An Inside Look at the Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos may have gotten a slow start with his personal philanthropy, but he's making up for lost time now. Bezos has been ramping up his giving since 2009, and his interests are kind of all over the place: $10 million to the Museum of History and Industry, $300,000 to support global literacy non-profit Worldreader, $10 million to the Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. His biggest and most recent major gift, however, was $15 million to establish the Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics at Bezos's alma mater, Princeton University. This gift was announced just before Christmas in 2011.

Neural dynamics means the study of patterns of nerve cell electrical and chemical activity in which information is created, manipulated, and stored. It's intriguing — and a little unusual — that Bezos is interested in this field. He was a computer science and electrical engineering major at Princeton (big surprise, right?), and his wife, also an alumnus, majored in creative writing. So why the big brain interest all of a sudden? Our guess is that Bezos is setting his sights on learning more and more about the brain in order to integrate this knowledge with technology in ways that will benefit education, health care — and his bottom line. "We are on an epic quest to unravel one of humankind's greatest challenges — understanding the brain," said Bezos. "We can hope for advancements that lead to understanding deep behaviors, more effective learning methods for young children, and cures for neurological diseases. MacKenzie and I are delighted and excited to support Princeton in their focus on fundamental neuroscience."

The opening of the center is running a little behind schedule, as it was expected to be operational by the summer of 2013.