Michael Halassa to lead Neuroscience Center

Associate Professor Michael Halassa has been appointed the new Director of the Neuroscience Center within Helsinki Institute of Life Science with effect from August 2023.

Michael Halassa currently serves as Associate Professor and Director of Translational Research at the Department of Neuroscience at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. From 2018 to 2022, he served as Assistant and Associate Professor at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in MIT. Halassa will take up his new position in Neuroscience Center on 15 August 2023.  


Halassa’s lab studies the circuit mechanisms underlying cognitive control and flexibility; how the brain generates thoughts and action plans based on an internal model of the world. The group’s major contribution to the field has been the discovery of a clear non-relay function of the thalamus; the control of task-relevant cortical dynamics and effective connectivity. Halassa’s group also has active collaboration in the computational, human cognitive and translational domains. 

According to Jari Koistinaho, Director of the Helsinki Institute of Life Sciences HiLIFE, Halassa’s recruitment is a major step in strengthening the life sciences portfolio of the University of Helsinki. 

“Dr. Halassa’s research profile is a perfect match for the current strengths of our neuroscience. Together with his top-level research, vision and strong drive we have a real chance to become a leading European science university not only in the field of interdisciplinary neuroscience but importantly also in life sciences in general”, Koistinaho says.  


A member of the recruitment committee, Vice Rector Jouni Hirvonen tells that the candidates for NC Director were assessed as a whole, emphasising not only a high-level and active scientific career, but also experience in leading significant research groups and units. 

“Important indicators of the candidates' potential were also their ideas on how to develop and increase the research resources of the units and the university. We were also interested in their views on the development of collaborative networks at national and international level. We are pleased that we were able to select from a pool of high-quality applicants," says Hirvonen. 

NC as a focal point for neuroscience research conducted in the Helsinki area 

Michael Halassa sees the Neuroscience Center of the future to be a focal point for all neuroscience research conducted in the Helsinki area, bringing together scientists from diverse backgrounds.  

“I see the Neuroscience Center of the future as a hub for interdisciplinary collaboration that drives global innovation in neuroscience. We have the talent, resources, and potential to achieve this goal, and I am committed to facilitating cross-disciplinary collaboration and supporting researchers in pursuing their interests.” 


In a larger scale, Halassa’s vision is for the University of Helsinki to become a global leader in multi-scale neuroscience, connecting the different levels of brain organization from molecules and cells to systems and behavior.  

“To achieve this, I hope to continue building systems neuroscience to fill the intermediate levels and continue investing in computational approaches as the language to bridge all levels and associated disciplines. This will also help build on our translational strength, focusing on developing new diagnostics and treatments for brain disorders. This vision also includes stronger connections to the two sister HiLIFE units, BI and FIMM.”  

For Halassa, another important aspect of developing neuroscience research at the University of Helsinki is training the next generation of neuroscientists. He also sees it important to continue developing programs that engage the public and promote public understanding of neuroscience research and its societal implications.