Olson Named Acting Co-Director of Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, June 5, 2006

Olson Named Acting Co-Director of Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

PITTSBURGH—Carl Olson, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University, has been named acting co-director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC), a multidisciplinary research center operated jointly by Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. Olson succeeds Jay McClelland, who is leaving Carnegie Mellon to become a professor of psychology at Stanford University.

Olson, who has directed the CNBC Primate Physiology Laboratory since 1996, is renowned for studies of the brain that have revealed areas responsible for fundamental cognitive processes including attention, memory and spatial localization of objects in their settings.

"Carl Olson is a perfect choice for this position, given his long-standing tenure at the CNBC and his stature in the scientific community," said John Lehoczky, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon. "Carl has a remarkable track record of research findings that promise to have an impact on our understanding and treatment of disorders that range from schizophrenia to problems with reading comprehension."

The CNBC is dedicated to understanding the neural mechanisms that give rise to cognitive processes, including learning and memory, language and thought, perception and attention, and planning and action. CNBC faculty members include researchers with appointments in the departments of Biological Sciences, Computer Science, Psychology, Robotics and Statistics at Carnegie Mellon; and Bioengineering, Mathematics, Neurobiology, Neurology, Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Psychology at Pitt. The University of Pittsburgh co-director is Peter Strick, professor of neurobiology and psychiatry.

"I have two major goals," said Olson. "The first is to promote the continued growth of the CNBC. This will include introducing a program of graduate training in computational neuroscience and pursuing external sources of support for students affiliated with the program. The second is to recruit a permanent co-director with outstanding scientific credentials and leadership skills. The search has already begun."

Olson received his doctorate in neurobiology at the University of California, Berkeley, and subsequently held appointments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, George Mason University and the University of Maryland before coming to Pittsburgh. His recent publications include several papers in the journal Science, covering topics as varied as object recognition, motivated behavior and spatial orientation.

"We welcome Carl in his new role at the CNBC," said Richard D. McCullough, dean of the Mellon College of Science (MCS). "The research under way at this center is vital to the future of MCS."

Olson succeeds Jay McClelland, the Walter Van Dyke Bingham University Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon, who is leaving the university to become a professor of psychology at Stanford and founding director of its Center for Mind, Brain and Computation. McClelland co-founded the CNBC in 1994 and has been co-director ever since. In that position, he has helped to propel the Pittsburgh scientific community to an international leadership position in cognitive neuroscience, which examines the physiological processes that occur during human thought.

McClelland is a pioneer in creating computational models that simulate thought processes based on principles of neural computation. These models can be used to develop and test theories of how the brain learns, how it recognizes spoken language and how visual perception takes place. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, McClelland has received nearly every top honor for his field, including the William James Fellow Award, the Grawemeyer Award for Psychology and the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award.

"Jay McClelland is one of Carnegie Mellon's most outstanding faculty members, and the CNBC is one of our premier research facilities," Lehoczky said. "The center has experienced phenomenal growth and development over the past several years, and provides a wonderful model for what our two institutions can accomplish when they work in concert. Carnegie Mellon and the CNBC will greatly miss Jay's work as a scientist, a leader and a mentor," Lehoczky said.

By: Lauren Ward