Our Story

Vision 

The goal of the Wu Tsai Institute at Yale University is to understand human cognition. Responsible for how we think, feel, connect, learn, and grow, cognition drives our inner world and outward behavior. It enables creativity and problem solving, feeds empathy and altruism, and builds relationships and organizations. The strands of cognition are woven into the fabric of society, its systems, cultures, and values. It is the essence of what makes us human.

We explore these fundamental processes by bringing together scientists who study the psychological properties of the mind with those who study the biological properties of the brain. We bridge these often-separated branches of neuroscience through cutting-edge technologies and the common language of data science. This provides a computational foundation for building new models and theories of cognition.

We ask questions with the potential for broad impact, from education, health, and technology, to the future of the workforce and the environment, to social values, inequities, and human dignity. Why do we learn so well as young children? How do experiences and memories shape life decisions? How do molecules and cells orchestrate intelligent behavior? How can we gain control of our brain activity to improve performance? Which algorithms are used by the mind?

We embrace diversity in ideas and people, seeking meaningful and innovative cooperation across natural, social, computational, and engineering sciences. The word “cognition” traces to the Latin “co” (together) and “gnoscere” (to know). That is how we function and what we aim to achieve at the Wu Tsai Institute—to know, together.

Aerial view of Yale's campus with the glass exterior of 100 College Street in the foreground.

About

The generous gift of Joseph C. Tsai, Esq., ’86, ’90 J.D. and Clara Wu Tsai will fund research in neuroscience and data science broadly construed, with the express goal of understanding human experience through the collaborative study of cognition. The Wu Tsai Institute will bring together leading researchers at Yale and beyond, connecting breakthroughs in neuroscience through computation and fueling advances in machine learning, in order to explore and expand knowledge about cognition and to help each of us reach our potential.

This initiative dramatically advances Yale’s commitment in 2018 to bolster its leadership and research in science. At the time, President Peter Salovey announced five science priorities, selected for their potential impact, to lead investment over the next decade. The Wu Tsai Institute accelerates Yale’s work in two of these priorities: neuroscience and integrative data science. Reaching across the university’s educational, scholarly, and scientific missions, the Institute will convene faculty, postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate researchers.

These researchers will lend different perspectives on neuroscience and cognition, including from disciplines in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (e.g., linguistics; mathematics; molecular biophysics and biochemistry; molecular, cellular and developmental biology; philosophy; psychology; statistics and data science), the School of Medicine (e.g., cell biology; cellular and molecular physiology; child study center; genetics; neurology; neuroscience; neurosurgery; psychiatry), and the School of Engineering & Applied Science (e.g., computer science; biomedical engineering; electrical engineering; mechanical engineering and materials science).

Advances in basic science generated at the Wu Tsai Institute have the potential to impact many aspects of human life and society, giving Yale researchers a new opportunity to pursue excellence while improving the world, for this and future generations.

Launch Timeline

Stage 1: Launch
Winter – Summer 2021

  • Engage Yale community in planning activities
  • Create funding programs
  • Build faculty and staff membership

Stage 2: Ramp
Fall 2021 – Summer 2022

  • Recruit new faculty to Yale
  • Enroll first postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates
  • Establish core facilities and services

Stage 3: Advance
Fall 2022 –

  • Move into 100 College
  • Support innovative research collaborations
  • Offer regular workshops, seminars, and retreats

The new centers, the Center for Neurodevelopment and Plasticity, the Center for Neurocognition and Behavior, and the Center for Neurocomputation and Machine Intelligence, are represented by three circles in an illustrated venn diagram.

Organization

The Wu Tsai Institute advances its mission by combining the approaches represented across three research centers, with the Institute itself acting as a bridge to promote cooperation, idea exchange, and collective progress.

As the organizing entity, the Institute coordinates membership, space, staff, faculty hiring, postdoctoral fellowships, graduate student positions, undergraduate internships, innovation grants, events and retreats, governance (hiring committee, diversity committee, student/postdoc committee), and oversight (steering committee, external advisory board). The Wu Tsai Institute is led by an Institute Director from the Yale university faculty. Operations are overseen by a Managing Director, supported by a Lead Administrator, Diversity Director, Project Manager, Program Coordinator, Administrative Assistant, and other staff.

The three research centers—the Center for Neurodevelopment and Plasticity, the Center for Neurocognition and Behavior, and the Center for Neurocomputation and Machine Intelligence—implement programs and resources tailored to their respective research focus. This includes operating facilities and services with advanced equipment and technical staff, planning seminars and other events, managing lab space for newly recruited faculty, and interfacing with relevant departments on campus. Each center is led by a faculty Center Director, who also serves as an Associate Director of the Wu Tsai Institute.

This interconnected structure facilitates exchanges across every aspect of the Institute: faculty hiring and research interests span centers; innovation grants support new collaborative projects; postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates are co-mentored across fields. Symposia and workshops provide exposure to previously disparate fields, while state-of-the-art facilities and equipment enable innovative interaction, the development of new technologies, and the pursuit of big ideas. These initiatives create a deliberate opportunity to confront and address systemic racial, gender, and other barriers in neuroscience in order to promote equity and inclusion.

Building

The Wu Tsai Institute will be located at 100 College Street, a building designed by Elkus Manfredi that opened in 2015 in downtown New Haven, between the medical school and central campus. The building, currently undergoing renovation for the Institute and other future occupants, including the Department of Psychology, Department of Neuroscience, and colleagues from several other departments, will open in fall 2022. The location of these disciplines in the building will reflect the integration at the heart of the Institute, with computational scientists located between biologists and psychologists. Researchers will converge together in inspiring shared areas, including a large common room, visitor offices, breakout rooms, event spaces, conference rooms, and other amenities. The building will serve as a hub for neuroscience at Yale, enabling new and unexpected intellectual collisions and collaborative opportunities across departments and schools.

Aerial view of building at 100 College Street.

Membership

Carrying out the interdisciplinary mission of the Wu Tsai Institute requires a broad and diverse community of scholars. To join this community, Yale faculty can seek an appointment as member of the Institute. Faculty from departments and schools across the university with research interests related to the mind and brain are welcome to apply. To learn more about the application process and about the privileges and expectations of Institute faculty, please consult the membership guide.