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Year in Review

In this report, you will find highlights and reflections from the Wu Tsai Institute’s second full academic year, spanning July 2022 to June 2023.

  • Research

  • Recruitment

  • Building

  • Leadership

  • Events

  • Impact

We advanced interdisciplinary research, recruited outstanding scientists, expanded our faculty membership, appointed co-mentored postdoctoral fellows, and welcomed a new cohort of graduate fellows. The capstone of our year was moving into our new, permanent home at 100 College Street, linking the Department of Psychology, the Department of Neuroscience, and key faculty from several related departments.

Explore our research, activities, and impact in the sections below. Engage with us as we continue our journey to know, together.

Front entrance to 100 College Street building

Research at the frontiers of knowledge


The Institute is transcending disciplinary boundaries. Located between the central and medical campuses of Yale, it bridges scientific communities with complementary interests. Organized outside of traditional departments, divisions, and schools, it gives members the broadest academic range to explore the fundamentals of cognition.

More than 150 Yale faculty from 30 departments are members of the Wu Tsai Institute. They are aligned with one or more of the Institute’s centers, which advance interdependent perspectives on how to understand human cognition. These intellectual hubs and their cutting-edge resources and facilities draw together scientists, engineers, and scholars from across Yale.

Learn more about the advances made within the Centers below. These advances resulted in 633 journal articles and 101 conference papers.

Center for Neurocomputation and Machine Intelligence

This Center is working to spark development of new computational frameworks to understand the principles underlying human cognition. Core facilities in the Center will accelerate the scientific work of WTI faculty and students, through new high-performance computing and storage clusters, visualization tools, data sharing platforms, and emerging technologies. This year, Ping Luo was hired as Senior Computational Research Support Analyst. She will advance the Center’s goal of helping researchers adopt powerful computational approaches to make sense of the vast data being collected in the laboratories of Institute faculty members.

Below is a selection of discoveries over the past year from Wu Tsai Faculty Members in the Center for Neurocomputation and Machine Intelligence.

Prefetching using principles of hippocampal-neocortical interaction

From Wu Tsai Faculty Member Abhishek Bhattacharjee’s research group, published in Proceedings of the 19th Workshop on Hot Topics in Operating Systems:

Waiting to retrieve stored information can dramatically slow computer processing. This work draws inspiration from the brain to propose a new approach for prefetching — the act of moving data from slower to faster storage proactively so they are ready when needed. Prefetching is an important performance optimization in computer systems, but becomes difficult as applications and systems increase in complexity. By drawing on cognitive neuroscientific theories of fast and continuous learning in the brain, the paper developed the first online data prefetcher that is accurate, efficient, and adaptable.

Prefetching using principles of hippocampal-neocortical interaction

From Wu Tsai Faculty Member Rajit Manohar’s research group, published in IEEE Transactions on Computer-Aided Design of Integrated Circuits and Systems:

Software algorithms can be built into the hardware of computer chips to dramatically improve performance. This work creates a rapid prototyping framework to simplify this process, by translating message-passing algorithms into a description language that can be mapped to massively parallel field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). This framework can support a wide range of circuits and is now being used to accelerate the training of models that are inspired by computational principles of the visual cortex in mammals.

From a collaboration between the research groups of Wu Tsai Faculty Members Smita Krishnaswamy and Nick Turk-Browne, published in Nature Computational Science:

The human brain is incredibly complex but its activity follows predictable patterns. This work develops a new algorithm (T-PHATE) optimized for human brain imaging that captures these dynamic patterns on a non-linear manifold of potential brain states. When applied to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data collected during cognitive tasks, T-PHATE can extract and visualize trajectories through these brain states, revealing how the mind is thinking, comprehending, and remembering over time.

