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MIT Better World

By Deborah Halber

A reviewer called Giant Brains, or Machines That Think, by Edmund C. Berkeley, an “exquisitely clear and uncompromisingly evangelistic” treatise about the creation of the world’s first personal computer. Fifty years after reading it, McGovern cited the powerful influence of the book’s portrayal of computers as a means of “amplifying the human mind.”

In 2000, McGovern, founder and chairman of International Data Group, which published 200 information technology magazines, operated 460 websites, and produced 700 events in 79 countries, founded the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT with his wife, tech entrepreneur Lore Harp McGovern.

Their $350 million founding commitment to the McGovern Institute remains one of the largest in the history of higher education philanthropy.

At the time of the institute’s founding, Lore and Pat said they believed neuroscience was poised to make major advances, including identifying the fundamental basis of brain disorders and launching potential new treatments for psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. They also hoped the institute would elucidate the scientific underpinnings of both creative achievement and conflict, ultimately transforming the world for the better. Pat passed away in 2014 at age 76, but Lore continues to remain involved with the institute as chairman and is now championing an addiction initiative involving multiple McGovern labs.

Now in its 20th year, the McGovern Institute comprises 22 faculty, three principal research scientists, and two McGovern fellows studying aspects of the brain ranging from molecular genetics to functional brain imaging. The institute has four research centers devoted to cutting-edge advances in imaging technology as well as the study of autism, psychiatric disorders, and intelligence.

Since its inception, the McGovern Institute has been producing a steady stream of discoveries about the inner workings of the brain in health and disease. “The momentum we have seen in brain research in recent years is truly astonishing,” says Lore. “I am thrilled to think of the insights and new treatment options for devastating diseases like depression and addiction that our labs will uncover over the next 20 years.”