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Message from the Director

William T. Newsome, PhD Vincent V. C. Woo Director

William T. Newsome, PhD
Vincent V. C. Woo Director

January 15, 2020

2019, our first full year of operation as the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute, has been a whirlwind of activity on multiple fronts. Our most visible and intense challenge has been final preparation and opening of the new interdisciplinary research facility that will be a joint home-base for Wu Tsai Neuro and Stanford ChEM-H. Many hundreds of hours of diligent work by numerous Wu Tsai-ers have brought us to the threshold of creating a new research community around this building; hundreds more will be necessary to bring the elegant physical space to life with a vibrant scientific culture. Our effort will be successful to the extent that we amplify neuro-related research and educational activities of faculty, postdocs and students across our entire campus, and create new research possibilities that would not have been possible without the new facility.

The vanguard of occupants of the new Stanford Neurosciences Building, including the neurosciences graduate program, moved in within the past month. After 5 years of planning, it has been exhilarating to see the first live human beings go to work in the space and to experience our inaugural community events in the building. Yet there are only a handful of residents at the moment, and we rattle around in largely unoccupied space as I write these words on the first afternoon of 2020—a bit like the calm before the storm! This will change radically as the major tranche of labs moves in over the first few months of the new year, and as we continue to recruit new faculty, postdocs and students. It is exciting to imagine the new science that will be happening here by New Year’s day in 2021. It is up to all of us to make the science great and at the same time useful to our larger society.

Although the new facility has absorbed a great deal of effort by our staff and faculty over the past year, Wu Tsai has at the same time continued to support and expand our lively research and community building efforts. Seven active Big Ideas in Neuroscience teams are at work, three with sustained phase 2 support and four with exploratory phase 1 support. We granted new Interdisciplinary Scholar Awards to five Stanford postdocs, and Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowships to three graduate students. Most notably, we successfully inaugurated our new Neuroscience:Translate program which seeks to accelerate interdisciplinary research that is on the cusp of useful social application. We gave five Neuroscience:Translate awards in 2019, and recently completed a competition for five new awards in 2020. Information about all of these Wu Tsai funded research projects can be found on our website.  

On the educational front, a team of faculty led by Jay McClelland, EJ Chichilnisky, Surya Gangli and Jin Lee successfully acquired an NRT training grant from NSF for a new neurotechnology graduate training effort. The first cohort of trainees has been selected and inaugural courses have been established and carried out in 2019. Equally exciting, we formalized our new Stanford Undergraduate Neuroscience Society with ~80 energetic undergrads in 2019, and are now developing a summer research participation program that will provide entry level laboratory research training for a subset of SUNS students each year. Dedicated student leadership is central to all of our educational activities in including the neurosciences graduate program and our annual 7th grade Brain Day outreach program in addition to the two mentioned above.  

The amazing staff

It is now 6 weeks since the official Thanksgiving holiday, but I nevertheless feel compelled to give thanks to a few people who have contributed mightily to our success in the past year. I am particularly grateful to the Wu Tsai staff, led by Dr. Tanya Raschke, our Director for Planning and Operations, who labors constantly to provide the highest quality support to all Wu Tsai programs. Tanya’s fingerprints are on everything we do at Wu Tsai, and as I have said on numerous occasions, Tanya is more essential to Wu Tsai’s success than the director! Dr. Elise Kleeman and Ramy Abbady provide enthusiastic lead support to the Mind, Brain, Computation and Technology program and to SUNS, Cathy Lau works meticulously to ensure that our funds are well-tracked and efficiently delivered to our research teams. Daisy Ramirez and Rose Vo provide administrative support to diverse Wu Tsai programs ranging from our seminar series to our biannual retreat to our faculty searches. Opening our new research facility would not be possible without the efforts of Wilson Eng, our new building manager who is responsible for the myriad details of preparing the building for occupancy and solving problems efficiently during the growing pains than inevitably accompany occupancy. Dr. Tim Doyle, recently hired as Assistant Director for community labs, will bring experienced leadership and organizational talent as we develop shared research facilities that will benefit a research community extending far beyond the walls of the new building. I continue to be deeply grateful to Maura McGinnity and Emily Shimizu of the Office of Development who have worked hard and effectively to raise philanthropic funds for the Institute. Maura, in particular, has been there for us from the beginning in 2013. My hat is off to our development team!

At a larger organizational level, Wu Tsai is profoundly indebted to the Dean of Research, Kam Moler, and her staff. As a university independent laboratory, we report directly to DoR and depend on Kam and her staff for university-level budget and administrative support. The Deans of Medicine, Engineering and Humanities and Sciences provided critical financial support for the new building, and our ongoing operations budget for the building is vetted and supported by DoR and by the SoM dean’s office. Wu Tsai receives strategic and practical advice from an internal group of campus leaders who meet twice a year as our Senior Advisory Council, and from a mixed external-internal informal kitchen cabinet of advisors. Finally, we continue to be extraordinarily grateful to Clara Wu Tsai and Joe Tsai, our naming donors. Without the vision and ongoing support of all these people, the Institute simply would not exist.  

From the director’s chair, where I enjoy a bird’s eye view of all Institute activities, 2019 has been an exceptional year. On February 11 we will celebrate the accomplishments of Wu Tsai Neuro and ChEM-H with a morning scientific symposium and afternoon dedication ceremony (plus building tours!) for the new research facility.  Please mark your calendars and watch our website and weekly email announcements for details of the February 11 events—we want everyone to participate in this intellectual and social milestone celebration.  

Sincerely,

William T. Newsome, PhD

Vincent V.C. Woo Director, Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute
Harman Family Provostial Professor
Professor of Neurobiology