From Wu Tsai Faculty Member Priya Panda’s research group, published in ACM Computing Surveys:

Deep learning underlies many modern technological innovations such as self-driving cars and voice assistants, yet training and running these AI models consumes a tremendous amount of energy. This work reviews the field of neuromorphic computing, which develops algorithms and systems that draw inspiration from the brain. Advances such as spiking neural networks and non-volatile memory-based computing could drastically reduce the energy use, compute latency, and learning complexity in deep learning of the future.

Center for Neurodevelopment and Plasticity

This Center explores how the brain forms during development and how it is modified with learning and memory. It integrates cellular and molecular knowledge with emerging properties of behavior to extract fundamental principles of brain function that cut across evolutionary history and the human lifespan. Activities this past year focused on establishing collaborative spaces that promote the creation of new imaging approaches that bridge scales, from the molecular dynamics in single neurons to the functional dynamics of the brain.

Below is a selection of discoveries over the past year from Wu Tsai Faculty Members in the Center for Neurodevelopment and Plasticity.

Spatiotemporally heterogeneous coordination of cholinergic and neocortical activity

From a collaboration between the research groups of Wu Tsai Faculty Members Jess Cardin and Michael Higley, published in Nature Neuroscience:

Activity patterns across the brain define an animal’s behavior and cognition. Using multi-color widefield fluorescent imaging in awake mice, this study discovered that spontaneous transitions between behaviors such as arousal and locomotion are associated with changes in these activity patterns coordinated by the release of acetylcholine. This dynamic coupling between neural and cholinergic signals may help explain fluctuations in cognitive states at the level of neural circuits.

Spatiotemporally heterogeneous coordination of cholinergic and neocortical activity

From a collaboration between the research groups of Wu Tsai Faculty Members Thierry Emonet and Damon Clark, published in Nature:

Animals can navigate through the world using different senses. This study discovered how one species, the fruit fly, navigates based on smell. This requires identifying the source of odors, which flies achieve by sensing the direction that the odor moves across their antennae corrected for the direction of the wind. This reliance on odor motion is more efficient than other olfactory cues and mimics strategies used to detect visual motion through the eye.

From Wu Tsai Faculty Member Charlie Greer’s research group, published in eNeuro:

Immune cells are ubiquitous in the brain but much less is known about their function than neurons. This study discovered that microglia, a major class of brain immune cells, maintain corridors in the developing brain that facilitate the movement of new neurons to their target destination. These findings have important implications for understanding normal and disordered development of neural circuits and connectivity.

From Wu Tsai Faculty Member Flora Vaccarino’s research group, published in Molecular Psychiatry:

Developmental disorders such as Tourette syndrome provide an important window into the link between genetics, biology, and behavior. Using stem cells to grow organoids — person-specific samples of tissue that mirror properties of the brain — this study discovered that Tourette’s is associated with decreased production of inhibitory interneurons in certain brain regions. This early mispatterning alters the inhibitory tone of networks connecting the cortex and basal ganglia, which may help explain the disabling behavioral tics that occur in this disorder.

Center for Neurocognition and Behavior

This Center seeks to understand the functional organization of the human mind and brain, and to use knowledge to advance human potential. Over the course of the year, Kia Nobre was appointed as the Center’s Director and Roeland Hancock was hired as the Director of BrainWorks, the Center’s cutting-edge core facility at 100 College Street. BrainWorks houses the latest technologies for safely measuring and manipulating human brain activity with unparalleled precision and for capturing natural behavior in immersive environments.

Below is a selection of discoveries this year from Wu Tsai Faculty Members in the Center for Neurocognition and Behavior.

Thinking about doing: Representations of skill learning

From a collaboration between the research groups of Wu Tsai Faculty Members Julia Leonard and Sam McDougle, published in Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society:

What intuitions do people have about how humans learn? When asked to predict performance in a novel task, this study found that people correctly predicted that accuracy in the task would rise rapidly and then plateau. However, people were overly optimistic about overall task accuracy and relatively pessimistic about how quickly individuals learn. These findings shed light on why and when people choose to learn certain skills or abandon them after encountering difficulty.

