Grant awarded for “neuroaesthetics”

16 November 2007

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Professor Semir Zeki, UCL Anatomy & Developmental Biology, has been awarded a substantial grant to find the neural and biological basis of beauty. He will set up a new field in “neuroaesthetics” that brings collaboration between the arts, philosophy and science.

The new discipline will aim to answer questions such as; how we can measure beauty objectively, how beauty and love are related, whether we can understand how the brain constructs ideals of beauty, and whether we can we actually use that knowledge to make people happy.

The Wellcome Trust Strategic Award of £1million will allow Professor Zeki to build on his previous published work into the neural mechanisms behind beauty and love.
Professor Zeki said: "All human societies place a high premium on art and the pursuit of beauty. We all value and reward creativity. We all want to pursue happiness. But what do these entities mean in concrete, neurobiological terms? We hope to address these issues experimentally. The results will not only increase our knowledge about the workings of the human brain but will also give deep insights into human nature and how we view ourselves."

Professor Richard Morris, Head of Neurosciences and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust, said: "Professor Zeki is a Renaissance Man for the twenty-first century. His research sees no boundaries between science and the arts and humanities, and will provide an exciting insight in issues that strike at the heart of what it is to be human."

UCL Context
As a multifaculty university, UCL is rapidly moving into the sphere of greater interdisciplinary research and collaboration. Research institutes that bring together researchers from various disciplines all interested in larger themes – such as global warming or immigration – have been set up to foster greater collaboration.

For example, the UCL Environment Institute is a group of researchers from a diverse set of disciplines – from medical sciences to the humanities – who are working towards effective management of our global environment. The UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience brings together neuroscientists, biologists, linguists, psychologists. In addition to research, UCL has a focus on new interdisciplinary courses. One example is the new MSc in cognitive and decision sciences.