Gazzaniga to leave for UCSB

by Elise Waxenberg | 9/27/05 5:00am

Michael Gazzaniga, one of Dartmouth's most renowned faculty members, will leave the College at the end of Fall term for a full-time professorship at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Gazzaniga, who is widely regarded as the father of the cognitive neuroscience field, will join UCSB's psychology department in the winter and head up a new interdisciplinary center for the study of the mind, UCSB psychology department chair James Blascovich said.

Currently the David T. McLaughlin distinguished professor of psychology and brain sciences, Gazzaniga directs the College's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and is widely regarded as the father of the field of cognitive neuroscience.

While at Dartmouth, Gazzaniga was named to the President's Council on Bioethics and appointed the College's dean of the faculty, a position from which he resigned last year amid controversy over his leadership.

After assuming his new role, Gazzaniga will still travel to Dartmouth occasionally during the next four years to oversee the College's new Center for Cognitive and Educational Neuroscience -- a project for which he and a team of Dartmouth researchers secured a $21.8 million National Science Foundation grant in February, Gazzaniga said.

"The brain sciences at Dartmouth are on solid footing and under the direction of Dr. Scott Grafton at the Dartmouth Brain Imaging Center, who is also co-director of the Center for Cognitive and Educational Research, exciting progress is well underway," Gazzaniga said.

Blascovich said Gazzaniga's reputation will benefit UCSB.

"Given his visibility, he will attract the very best scholars either as visitors or as faculty to UCSB and areas that are relevant to the mind sciences," Blascovich said.

Blascovich said he could not pinpoint when Gazzaniga, who has been a distinguished visiting professor at UCSB for the past three years, agreed to take a full-time position there. One year ago, however, the two started talking about creating a center with a broader approach to the study of the mind.

At that time, Blascovich said, there were no plans for Gazzaniga to direct UCSB's planned center, the creation of which will be formally announced in November.

"I think he likes California, and I think he likes the university, and so we got lucky," Blascovich said, adding later that Gazzaniga "really wanted to make sure that his coming here would not hurt Dartmouth at all."

According to Blascovich, Gazzaniga wanted to defer his move to Santa Barbara until this winter "to make sure that the programs he had started for Dartmouth would remain home, even if he left. That's really important to him."

Todd Heatherton, chair of Dartmouth's psychology department, said the College's new Cognitive and Educational Neuroscience Center will open in a renovated wing of Baker Library some time during the next couple of weeks. The five-year project will be devoted to understanding how information is learned and transmitted between the brain's hemispheres.

Heatherton added that the department's "extremely good faculty" is constantly being approached by outside "feelers" who offer them new opportunities like the UCSB project offered Gazzaniga.

"He is the person you want, and frankly, they knew to go out and get him," Heatherton said of Gazzaniga. "If you want to get him excited, you'll lay out a challenge that very few people would ever consider taking on."

Heatherton said Gazzaniga is "leaving big shoes to fill -- and not just because he's 6-foot-6."

The search for a new director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience is ongoing.

"There's no replacing him in kind, and what we're going to have to do is work our best to recruit," Heatherton said.

After starting his career at UCSB in 1967 as an assistant professor, Gazzaniga held faculty positions at New York University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He directed the cognitive neuroscience program at Dartmouth Medical School between 1988 and 1992 and, after four years directing a similar program at the University of California Davis, returned to the College in 1996 as McLaughlin professor.

"As both his colleague and collaborator, I can't imagine missing Mike Gazzaniga any more than I will," Heatherton said. "He's just an extra-gifted scholar, and we are very much sad for his leaving."

Heatherton also reflected on Gazzaniga's extensive ties to the College.

"He's Dartmouth through and through," Heatherton said. "He bleeds green, as they say."