Thinking about doing: Representations of skill learning

From Wu Tsai Faculty Member Joy Hirsch’s research group, published in IEEE Photonics Conference:

Reading faces and making eye contact are essential for effective social interaction, and yet these processes are poorly understood because there are limited options for brain imaging during live, two-person interactions. This study uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy to record brain activity simultaneously in two individuals in a face-to-face task exploring emotions. Compared with typically developed individuals, those with autism spectrum disorder showed reduced activity in areas of the brain involved in social skills.

From Wu Tsai Faculty Member Steve Chang’s research group, published in Neuron:

The eyes of another individual provide a fundamental source of information for social behavior. This study investigated how this information about interactive social gaze is processed in the primate brain. Gazing at other individuals resulted in widespread activity, not limited or timed to certain regions, suggesting a model of social interaction that depends on distributed computations across large brain networks.

From Wu Tsai Faculty Member Julian Jara-Ettinger’s research group, published in Cognition:

Learning from others is an efficient way to glean information without having to experience everything ourselves, but this is only useful if our sources are reliable. This study reveals how young children make inferences about the knowledge and trustworthiness of others. The results show that children use sophisticated mental models to make these inferences and determine who is worth sharing knowledge with.

Stimulating integrative research

To spark and advance interdisciplinary inquiry, the Institute offers Innovation Grants to support new collaborations on early-stage, high risk/reward projects between members from different disciplines. Here are midpoint highlights from two of the four teams we are currently supporting: 

New combinations of imaging methods to reveal organization and disturbances of brain activity

The brain is organized by a set of principles whose disruption can be a sign — or even a cause — of cognitive decline. To better understand the healthy brain and what happens when disease affects the brain, we seek to illuminate these organizing principles. We are working on a novel multimodal neuroimaging approach that integrates positron emission tomography, optical imaging, and functional magnetic resonance imaging. By applying this framework in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s Disease, we are working to uncover early changes in brain activity patterns that are indicative of disease and the neurobiological changes that drive them. In this degenerative model, we have observed early hyperactivity followed by a loss of synapses and neural connectivity between specific brain regions. In the coming year, we aim to determine the relative roles of excitatory/inhibitory synapse balance versus overall synapse loss to these changes in brain activity.

Seeking fundamental neural algorithms for motion detection

Detecting motion in the environment as we move or objects move toward us is a critical task of our perceptual systems. Compared with motion detection in the visual system, relatively little is known about the computation of motion signals in the auditory and motor systems. Our goal is to compare neural algorithms for motion detection across perceptual systems. This year we have been investigating how the human brain perceives rising or falling pitches. We have shown how humans combine loudness cues at different frequencies and times. Strikingly, we find commonalities in the algorithms used to detect auditory pitch changes and those used to detect visual motion, suggesting deep parallels in neural computations across senses. We are analyzing speech databases to reveal how these algorithms relate to human speech patterns and will soon begin work comparing visual and auditory to touch systems.

Recruiting talent


The Institute’s university-wide Hiring Committee recruited two outstanding faculty to Yale last year. Kia Nobre, a cognitive neuroscientist, was recruited from Oxford University to Yale as Wu Tsai Professor in the Department of Psychology, an Associate Director of the Institute, and the Director of the Center for Neurocognition and Behavior. Shreya Saxena, a computational neuroscientist, was recruited from the University of Florida to Yale as a Wu Tsai Investigator and Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. These faculty embody the spirit of the Institute by pursuing innovative and original research at the nexus of multiple disciplines.

In addition to these Institute-led recruitments, we also partnered with departments across the university to facilitate hiring of additional faculty to Yale who will contribute to our mission. These include Wu Tsai Investigators and Assistant Professors Tristan Geiller and Aaron Kuan in the Department of Neuroscience, and Chris Lynn in the Department of Physics.

Dr. Nobre has made foundational discoveries about human perception, attention, and memory. Her research added the time dimension to the study of cognition, revealing how we pay attention at key moments and how we generate expectations of what will happen next. Her latest research is moving from the laboratory to the real world, uncovering how cognition works differently “in the wild.” She brings to Yale invaluable scientific expertise, visionary leadership, and dedication to mentoring, collaboration, and societal impact.

