Boston University awarded $20.1 million for science of learning center

September 30, 2004

(Boston) -- Use the science of learning to advance learning about learning: This is the premise that underlies a new five-year, $20.1 million grant to Boston University.

Announced today by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the new BU Center of Excellence for Learning in Education, Science, and Technology (CELEST) is a multidisciplinary, collaborative research effort organized with the aim of developing a model of how the brain learns -- the science of learning.

A big goal, to be sure, but one that Center scientists are planning to reach through myriad investigations that show the breadth, range, and complexity needed for the task. Their findings will have benefits that reach from the laboratory to the classroom.

Funded through the NSF's new Science of Learning Centers initiative, CELEST ( is a research collaboration that will pull together educators, scientists, and technologists from four institutions: Boston University, Brandeis University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Pennsylvania. The principal investigator for CELEST is Boston University's Stephen Grossberg, director of BU's Center for Adaptive Systems and chairman of the university's Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems.

CELEST is one of three Science of Learning centers that NSF has launched to explore how humans, animals, and machines learn. The centers will investigate the foundations of learning across a range of situations, such as the processes that occur in the cell and in the brain, behaviors that are manifested by individuals and groups, and learning that takes place in formal and informal settings and by computer algorithms.

Each center represents partnerships with a variety of researchers and organizations, and each is built around an integrated, multidisciplinary research core devoted to investigating a different aspect of learning. CELEST's focus will be the study and modeling of the behavioral and brain processes involved in real-time, autonomous learning.

CELEST researchers will investigate visual perception and recognition, speech and language, remembering, cognitive-emotional interactions, and concept and rule formation. In addition, by developing qualitatively new learning algorithms based on knowledge of these processes, CELEST scientists will set out to solve the technological problems presented by uncertain and ever-changing data. Collaboration members will also develop new science and mathematics curricula and other educational materials about how the brain learns and brain-inspired technologies.

In helping to develop a full, mature science of learning, CELEST scientists will work to understand how brain mechanisms give rise to behavioral functions. The path to achieving this will lie in the Center's coordination of science, technology, educational technology, and classroom innovation to address the fundamental problems of learning.

By understanding how brain mechanisms give rise to behavioral functions, the researchers will establish the critical link between brain, behavior, and learning. This knowledge will describe how the brain's functions link to behavior, how behavior is associated with the brain's processes, how this synergy achieves and affects learning, and how our understanding of this synergy can inform technological innovation and educational pedagogies.

In addition to Boston University's CELEST, Science of Learning centers will be established at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Washington.

Researchers at Boston University's Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems are leaders in developing models that link brain to mind. The department's researchers also investigate the neural and computational principles, mechanisms, and architectures that underlie human and animal behavior and the application of neural network architectures to the solution of technological problems.
Boston University, with an enrollment of more than 29,000 in its 17 schools and colleges, is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States.

Boston University

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