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We are thrilled to announce that the University of California has approved the designation of the UC Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (CNLM) as an Organized Research Unit (ORU) in recognition of the CNLM’s critical role in supporting interdisciplinary research on the brain processes that enable the formation, maintenance and retrieval of memories. Biologists, engineers, computer scientists, and other specialists work together at the center to generate fundamental and often unexpected breakthroughs that have transformed our understanding of the workings of memory and the brain.

The role of an ORU is to “provide a supportive infrastructure for pursuing and enabling interdisciplinary collaborative research complementary to the traditional disciplinary goals of academic departments and schools.” The central role of the CNLM is to provide a physical and intellectual environment, as well as a wide variety of programs and activities that facilitate the work of CNLM researchers (Fellows). Fellows are elected based on their distinguished scholarly record or strong promise for excellence in the field. They are highly productive, individually and collaboratively, and are among the world’s leading scholars providing both theoretical and empirical contributions to the neuroscience of learning and memory.

CNLM Spring Meeting Group Photo

From the day UCI first opened its doors, neuroscience has been among our towering academic strengths, including the establishment of the first department of neuroscience (at the time called Psychobiology) in the world in 1964. Subsequently, the CNLM was established in 1983 as the first research institute in the world dedicated to learning and memory.

CNLM Director Michael Yassa Pull Quote

The CNLM includes more than 100 Fellows from 22 UCI departments and over 40 external Fellows from around the world. The CNLM’s Fellowship includes 3 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 12 fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 12 University Distinguished Professors and 3 Chancellor’s Professors. These renowned scholars have made seminal contributions to our understanding of memory and continue to advance and shape the field. The Center’s multi-investigator collaborative grants exceeded $100M in federal funding over the last five years. CNLM Fellows produce an average of 30 team science peer-reviewed publications every year, above and beyond publications from their individual labs.

CNLM Group Photo

“Since its inception, the CNLM has catalyzed and supported interdisciplinary research on the brain processes that enable the formation, maintenance, and retrieval of memory,” said Pramod Khargonekar, Vice Chancellor for Research. “During its most recent phase under Director Yassa’s leadership, the CNLM has diversified and expanded its membership, successfully expanded its philanthropic fundraising activities, and boosted its training, education, and community engagement events...I wish to congratulate all of our CNLM Fellows in attaining ORU status and to convey my best wishes for their continued success."

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The CNLM has a large physical footprint on the UCI campus which includes three buildings. The buildings house the research labs of 10 Fellows, the Herklotz Conference Facility (100-person capacity), a vivarium, facilities for slice physiology, cell culture, two-photon microscopy, brain clearing, virtual reality, a small library, and conference rooms for graduate courses and journal clubs. Fellows have leveraged cutting-edge technologies and interdisciplinary collaborations to pioneer discoveries in the field of learning and memory. Thanks to the generous support of the CNLM’s active philanthropic community, the intellectual activities of the center have flourished and continue to boast many high-impact discoveries.

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Kei Igarashi lab

Kei Igarashi
Jason Lee
Heechul Jun
photo: Steve Zylius/UCI

While our Fellows continue to make transformative discoveries in learning and memory, the CNLM has also focused on increasing diversity in the neuroscience trainee pipeline, securing several highly coveted training grants. The Center was awarded a 5-year T32 training grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to support graduate students during their doctoral training by funding their stipends, training activities and travel to conferences to present their research. The Center was also awarded two grants to support undergraduate training. Last year we became one of six National Science Foundation-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) programs in neuroscience across the country (and the only one west of Missouri). The grant supports undergraduate research training in neuroscience by funding their participation in the Irvine Summer Institute in Neuroscience. This year, the Center was awarded a grant from the University of California Office of the President to fund a partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (UC-HBCU) to engage undergraduate students from HBCUs in summer research. Together, the NSF-REU and the UC-HBCU programs will fully fund 20 students from diverse backgrounds per summer to spend 8 weeks at UC Irvine conducting research, participating in professional development opportunities and training for successful careers in neuroscience research. With these nationally recognized training programs, the CNLM continues to pave the path in preparing the next generation of neuroscientists who will lead the field.

Building meaningful partnerships with the Orange County community continues to be a priority for the Center. In 1995, the Center launched UCI's first public lecture series at the Irvine Barclay Theatre with a lecture by CNLM Founding Director, Professor James L. McGaugh. Today the Center is home to two public lecture series which have brought together over  70,000 community members to learn about the neuroscience of learning and memory.

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Over the last few years, the CNLM has launched several programs focused on training K-12 children in neuroscience and has become a national leader in this space. The Brain Explorer Academy, the UCI Summer Brain Camp, the Irvine Brain Bee and the Southern California Youth Neuroscience Academy all focus on teaching children not only the fundamentals of neuroscience but also critical thinking, research methods and analysis, science communication and leadership skills. 

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ORU designation is not only an official campus recognition of the value of the CNLM’s programs but also provides additional support to continue and expand these programs in the future.

If you are interested in learning more about the CNLM, visit https://cnlm.uci.edu