Hillman donates $5 million to CMU

Last week, the university announced that Henry Hillman donated $5 million to Carnegie Mellon’s nascent BrainHub initiative.

Hillman, referred to in a campus-wide email as a “renowned Pittsburgh philanthropist,” has donated funds to Carnegie Mellon in the past to support the construction of the Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies.

“The Hillman gift will provide new endowment funds to help support presidential graduate fellowships in areas broadly connected to brain research,” the email said. “It will also provide seed grants, through CMU’s ProSEED program, for innovative research projects that will connect faculty from disciplines across CMU.”

The Henry L. Hillman Foundation, according to its website, is “dedicated to improving the quality of life in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania.” Hillman inherited much of his money from his grandfather, a Pittsburgh steel tycoon and the founder of the Pittsburgh Coke & Chemical Company, according to Business Insider.

“Understanding how the brain works is among the great challenges of the 21st century, with results that promise to improve human health and well-being in dramatic ways,” said President Subra Suresh in a press release. “Carnegie Mellon can make a unique and distinctive contribution to this global effort by bringing together our strengths in neurobiology, computation, data sciences, human learning and behavioral science to create urgently needed research frameworks, tools and technologies, and by working in close concert with the network of BrainHub universities around the world.”
Carnegie Mellon launched the BrainHub initiative in late August; the initiative includes plans to expand Carnegie Mellon’s brain research in several different ways.

As part of the initiative, according to the initial press release on the subject, the university plans to hire 10 or more faculty specializing in brain research across various departments and fields.

BrainHub will focus on developing better tools to measure neuron activity in the brain and computational methods for analyzing brain activity to understand the link between activity in the brain and the body’s behavior. Hillman is one of many sources of funding for BrainHub. According to the press release on BrainHub, Carnegie Mellon has secured $75 million in initial commitments from organizations like the R.K. Mellon Foundation; Dietrich Foundation; Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of business consulting company Infosys; and others.

“The gift will help support the training of the next generation of brain researchers on a global scale,” the university press release says. “As part of BrainHub, Carnegie Mellon scientists will work with university partners from China, India and the United Kingdom, and the Hillman gift will be matched with other sources of support for BrainHub.”

BrainHub is meant to pave the way for new methods of measuring and analyzing brain activity, as Carnegie Mellon scientists work with other top brain researchers.

Some of BrainHub’s global partners include the University of Warwick, which has expertise in the field of digital health; Sun Yat-sen University, whose medical school is clinically experienced with autism and Alzheimer’s; Oxford University and its International Brain Mechanics and Trauma Lab; and the Indian Institute of Science, which has its own brain research center.