16 investigators, 10 of them new to MIT.

MIT says the new institute will also offer "unique interdisciplinary learning opportunities" for both undergraduate and graduate students.

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09 Nov 99 |  Education
University fund-raiser seeks $1.5bn
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