Research on the Brain: UT Opens New Imaging Center

What if you had a machine so precise that you could peer into the brain of a fruit fly? You could investigate all the underlying factors associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and even cancer. UT’s new Imaging Research Center (IRC) allows researchers to do just that.

Russ Poldrack, the center’s director and a professor of neurobiology and psychology, says that with new state-of-the-art fMRI machines and other equipment, “The IRC will link pre-clinical research with human research and provide the bench-to-bedside transition needed for neuroscience research in Austin.”

Thanks in part to $3.8 million in funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the facility was renovated and moved from the J.J. Pickle Research Campus to the Norman Hackerman Building just last week. The improved facility puts UT brain studies at the heart of campus.

The new location—right next to the College of Pharmacy—will make it easier for researchers to collaborate across disciplines, Poldrack says. In a field as wide-ranging as neuroscience, academic cross-pollination is crucial. He calls the research center “a hub for translational research.”

The facility is already a hotbed for new areas like obesity studies within the nutrition department. MRI is one of the best ways to accurately measure belly fat and deep fat sitting on the organs, and Poldrack is already sugaring up young ‘Horns for a study on how soft drinks affect weight gain.

The new center is a win for students, too. Poldrack teaches a Freshman Signature Course on neuroscience, and hauling undergrads to the relatively remote Pickle Research Campus wasn’t easy. In past semesters, Poldrack’s students only made the trip once or twice per semester.

All the wonders of the universe could not coax a sleeping freshman out of her bed in Jester on even one Saturday morning, let alone two. Now, Poldrack says, he’ll integrate imaging research into his everyday teaching.

The professor touts the government funding as a signal that Austin is coming into its own as a hub for health research. And since the UT Board of Regents recently backed a future UT-Austin medical school to the tune of $30 million, it’s hard to disagree.

Poldrack will be entertaining alumni at the Game Changers on the Road event in Dallas on May 18th alongside UT President Bill Powers and Texas Exes CEO Leslie Cedar.  His presentation will cover the brain’s role in risk-taking, and why some people take more risks than others.

Reserve your spot for Game Changers at

Inset photo of Jeff Luci, research assistant professor of neurobiology, Prof. Russ Poldrack, and Sen. Kirk Watson at the grand-opening ceremony for the IRC on May 10, 2012 by Patrick Y. Wong; featured photo by CaptPiper on Flickr


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