Image from HWNI member Helen Bateup’s lab, showing their human brain organoid model of the developmental disorder tuberous sclerosis complex.
Who We Are
The Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute (HWNI) is the nexus for campus-wide multidisciplinary neuroscience research at UC Berkeley. Our over 70 faculty members come from 12 different academic departments. This unique cross-departmental structure brings together experts from a variety of fields to use the power of interdisciplinary research to achieve breakthroughs in the study of the brain and the rest of the nervous system and to drive the development of novel treatments and technologies.
We support our faculty in their individual research aims and foster opportunities for collaboration. To facilitate the work of our members, HWNI sponsors major research initiatives and runs six innovative neurotechnology and research centers. HWNI also helps train the next generation of neuroscientists in cutting-edge approaches through our support of the Neuroscience PhD Program. Our community is highly innovative, collaborative, and dedicated to answering important questions and solving pressing issues in neuroscience.
Our current faculty members come from the departments and schools of:
The research mission of HWNI is to deepen our understanding of how the brain and the rest of the nervous system functions, develops, changes, and ages; the processes underlying neurological diseases and disorders; and to improve outcomes for patients by developing new methods to diagnose and treat neurological diseases. We study the nervous system from single molecules to human behavior, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches and use-inspired research. To achieve this mission, we bring together brilliant researchers from Berkeley’s world-leading programs in biology, psychology, engineering, chemistry, physics, statistics, computation, and more to collaborate and build next-generation approaches to probe the nervous system through original research and paradigm-shifting neurotechnology innovation.
HWNI’s mission is also to serve society by disseminating the knowledge and technology we generate to further scientific and clinical advances, and by training the next generation of leaders in the field of neuroscience through our support of the Neuroscience PhD Program. HWNI is deeply committed to increasing diversity and creating a welcoming, inclusive, and equitable environment where all of our students, staff, and faculty can thrive personally and professionally and achieve their highest potential. As a highly collaborative, interdisciplinary institute, we know that bringing together researchers with diverse perspectives and experiences fuels scientific breakthroughs, and cultivating a diverse and inclusive community strengthens our research programs, supports talented individuals, and benefits society at large.
’60s and ’70s: The Beginning
The discipline of neurobiology was first formally represented on the UC Berkeley campus in the middle 1960s when a Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Neurobiology was formed at the urging of several prominent faculty members, including Gunther Stent, Horace Barlow, and Gerald Westheimer.
By the early 1970s, the neurobiology faculty had grown within a variety of departments (Physiology, Anatomy, Electrical Engineering, Zoology, Optometry, and Psychology), and a Graduate Group in Neurobiology was formed.
’80s: A Major Reorganization
A major reorganization of graduate education in biology was initiated in 1980. By 1989, 13 small biology departments on campus were replaced with the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB). At that time, the discipline of neurobiology was formally and administratively recognized by the university, when it created the Division of Neurobiology within the Department of MCB.
But this recognition only took the process for organizing neuroscience at UC Berkeley halfway.
’90s: A Bolder Plan
In the early 1990s, neuroscience at Berkeley was distributed across campus in many different departments. MCB’s Division of Neurobiology was established as the intellectual center for molecular and cellular neurobiology. Similarly, the Department of Psychology emerged as the de facto center for behavioral and cognitive neuroscience. The campus neuroscience community needed to be unified.
Starting in the mid-1990s, we began to lay the groundwork for a much bolder and more interactive program on campus stretching from genes and molecules to behavior and cognition. This was felt to be critical since neuroscience transcends the boundaries that define traditional academic departments and modes of education and support. Indeed, neuroscience has emerged as its own multidisciplinary field, spanning almost every area of modern science from psychology to biology to physical science.
1995: Helen Wills Donation
In 1995, Helen Wills Moody (UC Berkeley class of 1925) endowed the Neuroscience PhD Program, a gift that brought researchers on campus together around a common goal to train the next generation of leaders in neuroscience. The Center for Neuroscience (later called the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute) was created in 1997 under the leadership of Professors Carla Shatz and Corey Goodman to meet the programmatic needs of integrating the diverse campus neuroscience community, to provide a home for new faculty appointed jointly in a variety of existing departments, and to oversee the Neuroscience PhD Program. The Neuroscience PhD Program accepted its first class in fall 2001.
Photo of Helen Wills Moody courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.
2001 to Now: Growth
Since its inception, neuroscience at UC Berkeley has grown significantly. We have expanded to include over 70 faculty members from 12 different departments. Each year, our faculty host approximately 60 Neuroscience PhD Program students and 150 postdoctoral scholars who support UC Berkeley’s premier educational and research mission. We also have over 100 PhD Program alumni who work in a variety of careers across the globe. We support our community by sponsoring research initiatives and leading-edge technology centers, and we have developed collaborations across and beyond our campus.
As a highly collaborative, interdisciplinary institute, we bring together researchers with diverse perspectives and experiences to fuel scientific breakthroughs, support talented individuals, and benefit society at large.
Helen Wills Moody was an Olympic gold medal-winning tennis champion and UC Berkeley alum (class of 1925). In 1995, she gave a gift that established an endowment for the Berkeley Neuroscience PhD Program and helped provide initial funding for our institute. In 2000, it was renamed the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute in honor of her generous gift.