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Michale Fee, the Glen V. and Phyllis F. Dorflinger Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, has received the Fundamental Science Investigator Award. Fee is the inaugural recipient of the award, which is intended to support innovative research that has the potential to advance the frontiers of basic science.
“Fee represents the best of what we hope for as scientists,” says Michael Sipser, dean of the School of Science and the Donner Professor of Mathematics. “His basic research inspires our curiosity, leading us to new, unanticipated discoveries.”
Fee studies how the brain learns and generates complex sequential behaviors, with a focus on the songbird as a model system. Birdsong is a complex behavior that young birds learn by imitating their parents, and provides an ideal system to study the neural basis of learned behavior. Because the parts of the bird's brain that control song learning are closely related to human circuits that are disrupted in brain disorders such as Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, Fee hopes the lessons learned from birdsong will provide new clues to the causes and possible treatment of these conditions.
Fee joined the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences faculty in 2003, and is also an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. He received his PhD in applied physics from Stanford University in 1992. Before moving to MIT, he was a principal investigator in the Biological Computation Research Department at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. Among Fee’s awards are the 2012 Lawrence Katz Prize for Innovative Research in Neuroscience and the 2016 School of Science Teaching Prize for Undergraduate Research.
The $1.75 million award program was established through the generous support of John S. Reed ’61, SM ’65. Reed, retired CEO and chairman of Citigroup and former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, earned joint BS and BA degrees from MIT and Washington and Jefferson College. He then served as an officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for two years and returned to MIT to earn a master’s degree from the Sloan School of Management. He is a life member emeritus of the MIT Corporation, and served as its president from 2010 to 2014.