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Venkatesh Murthy to Become New Director of Center for Brain Science

Venkatesh Murthy to Become New Director of Center for Brain Science

MCB faculty Venkatesh Murthy will succeed Joshua Sanes as Director of the Center for Brain Science, a collaborative effort that brings together neuroscience researchers from across FAS.

Murthy is wrapping up his three year term as MCB Chair on June 30 and will then step into his new position as Director of CBS, a key leadership role for the MCB department. Many of the CBS Director’s duties—such as recruiting faculty, fundraising, and representing the brain sciences at Harvard FAS on multi-university initiatives and advisory committees—are similar to the tasks of a department chair.

“Venki has all the qualities needed to take CBS to the next level: he is a terrific scientist, he has proven leadership skills (demonstrated as chair of MCB), he has a long history of collaboration and collegiality, and he has an incredible breadth of knowledge and experience, extending from neuronal cell biology and biophysics through genetics and systems neuroscience to computation and theory,” Sanes and CBS Executive Director Kenneth Blum wrote in an email statement to the community.

Sanes, who is preparing to retire, has served as Director of CBS since it was founded 16 years ago in 2004.

“It has been a huge honor to serve CBS over the past 16 years, and to watch it grow from a new adventure to an internationally recognized center of neuroscience excellence,” Sanes says. “CBS is in great hands with Venki taking over as Director and Kenny Blum staying on as Executive Director. I look forward to helping them during the transition, and then watching as they take it to new heights.” Sanes adds that he would like to thank Murthy and Blum for their contributions to CBS over the years.

Blum has been a core part of CBS since nearly the beginning. “Josh hired me as executive director of CBS several months after he arrived, and I have been privileged to work closely with him throughout that entire time,” Blum wrote in an email to the CBS community. “CBS was born at a time when the FAS recognized that it had great strength in traditional science departments but lacked strong efforts in the exciting areas that were emerging between these fields. A central contribution of CBS has been to recruit new FAS faculty—especially as assistant professors (Uchida, Zhang, Ölveczky, Cox, de Bivort, and Gershman)—whose research focuses on neural circuits, behavior, and computation.”

In the email, Blum goes on to note that Sanes successfully guided CBS through other tumultuous times. When the 2008 financial crisis made it difficult to hire new faculty, Sanes shifted strategies and began recruiting faculty from other departments within Harvard, who have gone on to make countless valuable contributions to the brain sciences, Blum says.

“I am deeply grateful to Josh and have learned a tremendous amount from him,” Blum adds. “Josh has always been unusually generous in welcoming my input on matters great and small, to help develop a vision for CBS and implement it.”

Murthy is very cognizant of how Sanes’ leadership has built the CBS into a hub for interdisciplinary research. “It is humbling to step into this role, following the incredible stewardship of CBS for 16 years by its founding director, Josh Sanes,” Murthy says. “Josh has recruited fantastic faculty members through CBS, lured leading local scientists to work in neuroscience, and embraced emerging areas of brain research with broad-minded generosity. In all, Josh helped build a thriving and diverse community of brain scientists here and has made Harvard’s Cambridge campus a leader in 21st century neuroscience.”

Though Murthy says 2020 is a “tricky” time to become leader of a research center, he plans to build on CBS’s outstanding track record and is optimistic about the future of neuroscience research at Harvard. “Brain science seems almost by definition, broad and essentially all-inclusive,” he says. “We should really make the best of being in a college campus with excellence in a diversity of sciences and allied fields.Having a focus, however, helps harness our energies effectively.”

“I am very eager to build on the emerging critical mass of scholars at the intersection of neuroscience and artificial intelligence (including machine learning and statistics, writ large),” he adds.  “MCB has been my faculty home for more than 20 years, and the intellectual diversity here never ceases to amaze me. I look forward to working closely with MCB and the new Chair, Sean Eddy, as CBS evolves.”


Venki Murthy (l) and Josh Sanes

Venki Murthy (l) and Josh Sanes