The McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience explores the ways in which the brain acquires, modifies and stores information during cognitive processes. The center is home to research in neural coding and dynamics.


Systems neuroscience refers to the study of how networks of nerve cells are organized and operate to produce behavior. 

At Princeton, research focuses on neural coding, which refers to the way that information is represented in the electrical and biochemical signals in neurons (perception and short-term memory) and the patterns of synaptic connections (long-term memory), and on neural dynamics, which refers to patterns of nerve cell electrical and chemical activity in which information is created, manipulated and stored. Neural dynamics are involved in making decisions or in planning and executing sequences, such as in speaking or playing tennis.

The McDonnell Center was established in 2007 through a gift from James S. McDonnell III, John F. McDonnell, and the JSM Charitable Trust (see related story). James McDonnell III, a former University trustee, is a member of Princeton's class of 1958; John McDonnell is a member of the class of 1960.

Together, the brothers have been among Princeton's most generous donors. Their many gifts to the University include two given in honor of their late father, James S. McDonnell '21, a pioneer of the American aerospace industry: James S. McDonnell Hall, a building for teaching physics; and six James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professorships.

Their support of the McDonnell Center includes funding advanced technology in systems neuroscience and establishing an endowment to support the highly trained specialists needed to run it. It also provides an endowed fund for innovation in systems neuroscience, creates graduate fellowships, and provides for a new systems neuroscience teaching laboratory.

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