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Brian Solomon’s Guide To The Stars: Psychology Professor Jim Haxby

Dartmouth has a wealth of experienced professors who lead their respective research fields, while also working closely with students — inspiring them in the classroom and leading them in laboratory environments. And while at Dartblog we talk frequently about problems that need to be fixed at the College, there are still many bright spots. Our professors deserve more recognition for their achievements. As such, this is one in a series of posts that will shine a spotlight on the best professors in Hanover:

Jim Haxby1.jpgJim Haxby is the Evans Family Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Director of both the Cognitive Neuroscience Center and the Brain Imaging Center at Dartmouth. His current research includes “developing methods that make it possible to decode an individual’s brain data.” If that sounds like something out of science fiction, Haxby’s leading scholarship means it certainly won’t be for long.

The Carlton College alum (1973, B.A. in Psychology, magna cum laude) was a Fulbright-DAAD Scholar at the Universität Bonn in West Germany before earning his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Minnesota. He spent 21 years at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland and then joined Princeton University in 2002 as Professor in the Psychology Department. He came to Dartmouth’s Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in 2008, and also joined the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences at the University of Trento, Italy in 2011.

According to Google Scholar, Haxby is the single most-cited Dartmouth professor among Arts & Sciences faculty, with 44,740 individual citations for research papers he co-authored. That includes 196 papers cited more than 10 times, and 7 papers cited more than 1,000 times. Haxby’s H-index, a common way to measure citation breadth and depth (computed as the largest number H such that H publications have at least H citations), is a faculty-leading 94.

Haxby’s most-cited paper, published in 2000, examines our brain’s complex system for perceiving and recognizing other human faces. Participating in one of his studies sounds downright fun, especially this one from a paper published in 2011, in which participants watched a classic action movie while hooked up to an fMRI. The results helped decipher our brains’ common neural activity patterns for identifying visual imagery:

Participants in the study watched the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark while their patterns of brain activity were measured using fMRI. In two separate experiments, they viewed still images of seven categories of faces and objects (male and female human faces, monkey faces, dog faces, shoes, chairs and houses) or six animal species (squirrel monkeys, ring-tailed lemurs, mallards, yellow-throated warblers, ladybugs and luna moths). Analysis of the brain activity patterns evoked by the movie produced the common code. Once the brain patterns were in the common code, including responses that were not evoked by the movie, distinct patterns were detected that were common across individuals and specific for fine distinctions, such as monkey versus dog faces, and squirrel monkeys versus lemurs.

While Haxby’s scholarship is well beyond our understanding, we also recommend any Professor whose paper titles include “‘What’ and ‘Where’ in the human brain” and “Beyond mind reading.”

Haxby’s leadership of the Dartmouth Brain Imaging Center puts him at the center of one of the college’s great research triumphs. In 1999, the College became the first liberal arts school to own and operate a MRI machine for strictly research purposes. Even undergraduates get to take advantage of the machine (located in the basement of Moore Hall); almost half of all honor’s theses in the PBS department use the MRI.

Haxby also runs his own lab that “actively participates in the development of software systems for neuroimaging research.” His next undergraduate class in PBS is a seminar on “Decoding the Human Brain” in Winter term 2017.

You can watch videos of three of Haxby’s lectures: here, here, and here.

Addendum: The Review is also focusing on the College’s top professors; it is currently running a profile and interview with Religion Professor Susannah Heschel.

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