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Dartmouth awarded $21.8 million NSF Grant

National Science Foundation funds new Science of Learning Center

An interdisciplinary group led by researcher Michael Gazzaniga has received a $21.8 million National Science Foundation grant to establish the Center for Cognitive and Educational Neuroscience (CCEN), as part of NSF's new Science and Learning Center (SLC) initiative. Researchers and students involved in the CCEN will work to understand the brain mechanisms of learning as well as build collaborations to implement learning techniques among K-12 students and teachers.

Michael Gazzaniga
Michael Gazzaniga, David T. McLaughlin Distinguished Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

This five-year award, which may be renewed, represents the largest peer-reviewed research grant ever made to the College. 

"We want to build bridges between the researchers who study brain activity involved in learning and the teachers who need a deeper understanding of learning processes," said Gazzaniga, the David T. McLaughlin Distinguished Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. "Our goal is to carry out basic research on how people learn and to connect scientists with the practitioners to effect meaningful change in the lives of students."

Dartmouth's SLC, the Center for Cognitive and Educational Neuroscience (CCEN) draws from numerous faculty experts and benefits from strong community collaborations. The new center blends research initiatives with outreach activities to capitalize on existing partnerships and forge new relationships that resonate throughout the academic communities, for K-12 students, parents, teachers and their counterparts in higher education.

"Dartmouth is pleased to play a role in developing this critical NSF initiative," said Dartmouth President James Wright. "We salute the leadership of a committed group of faculty, led by Professor Michael Gazzaniga, in advancing this project. It will meet an important national need and will build upon Dartmouth's strengths in the brain sciences, our interdisciplinary culture and our commitment to learning and teaching."

More than 30 professors, students and staff will be involved with the project and several departments and programs at the College will have ties to the CCEN, including the departments of Education, Mathematics, Psychological and Brain Sciences, the Native American Studies program and the Dartmouth College Library. A partnership with professionals at the Montshire Museum of Science, a rural, hands-on science museum located in Norwich, Vt., ensures a valuable connection to teachers and educators in the community.

Currently, the National Science Foundation's SLC initiative encompasses four core projects based around the country to enhance understanding of the human learning process. Dartmouth joins Boston University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Washington in this effort.

Lynne E. Bernstein, the NSF program officer for the Dartmouth center, said, "CCEN is coordinating research in four content areas-language, science, reading and math-with close partnerships in education research and classrooms. Advanced methods such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) will be used to identify the brain mechanisms involved as people learn in these basic content areas."

The four co-principal investigators, Scott Grafton, Director of the Dartmouth Brain Imaging Center and Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences; Laura-Ann Petitto, Chair of the Department of Education, Professor of Education and Research Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences; Kevin Dunbar, Professor of Education and Psychological and Brain Sciences; and Todd Heatherton, Champion International Professor and Chair of Psychological and Brain Sciences will be senior scientists involved in the CCEN.

The heart of CCEN will support basic research projects at Dartmouth such as investigations into language acquisition and bilingualism, reading and literacy, the neurocognitive paths of number development and skill retention, the social aspects of learning and adolescent brain development and social behavior. The researchers will also work with leaders of Dartmouth's Native American Studies program to further develop existing relationships with Native American communities, encourage Native American students to become involved with the center, and apply CCEN findings to Native American communities.

"Our approach turns the whole issue of how people learn on its head," said Gazzaniga. "Instead of treating the brain as a black box and asking what is the best type of learning environment, we ask what are the optimal ways in which the human brain learns, including what types of information does the brain require to learn effectively, when are the optimal periods of learning in development, and what types of changes occur in the brain that facilitate and promote learning?"


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Last Updated: 12/17/08