McDonnells, Kellers, and Other Visionary Alumni Support Neuroscience

July 1st, 2010 / Advancement

The University has begun construction on the new home of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and the Department of Psychology, a complex that will bring together faculty and students from many disciplines as well as other universities to explore the brain—its structure and circuitry—and the mind—thought, personality, memory, intelligence, and emotion—in an effort to better understand human behavior and mental functions.

Funding for the new facility, which features state-of-the-art labs and classrooms, has come from a group of dedicated alumni, led by James S. McDonnell III ’58 and John F. McDonnell ’60 *62 with a gift of $20 million. Dennis J. Keller ’63 and his wife, Constance Templeton Keller, have given $5 million; two alumni who wish to remain anonymous have given significant additional funding.

“Jim and John McDonnell and Dennis and Constance Keller are among Princeton’s most generous supporters,” said President Shirley M. Tilghman. “We are—once again—deeply grateful to them, as well as to two anonymous alumni donors, for their unwavering commitment to Princeton and for their leadership in advancing our efforts to learn more about the extraordinary workings of the brain.”

The McDonnells and the Kellers have a history of helping Princeton break new ground, both physically and intellectually. The McDonnells previously established the McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience within the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. They have also honored their late father, James S. McDonnell ’21, by funding James S. McDonnell Hall, home to the Department of Physics, and creating six James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professorships. James McDonnell ’58 also has served as a Princeton trustee. Dennis Keller, an emeritus trustee of the University and a member of the Executive Committee of the Aspire campaign, provided major funding for the Friend Center for Engineering Education, named for his classmate, the late Peter W. Friend ’63. He also established the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. In 2008 Keller received the Harold H. Helm Award for “sustained and exemplary service” to Annual Giving.

The gifts from these generous donors will play a major role in funding a new complex that will make it possible for faculty and students to collaborate with colleagues in disciplines as varied as economics, molecular biology, philosophy, and public policy. Work within the institute’s McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience and Scully Center for the Neuroscience of Mind and Behavior focuses on fundamental principles operating at the cellular, circuit, and systems levels in the brain. Knowledge of these fundamentals is essential to understanding psychological function and behavior, which in turn is crucial to solving a range of physiological, psychiatric, and social problems. Princeton’s researchers are studying these principles from a variety of perspectives, aided by advanced instrumentation that offers the latest technology for measuring brain structure and activity.

“In addition to supporting cutting-edge research, this technology will offer us new and unusual opportunities for teaching undergraduates,” noted Samuel S. Wang, associate professor of molecular biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

Construction began in April on the new complex, located at the southwest corner of the “natural sciences neighborhood” along Washington Road. The contemporary structures have been sited to take advantage of the landscape and to maximize natural light, with interior skylight shafts and external glass walls composed of two “skins,” the outer one a ribbed glass curtain that serves as a sunscreen and the inner one a smooth glass weather barrier. The insulating space between the “skins” is open at each end to allow air to circulate.

Sustainability elements are a major focus of the design by José Rafael Moneo Arquitecto, which is intended to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standards. The high-performance exterior and enhanced heat recovery for mechanical systems will reduce energy needs; low-flow plumbing fixtures will help to conserve water; and storm water will be collected in a 12,000-gallon cistern for non-potable use. The associated parking lot will be constructed of a porous paving material; additionally, plants around the building will provide biofiltration.

“These new structures, which will provide critical space for two connected research and teaching endeavors, will add to the design quality of our campus and meet our sustainability goals,” said Executive Vice President Mark Burstein. Construction of the new complex is expected to take three years as fundraising efforts continue. 

Related Story: Construction to begin on state-of-the-art facilities for neuroscience and psychology