Yale University today announced that a historic philanthropic gift will launch an ambitious new research enterprise devoted to the study of human cognition.
The gift, from Yale alumnus Joseph C. Tsai '86, '90 J.D., and his wife, Clara Wu Tsai, establishes an innovative research organization that will bridge the psychological, biological, and computational sciences and pursue a mission to understand human cognition and explore human potential by sparking interdisciplinary inquiry.
Understanding cognition is one of the greatest challenges in the history of science. Thanks to the vision and generosity of Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai, Yale will pursue a thrilling new approach to the intensive, long-term study of the brain and the wonders of the mind. This is a vast undertaking that advances Yale as a leader in scientific research, while promising insights that will improve life for people around the world."
Peter Salovey, Yale President, social psychologist and pioneer of the study of emotional intelligence
For the full announcement and a video introducing the Institute, visit news.yale.edu. The Institute also has its own website: https://wti.yale.edu/.
The scientific ambitions of the Wu Tsai Institute resonate with two of Yale's five major scientific priorities for the coming decade: neuroscience and integrative data science.
Led by Yale psychologist and inaugural director Nicholas Turk-Browne, and headquartered in downtown New Haven, the Institute will harness and amplify Yale's strengths in neuroscience broadly defined, joining hundreds of researchers in a university-wide effort to understand the brain and mind at all levels -- from molecules and cells to circuits, systems, and behavior.
Embedded within the Institute will be three cutting-edge academic centers that approach the common problem of cognition from different and complementary perspectives:
- The Center for Neurodevelopment and Plasticity will focus on the brain's ability to form new connections and modify existing ones through experience and development, with the possibility of one day preserving or restoring plasticity.
- The Center for Neurocognition and Behavior will identify and monitor brain states associated with perception, attention, and memory, with the longterm potential of allowing us to gain more control over our mind.
- The Center for Neurocomputation and Machine Intelligence will integrate scientific approaches through shared computational frameworks while advancing machine intelligence toward the capabilities and flexibility of human cognition.
The Wu Tsai Institute will allow Yale to recruit new faculty into endowed professorships, encourage high-risk/high-reward ideas, begin a new independent postdoctoral fellowship program, expand dramatically the number of neuroscience-related graduate positions, and start a paid internship program for undergraduates.
The Institute will also serve Yale's teaching mission, expanding graduate education in neuroscience through support of Yale's highly successful Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program and other top Ph.D. programs across the university. At the undergraduate level, it will fund summer fellowships and year-round research opportunities for students in Yale's fast-growing neuroscience major and related majors.
The Institute will occupy space at 100 College St. in downtown New Haven, between Yale's medical and central campuses, and will move into the building by fall 2022.
Joseph Tsai is co-founder and executive vice chairman of the global internet technology company Alibaba Group. Clara Wu Tsai, a former executive at American Express and Taobao Hong Kong, leads the family foundation's work in supporting scientific research, economic mobility, social justice, and creativity in the arts. The Tsais are also owners of several professional sports franchises, including the Brooklyn Nets, New York Liberty, and San Diego Seals. Major global philanthropists and devoted Yale benefactors, the Tsais have made previous gifts establishing the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY), as well as supporting the Yale men's and women's lacrosse programs, the Department of Computer Science, and Yale Law School.
"The world's great universities are built to pursue consequential questions, and nothing is more foundational than understanding the mystery of the human brain," Joseph Tsai said. "Today, the science and technology community is obsessed with artificial intelligence, but how do we know if computers can outsmart humans if we do not fully appreciate our own cognitive capacities? Clara and I believe that Yale has the right combination of people, resources, and collaborative culture to lead to a better understanding of this big question."
"Interdisciplinary collaboration is fundamental to success in the life sciences field," said Clara Wu Tsai. "Our foundation is built on that very premise, and, in all of our efforts, Joe and I work to bring great scientists together across fields and areas of expertise. From the maturation of the mind and brain to the development of new cognitive computational models and the study of human behavior, scientists at the Wu Tsai Institute will be working on the very cutting edge of the cognitive sciences."