A multi-million dollar gift from the Mong Family Foundation will fund the creation of Cornell Neurotech, a program which seeks to develop a new technological platform to better measure and provide images of the activities of the brain at the cellular level in real time.
Stephen Mong ’92 MEN ’93 MBA ’02, the primary donor to Cornell Neurotech, said the initiative is meant to expedite and expand the currently ongoing neurological research in Cornell’s laboratories.
“We would be developing a technological platform to enable scientists, researchers and engineers in the future to study the human brain,” Mong said. “Through our strength in imaging in engineering and our scientists in arts and sciences, we are already working towards studying the brain [within the University]. Now, we’re developing the tools to allow that to be more efficiently and effectively done.”
Cornell Neurotech will be a collaborative project primarily between the Colleges of Engineering and Arts and Sciences. Arts and sciences Dean Gretchen Ritter said she believes Cornell’s unique interdisciplinary environment will be beneficial for the growth of neurotechnology.
“Cornell’s strength in neurotechnology lies in the interdisciplinary interactions and effective collaborations across multiple disciplines,” she said. “Cornell Neurotech will support strategic investments in new and innovative interdisciplinary areas within the College of Arts and Sciences and across the University.”
Currently, there are two co-directors heading Cornell Neurotech: Prof. Chris Xu, applied and engineering physics, and Prof. Joseph Fetcho, neurobiology and behavior. Xu said the engineering school’s strong background in neurological technology will synergize well with the neuroscience research currently being conducted in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Cornell Engineering is one of the main drivers for the technology development [in] neuroscience, and has a strong track record of developing breakthrough technologies for neuroscience research,” Xu said. “Cornell Neurotech will facilitate and enhance the inter-college collaboration between Art and Sciences and Engineering, and we hope [to] eventually grow beyond those colleges.”
Xu added that understanding the brain is one of science’s current frontiers, and that application-wise, Cornell Neurotech may open up new avenues for the diagnosis and cure of many common mental illnesses.
“Everything we do is governed by our brain, but we have so far very limited knowledge about how the brain works, and we know very little about the cause of neurological diseases such as depression, autism, dementia, et cetera,” Xu said. “We are developing technologies to measure and study how the brain functions at the cellular and molecular level. It is widely accepted that neurotechnology development is essential to push our understanding of the brain to the next level.”
Mong said he has high hopes for the program and believes that Cornell’s friendly attitude towards collaboration can push the field of neurotechnology to new heights.
“Our family foundation has always believed that education [and] health [are] each individual’s [most precious] assets, so we’ve always been looking for opportunities to give in those areas,” he said. “I’ve [also] been looking for an opportunity to support Cornell that would pull together the various resources across campus, and [Cornell Neurotech] fits the bill.”
Currently, Cornell Neurotech is working on an inter-college forum where faculty members can share ideas about possible advancements in neurotechnology with each other. The foundation’s gift also will be used to launch the Cornell Neurotech Mong Family Foundation Seminar Series, which will invite top researchers in the field to the Hill to share their work.