MIT Reports to the President 1995-96




Several of our new junior faculty members who recently established their laboratories have already established exciting research programs.

Earl Miller has discovered properties of neurons that provide insight into the functional organization of the prefrontal cortex, a region critical for high-order cognitive functions. His laboratory examined the prevalent hypothesis that disparate types of sensory information are processed in separate modules in prefrontal cortex by recording the activity of neurons in monkeys performing specific behavioral tasks. Contrary to the prevalent hypothesis, he found that many neurons contribute to representing and integrating several types of information. These neurons may provide a substrate for combining sensory information into a unified whole that is our perceptual experience.

Bart Anderson has made a series of empirical discoveries that will require major modifications to existing theories of binocular vision. Current theories of stereopsis all depend on matching features in the two eyes that correspond to the projection of a common surface patch. The assumption is that a given image feature has a unique disparity that determines its relative depth from the observer. However, Professor Anderson has discovered a large class of patterns for which this assumption does not hold.

Matt Wilson has set up a laboratory for recoding simultaneously the activity of large numbers of neurons in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex. His experiments demonstrate that during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the neocortex reactivates cortical memory representations. These findings offer the first glimpse into the previously hidden domain of sleep and the content of dream states as related to learning and memory.

Peter Dayan has developed new theoretical approaches to understanding unsupervised learning, including models based on temporal difference learning rules and analytical characterization of learning algorithms. He and his colleagues developed a novel learning architecture called the "helmholtz machine." His findings have important implications for the formation of connections during brain development.


Our faculty group in neural computation continues to lead the field in theoretical work related to learning, visual processing, and motor control.

Michael Jordan's laboratory has published findings on a range of topics, including motor learning, speech production, and learning theory and reasoning. These include papers related to internal models of motor control, theory of local linear classification, visuomotor control, and mean field theory for belief networks.

Tomaso Poggio's group in the Center for Biological and Computational Learning has made important advances in proposing new theories of learning and in understanding learning in vision and graphics.

Ted Adelson has developed a new framework for understanding brightness in visual illusions. He has proposed that the visual system estimates a two-parameter "atmosphere" at every point in an image, and this atmosphere provides a mapping between luminance and brightness.


Dexfenfluramine ("Redux"), a drug invented by Richard and Judith Wurtman and patented by MIT, is now available for use on a prescription basis in the United States. It is the first drug ever indicated for weight maintenance, and the first anti-obesity drug to be approved for long-term use. It works by increasing serotonin-mediated brain transmission; this accelerates the onset of satiety and selectively decreases the overeating of snacks rich in carbohydrates and fats.



Of the fourteen Ph.D.s granted in the last year, two recipients have accepted assistant professorships at the University of Connecticut and Northeastern University; ten have accepted postdoctoral fellowships; one will be completing the M.D./Ph.D. training in medical school, and the last has accepted a research position in industry.

The pool from which we are drawing new students is strong in quantity and quality, and fourteen new students will begin the Ph.D. program in the Fall. We are also very pleased to report that the competing renewal of our main training grant was exceptionally well received by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences during a late Spring site visit, virtually guaranteeing five more years of this graduate student support.


The former major in cognitive science has been replaced by a newly formulated major comprising four core areas: language, experimental cognitive science, systems neuroscience and computation. A neuroscience laboratory is being constructed to accommodate the new program; several new courses, including a Laboratory in Neuroscience and Methods in Neural Modeling, have been added; and either the revised Introduction to Psychology course or the Animal Behavior course may serve as the introductory course for the new major.


Barton Anderson

H. Ferry, Jr. Fund Grant for Innovation in Research Education
Suzanne Corkin
David Wallace Medal from the Australian Association of Gerontology
Ann Graybiel
Javits Award

Elected President of the International Basal Ganglia Society
Earl Miller
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Faculty Fellowship Award

Pew Scholars Award

McKnight Scholars Award
Steven Pinker
Elected Fellow of the Neuroscience's Research Program

Linguistics, Language and the Public Interest Award from the Linguistics Society of America
Tomaso Poggio
Member of the Kuratorium of the Max Planck Society of Tubingen
Mriganka Sur
Appointed Chief Editor of the "Journal of Neural Transplantation and Plasticity"
Matthew Wilson
ONR Young Investigator Award

Seaver Institute Faculty Award

John Merck Scholar

Edward J. Poitras Assistant Professorship in Human Biology & Experimental Medicine

Emilio Bizzi, M.D.

MIT Reports to the President 1995-96