Kia Nobre, Wu Tsai Faculty Member

Dr. Saxena is a leader in the use of modern computational frameworks to make sense of the brain. She uses neural networks to investigate how brain signals get translated into complex motor behaviors. These approaches can also be used to interpret and combine cellular imaging datasets. Her prowess in computational theory and analysis advance a central goal of the Institute to integrate behavioral and brain data across scales.

Shreya Saxena, Wu Tsai Faculty Member

Training researchers

We welcomed our first cohort of Wu Tsai Graduate Fellows: nine outstanding PhD students representing programs in neuroscience, psychology, physics, data science, and engineering.

Wu Tsai Postdoctoral Fellow Ashlea Segal joined the labs of Avram Holmes and Nenad Sestan to complete our first cohort of six Fellows. Through co-mentoring across disciplines, they are bridging neurology, computer science, electrical engineering, psychiatry, psychology, and neuroscience.

Eight Yale undergraduates joined six students from Connecticut College, Amherst College, Iowa State University, and the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras and Humacao, last summer for research experiences in computer science, physics, biology, neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology labs at Yale.

A building for tomorrow’s discoveries


A new era for neuroscience at Yale began in June 2023 with the move of the Wu Tsai Institute to its newly renovated home at 100 College Street in New Haven. Multiple floors house the Institute’s research labs, faculty and student offices, shared facilities with cutting-edge equipment, classrooms and meeting rooms, and social and event spaces to promote interdisciplinary interaction.

When the move is complete, the building will bring together the entire Department of Psychology from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Neuroscience from the School of Medicine, along with representatives from several other key departments, including Psychiatry, Neurology, Genetics, Statistics and Data Science, Computer Science, and Biomedical Engineering.

100 College Street, Sol Lewitt wall drawing 100 College Street, Wu Tsai Institute lounge area View from the 11th floor of 100 College Street.



With the recruitment of Kia Nobre as Associate Director of the Institute and Director of the Center for Neurocognition and Behavior, the Institute’s leadership team is fully established. She joins Institute Director Nick Turk-Browne, Associate Directors Daniel Colón-Ramos and John Lafferty, and Managing Director Kelley Remole. This team continues to receive valuable advice and feedback from our internal Steering Committee composed of university leaders and faculty representatives from Yale.

The Institute also benefited last year from the first meeting of our newly formed External Advisory Board, composed of distinguished scientists and respected academic leaders whose expertise spans the areas of the Institute: Jonathan Cohen (Princeton University), James DiCarlo (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Leslie Greengard (New York University and Flatiron Institute), Carla Shatz (Stanford University), Daphna Shohamy (Columbia University).

WTI External Advisory Board meeting; nine people standing together in a meeting space.
Left to right: Nick Turk-Browne, James DiCarlo, John Lafferty, Carla Shatz, Daphna Shohamy, Leslie Greengard, Kelley Remole, Jonathan Cohen, Daniel Colón-Ramos

Student and Postdoc Committee

An energetic group of Yale graduate students and postdocs started the Wu Tsai Institute Student and Postdoc Committee (SPC). Led by Sara Sanchez-Alonso and Gustavo Madeira, this group provided input and advice to WTI leadership on trainee interests, experiences, and needs. In its first year, the group ran multiple research, professional, and social events for Yale researchers as well as outreach activities for the local community.

SPC at Sips and Science

The SPC is all about active involvement and making a tangible difference. It’s about being empowered to make changes that positively impact our peers and the broader Yale community. Trainees are working towards a common goal: enhancing the well-being and success of the research community.

