Hebrew University to dedicate new brain research center

Designed by British architect Lord Norman Foster, center aims to foster research collaboration and interaction

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

An artist's rendering of the brain sciences building at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (Image: Foster + Partners / Hebrew University)"
An artist's rendering of the brain sciences building at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (Image: Foster + Partners / Hebrew University)"

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem will this week dedicate its new interdisciplinary center for brain sciences, set up to foster collaboration with the aim of promoting breakthroughs in the study of the brain.

More than 400 people are expected to attend the Tuesday dedication ceremony of The Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC), said to be the largest neuroscience center in Israel. British architect Lord Norman Foster, whose firm designed the building, will also be among the guests.

“The idea is to gather all the brain research scientists that do interdisciplinary research at the university under one roof so that they can be close to each other. This will enhance their relations and their research,” said Dr Rafi Aviram, executive director of the ELSC.

The new $58 million building, scheduled to open in October, is part of a $150 million budget allocated for the project, in which researchers will deal with subjects as varied as the study of single molecules to the entire brain, from cognitive psychology to computational neuroscience, in an effort to transform the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders. The scientists follow an interdisciplinary agenda to uncover the causal links between genes, neurons and circuits from which cognition and behavior emerge.

Lily Safra (Courtesy)
Lily Safra (Courtesy)

The funds will help recruit 15 additional researchers and equip the building with state-of-the-art equipment, Aviram said, adding that the university hopes to open the center’s doors in time for the upcoming academic year.

The building itself will reflect the intradisciplinary approach to research.

The building is arranged in two parallel wings around a central courtyard, the upper levels of which will house laboratories that are connected by “social hubs.” These hubs, which need to be crossed to get to the various labs, have seating areas where researchers can chat and chat. The aim is to encourage interaction and the exchange of ideas, according to the architect’s website. The labs will also be mixed, with each wing holding researchers working on different subjects.

“We will have theorists working near cognitive psychologists,” Aviram said.

At the ground floor there will be teaching facilities, a 200-seat auditorium and a library. Besides the labs, the 14,500 square-meter (156,000 sq. ft.) center will include classrooms, an imaging center, and areas for biological and pre-clinical research. Emphasis was placed on constructing an environmentally friendly building with a focus on conserving energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the university said in a statement.

Norman Foster in 2008 (CC BY-SA, Andy Miah, WikiMedia Commons)
Norman Foster in 2008 (CC BY-SA, Andy Miah, WikiMedia Commons)

The project “is much like a city in microcosm, with some of the same challenges: how do we best create a sense of community, share knowledge, bring people together, and support collective endeavors towards common goals?” said Foster, an award-winning architect whose firm Foster + Partners is behind such architectural landmarks as The Gherkin in London, San Francisco’s Oceanwide Center and The One in Toronto.

“The building works flexibly, accommodating a diverse range of requirements from customisable, individual workstations to a central courtyard that is the social heart, breaking the traditional mould of learning and making the process more collaborative. It is a celebration of the brain, and of the vital work that is carried out by the researchers here,” Foster said in the statement.

This is Foster’s first project in Israel, Aviram said.

Lily Safra, a supporter of neuroscience research projects around the world and chairwoman of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, which pledged a lead donation of $50 million of the center’s $150 million initial budget, is scheduled to attend the dedication ceremony.

“I am truly thrilled to join in celebrating this defining moment for ELSC when such an extraordinary new building becomes home to a remarkable community of researchers and students,” said Safra. “Their multi-disciplinary study of the brain’s secrets will surely make a profound impact on how we treat disease and care for patients.”

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