Winter 2008

Neural Networking

Psychology expansion boosts Emory’s power for behavioral research

By Carol Clark

Science Commons

Emory College intends to foster a “science commons” that brings scholars and students closer together. Read more.

Imagine all the ideas, knowledge, and interests of Emory’s students and faculty as separate neurons. Now imagine sparking more synapses between these neurons, creating new networks, and generating more research across academic and social boundaries. Construction is under way on a state-of-the-art psychology building designed to do just that. When it opens in 2009, the new facility will consolidate and expand the Department of Psychology, while also serving as an important resource for the natural sciences and every other discipline in the University interested in how the human mind works.

Patricia Bauer (top): “It will be a phenomenal place.” Elaine Walker (right): “My collaborations span just about every science discipline.” Stephan Hamann (bottom): “Emory is a major player when it comes to cutting-edge research.”

Bauer: courtesy Patricia Bauer; Hamman: Bryan Meltz; Walker: Jon Rou; Building: courtesy HOK Architects

“Psychology is one of our most popular majors,” noted Bobby Paul, dean of Emory College, at the September groundbreaking. “When we talk about the power of Emory to transform students’ lives and the world around them, psychology courses are often behind this powerful transformation.”

The new building will bring together all of the classrooms, offices, clinical spaces, and labs of the psychology department—now spread across campus—and become one of a handful of academic psychology facilities in the nation with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) suite, customized for research into the inner workings of the brain. “Students will be able to move seamlessly from the classrooms to the labs and the fMRI technology. It will be a phenomenal place,” said Patricia Bauer, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Psychology and senior associate dean for research in Emory College.

Emory’s Department of Psychology is already a national leader, ranked eighth by the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2007 for the amount of research produced. The new building is “another signal to the rest of the world that Emory is a major player when it comes to cutting-edge research,” said Associate Professor Stephan Hamann.

In its location next to the Department of Chemistry’s Atwood Hall and a stone’s throw from the Math and Science Center, the new building will form a cornerstone of Emory’s “science commons.” The idea is to create a science neighborhood, where students and scholars from different disciplines mingle and exchange insights as they address some of the most serious problems of the twenty-first century, from HIV/AIDS to depression.

“The psychology building is a key part of Emory College’s strategic plan to strengthen bridges between the natural sciences and the social sciences,” said Earl Lewis, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “At the University level, it will foster progress in our strategic initiatives for neuroscience, predictive health, computational life sciences, and global health.”

Formerly, psychologists studied the mind primarily by interviewing people and observing their behaviors. But new technologies and methodologies—from fMRIs that show real-time changes throughout the brain to scanners that can track the brain’s electrophysiological responses and movements of the eye—make it possible to peer into the brain and uncover the neural underpinnings of those behaviors. “Psychology is on a rapid climb that is changing our understanding of how our minds work,” said Lawrence Barsalou, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology, who is researching the nature of knowledge.

Clinical psychologist Elaine Walker, Dobbs Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, looks at both behavior and biology to study mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. “My collaborations span just about every science discipline and many medical specializations, including chemistry, biology, genetics, psychiatry, neurology, and endocrinology,” she said. “That’s just the way research is done now.”

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