James DiCarlo - James DiCarlo to head Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences

New department head succeeds Mriganka Sur, who will lead the new Simons Center for the Social Brain at MIT.

February 2, 2012

James DiCarlo, associate professor of neuroscience, has been named head of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. His five-year term will begin March 1.

DiCarlo succeeds Mriganka Sur, who will leave his position as department head to become the director of the Simons Center for the Social Brain at MIT, a new initiative that aims to catalyze innovative research on the social brain and translate that work into the improved diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.

“Mriganka Sur has led BCS through a period of spectacular growth,” says Marc Kastner, dean of the School of Science. “He developed strong working relationships with the new McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the new Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. He has hired a distinguished and diverse faculty, which has led the department into the very top rank in neuroscience and cognitive science, and consolidated the department in its new home in Building 46. It has been an honor and pleasure for me to work with him as a fellow department head and as dean, and I look forward to our continued collaboration in his role as director of the Simons Center for the Social Brain.”

DiCarlo’s research aims to discover how a complex network of brain regions enables rapid and effortless visual recognition of objects, and to translate that new knowledge into computational models of the brain. The ultimate goal of his research is to build a systematic, quantitative understanding of the neuronal computations that underlie the brain’s remarkable capacity for object recognition. This understanding will underlie new machine vision systems, will provide a basis for neural prosthetics to restore or augment lost senses, and might ultimately support an understanding of how perceptual processing is altered in human conditions such as agnosia, dyslexia and autism.

“Jim DiCarlo is an accomplished systems neuroscientist who has a deep appreciation of all aspects of research in the department — cognitive science, computational, systems, cellular and molecular neuroscience,” Kastner says. “He is deeply committed to the educational programs of the department and enhancing its cohesiveness as a community. I am committed to helping him reach his goals in these areas while maintaining the great intellectual strength of BCS.”

DiCarlo earned his BS from Northwestern University with highest distinction in biomedical engineering in 1990, and his PhD and MD in 1998 from Johns Hopkins University. Upon completion of his doctoral degrees, he spent a year as a postdoc at the Krieger Mind/Brain Institute at Johns Hopkins and continued his research at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Division of Neuroscience at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Since joining MIT in 2002, DiCarlo has received several awards for his research, such as the McKnight Scholar Award in Neuroscience, the Pew Scholar Award in Biomedical Sciences, the Surdna Research Foundation Award, and the Sloan Research Fellowship. He has also won the MIT School of Science Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.