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Department History

In its 40 years of existence, the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior has both contributed to and reflected the advances that have transformed our understanding of nerve cells, brains and mind. As one of the first Neuroscience departments in the country to bridge undergraduate and medical schools, it has made substantial contributions to the broad research and teaching missions at Stony Brook.

The Department was formed in 1979 in the Division of Biology (now part of the College of Arts and Science). The founding Chair was Dr. David H. Cohen who came to Stony Brook from the University of Virginia. Within a few years the department grew to about 15 faculty members. All were successful in establishing NIH-funded research groups, and building and equipping their laboratories was a major initiative during these early years. A Ph.D. graduate program was started and an undergraduate neuroscience track was established within the Biology major. In addition, the department took major responsibility for basic neuroscience teaching in the medical school, and was granted formal standing in the School of Medicine. The Department now includes faculty from both the College of Arts and Science and from the School of Medicine.

In 1986 Dr. Cohen left to become Vice President for Research (and later Provost) of Northwestern University. After an external search Dr. Lorne M. Mendell was appointed Chair in January, 1988 with the opportunity to recruit 7 new faculty members. This wave of recruitment was completed in 1993, and several additional positions were filled in the late 1990s. A major focus of growth in these years was in molecular and cellular neurobiology. Again, faculty members were very successful in competing for research grants. The graduate program was expanded to a cross-institutional Program in Neuroscience, with active participation by many faculty members from other departments at Stony Brook as well as from our sister institutions Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory. Investments in shared facilities during this period include a significant upgrading of the electron microscope, imaging facilities including a confocal microscope and a large-scale zebrafish facility.

In 2006, Dr. Mendell stepped down, Dr. Simon Halegoua acted as Interim Chair, and after a nationwide search Dr. Lorna W. Role from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons was appointed chair of the department in April 2008, to oversee a third wave of growth and renewal. This has led to the recruitment of 9 new faculty with expertise in the areas of neural circuits, molecular, developmental and computational neuroscience.

In 2018 Dr. Role stepped down and Dr. Fontanini was appointed as the new Chairperson, who will lead the Department towards its next phase of growth.  

Over the years, the department expanded physically from the 5th floor of the Life Sciences Building (LSB), initially onto the first floor, then into a suite of laboratories in the basement of LSB. Currently, several members of the department are in interdepartmental research groups located in the Centers for Molecular Medicine and in the Basic Sciences Tower of the School of Medicine. The 5th floor of LSB, the departmental home base, has now completed it's major renovations accommodating new research groups and facilities and  making it more functional for students, staff and faculty. New facilities for behavioral and electrophysiological research have been established and a new 2-photon microscope has been installed.

The Department has from the start achieved a high level of success in both research and training. Many  alumni of our Graduate Program  as well as numerous postdoctoral fellows from departmental laboratories have developed independent research careers in universities and research institutes as well as in industry. Faculty members have won   numerous external awards  and have been appointed or elected to many publication boards, study sections, society leadership positions, etc. Several faculty members have also won teaching awards. A notable achievement has been the success of talented high school students in competitions such as the Intel competition that were mentored by   departmental faculty members. In addition, its national and international visibility is well established due to the service and leadership of its faculty in promoting neuroscience nationwide, the successes of its alumni throughout the world and, as always, high-quality published research.