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Jan. 24: CMU's Michael J. Tarr and Nathan Urban Receive Professorships for Their Interdisciplinary Contributions to Neuroscience

Contacts: Shilo Raube / 412-268-6094 /
Jocelyn Duffy / 412-268-9982 /

CMU’s Michael J. Tarr and Nathan Urban Receive Professorships
For Their Interdisciplinary Contributions to Neuroscience

They Will Shape the Future of Brain Research, Says CMU Provost Mark Kamlet

Urban & TarrPITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University faculty members Michael J. Tarr and Nathan Urban, have received professorships for their significant contributions to further understanding the brain and mind. Tarr was named the George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, and Urban was named the Dr. Frederick A. Schwertz Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences.
“Michael and Nathan are part of an unprecedented effort by the university to combine our strengths in a variety of disciplines that will shape the future of brain research,” said CMU Provost and Executive Vice President Mark Kamlet. “They represent two of the best in their fields and they will propel our brain, mind and learning programs forward.”
Tarr, who also co-directs the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC), joined CMU’s faculty in 2009 after spending 14 years at Brown University and six years at Yale University. He studies the neural, cognitive and computational mechanisms underlying visual perception and cognition. He is particularly interested in how we effortlessly learn, remember, and visually identify both human faces and objects, as well as how these mechanisms of vision interact with our other senses, thoughts and emotions.
“Michael Tarr is a brilliant scientist with broad interests and the leadership skills to move Carnegie Mellon and the CNBC to the forefront of neuroscience and to make advances that will affect our lives and health,” said John Lehoczky, dean of CMU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
When asked what motivated him to take the position at Carnegie Mellon, Tarr pointed to the university’s strengths in scientific imaging and computation. “No one does brain research like Carnegie Mellon, where computer scientists, statisticians, and mathematicians work hand-in-hand with psychologists, cognitive neuroscientists, and neuroscientists,” he said. “I am honored to receive the Cowan professorship and look forward to working with the superb and diverse faculty here and at the CNBC.”
Urban, who is the head of the Department of Biological Sciences at the Mellon College of Science and a member of the CNBC, was named one of the nation’s top science and technology innovators in the United States by Scientific American for his research in neuronal activity. Urban investigates the molecular, cellular and computational properties of brain networks with a particular focus on the mouse olfactory system. This work, which uses a variety of experimental and computational techniques to describe how cells and their connections contribute to information processing, stands to help scientists understand how neurons network in learning and disease. 
“Nathan is a remarkable educator, scientist and innovator.  His work has had — and will continue to have — a great impact on our understanding of how the neurons in our brains network to perform the essential functions of perception and learning,” said Fred Gilman, dean of the Mellon College of Science.   
Urban joined Carnegie Mellon’s faculty in 2002 as the Department of Biological Sciences was beginning to branch out into neuroscience research and education. Work in neuroscience at CMU has flourished since then, noted Urban. “Brain science at CMU is extremely interdisciplinary, working at the interface between biology, psychology and computer science with a strong focus on computation and real-world applications,” Urban said. “Not only does this benefit our research, but it also benefits our students as we train them use such an integrative approach in their future careers as brain scientists.”
After receiving their professorships in a special ceremony, Tarr and Urban participated in a panel discussion on understanding brain and behavior.  Joined by Justine Cassell, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, and Marcel Just, the D.O. Hebb Professor of Psychology and director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, they highlighted the many ways that Carnegie Mellon is shaping the future of brain research and its applications. For more on CMU's research thrust into the brain, mind and learning sciences, go to

Pictured above are CMU's (l-r) Nathan Urban and Michael J. Tarr.