Gustavo Madeira Santana, SPC Co-chair



Frequent events brought faculty, trainees, and staff together across disciplines, including the socially focused WTI Fall Reception as well as more scientifically focused activities. The Center for Neurocomputation and Machine Intelligence led several activities aimed at learning about the landscape of computational research that is advancing understanding of cognition. The Center welcomed five talented early-career researchers to Yale for a day-long symposium on Computation and Cognition. Three more established researchers visited individually to share their work at the intersection of computational modeling and neuroscience: Xaq Pitkow (Carnegie Mellon University), Guillaume Lajoie (University of Montreal and Mila), and Dan Yamins (Stanford University).

The Institute organized a day-long conference in June, Groundbreaking, to inaugurate our gleaming new workshop space at 100 College Street, with vistas of the Long Island Sound and downtown New Haven. Conference co-chairs Phil Corlett and Marc Schneeberger Pane welcomed more than 150 attendees from the Yale community. The 13 speakers across multiple sessions and breakouts featured Innovation Grant teams, Postdoctoral Fellows, and faculty members from each of the three Centers.



The Institute supported local efforts to build community while also contributing to national and international communities.

rtFIN 2022 event welcome sign

The biennial Real-Time Functional Imaging and Neurofeedback (rtFIN) conference was hosted at Yale with the Institute’s support. Co-organizers Michelle Hampson and Nick Turk-Browne welcomed 162 faculty and trainees from 14 countries. The conference included sessions focused on cognitive training, ethics and diversity, novel imaging methods, data sharing initiatives, and clinical and basic science applications.

The monthly Computational Neuroscience Chalk Talks, run by Damon Clark, welcomed faculty to give and receive feedback on theoretical and computational approaches to questions in neuroscience. Topics included deriving rules for growth of dendritic arbors, developing biophysical models to explain synaptic adaptation, and applying principles of information bottlenecks to explain visual processing.

Students and faculty interested in philosophy and neuroscience gathered at weekly journal clubs and regular external speaker events through Applied Philosophy in Neuroscience (APHINE), led by graduate students Alec Sheffield, Clayton Barnes, and Natalia Castelo Branco. Topics included consciousness, neurolinguistics, evolution of the mind, and neuroaesthetics.

We joined tens of thousands of neuroscientists at the annual conference of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), hosted in San Diego, California. It was the Institute’s first conference exhibit, and the booth sparked interest, questions, and conversations from numerous researchers across career stages and around the world.

The Institute’s newly launched website was nominated for two Webby Awards in the categories of Best Website and Mobile Sites for a School/University and Best Mobile Visual Design Aesthetic (Mobile Features).

We supported Black in Neuro in their work to diversify the field of neuroscience by celebrating and empowering Black scholars and professionals. We especially recognize the efforts of Black in Neuro co-founder and Wu Tsai Postdoctoral Fellow De-Shaine Murray.


We are grateful to Clara Wu Tsai and Joseph C. Tsai, Esq., ’86, ’90 J.D. for their transformational gift to establish the Wu Tsai Institute and for their ongoing support.

“The world’s great universities are built to pursue consequential questions, and nothing is more foundational than understanding the mystery of the human brain,” Joe Tsai said.

“Interdisciplinary collaboration is fundamental to success in the life sciences field,” said Clara Wu Tsai. “Our foundation is built on that very premise, and, in all of our efforts, Joe and I work to bring great scientists together across fields and areas of expertise. From the maturation of the mind and brain to the development of new cognitive computational models and the study of human behavior, scientists at the Wu Tsai Institute will be working on the very cutting edge of the cognitive sciences.”

Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai sitting courtside at a basketball game

We also thank the following individuals and organizations for their generous support this year: Microsoft Corporation to the WTI Center for Neurocomputation and Machine Intelligence; Sandra '96 LAW and Hugh '96 LAW Lawson for WTI Programmatic Support; Susannah and Jim Adelson P'20 through the Susannah and Jim Adelson Endowment for Brain Research; GG Technologies and chief executive officer, Wei Huang, through the GG Technologies Resource Fund for Human Brain Decoding.

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View the previous year’s report for July 2021 to June 2022, the Institute’s first full academic year.