December 19, 2017

Caltech Breaks Ground on Chen Neuroscience Research Building

The Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Neuroscience Research Building will be a hub for interdisciplinary brain research.

Billionaire philanthropists Tianqiao Chen and Chrissy Luo have initiated a global, holistic effort to better understand the brain. And with a 2016 gift of $115 million to create the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech, they selected Caltech as their cornerstone partner in this endeavor.

One year later, on December 5, 2017, the Caltech community came together with Pasadena mayor Terry Tornek and distinguished guests from China to break ground for the Chen Neuroscience Research Building. The $200 million complex will usher in a new era of brain research.

“We really respect Caltech’s contribution
in pushing the boundaries of human knowledge—from outer space to the atom. Caltech can contribute the same greatness to understanding the human brain.”
- Tianqiao Chen

The Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech bolsters Caltech’s distinctive interdisciplinary and computational approach toward studying neuroscience, which spans a continuum from basic brain function to perception, cognition, emotion, action, and even conscious experience.

The state-of-the-art Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Neuroscience Research Building, expected to open in 2020, will serve as the nerve center for this initiative, which encompasses five centers across Caltech’s campus. The building’s centralized facilities will provide a physical nexus for students and faculty seeking to understand the intricacies of the brain’s structure and function at all scales.

“The Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Neuroscience Research Building will be the site where the unanswerable questions that change our relation to ourselves are posed and pursued,” says Caltech president Thomas Rosenbaum, holder of the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics. “Today’s groundbreaking marks a milestone in our shared quest for wisdom. We are grateful to be on this journey with Tianqiao and Chrissy, and all those who have been inspired by the unanswerable.”

The event provided an opportunity to look forward to transformational discoveries as well as to reflect on strides made in the year since the Chen Institute for Neuroscience was established. Already, the Chen Institute has awarded more than a half million dollars in grants to seed 13 research projects, helped to establish a Chen Center for Neuroscience Education at Caltech, and funded seven Chen graduate fellowship awards.

“Understanding brain function and dysfunction is one of the greatest intellectual challenges facing humanity,” says David Anderson, Caltech’s Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience Director and Leadership Chair, Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. “Cracking its codes and understanding its wiring will require new technologies, new insights, and new discoveries. Caltech, with its strong traditions in both the biological and physical sciences, is the best place in the world to achieve the breakthroughs that will come from such collaborations.”


“The Chen Institute has provided us with the resources and space to realize this tremendous potential, and to have a global impact on this exploding field.”
- David Anderson

In his remarks, Mayor Tornek noted that the city of Pasadena and Caltech are “remarkably similar in the sense that we punch way above our weight.” He added, “We have a disproportionate footprint for our respective sizes.”

To help sustain its outsized impact, Caltech launched Break Through: The Caltech Campaign, in 2016. The Chens’ gift to endow the Chen Institute exemplifies the philanthropic vision underlying this $2 billion fundraising effort to support people, programs, and facilities in focused areas of interdisciplinary expertise—like neuroscience—that hold promise for transforming science and society.