University of Rochester

Cognition Scientist Named William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor

May 28, 2004

Richard N. Aslin, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, has been named the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor. The honor is awarded to a distinguished professor who is particularly effective in the teaching of undergraduates.

“This is an honor most assuredly deserved by Dick Aslin; he brings glory to the University of Rochester and the College in every way,” says Charles E. Phelps, provost of the University of Rochester. “Dick is one of those extraordinary people who can move seamlessly from brilliant scholarship to wonderful academic leadership and then back again, reestablishing himself as one of the premier scholars in his field worldwide, while continuing his outstanding teaching all the while.”

“I am extremely grateful to the College and the University for giving me the opportunity to develop my career here over the past 20 years,” says Aslin. “I can think of no better place to be and I retain an excitement about teaching and research that I hope extends to my students. I am deeply honored to have been selected as the Kenan chair and I look forward to contributing to the College for many years to come.”

Aslin is the director of the new Rochester Center for Brain Imaging, which uses one of the world’s most powerful magnetic resonance imaging systems to plumb the physiology of the brain. Among his many honors, he has been elected a fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science, was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1988, and received the Robert and Pamela Goergen Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Learning in the College. He also has held the posts of dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and vice provost and dean of the College.

Along with Elissa Newport, professor and chair of brain and cognitive sciences, Aslin teaches an introductory class on the development of mind and brain, focusing on the brain’s ability to perceive objects and sounds, to think and reason, and to learn and remember language. It includes discussion of the nature and mechanisms of development in human infants and children, as well as an overview of what is known about the development of the brain and behavior in the young of other species. Aslin also teaches a lab course on human development where students conduct projects of their own design in local day care centers.

In his research, Aslin works toward understanding how normal development progresses in human infants and young children, ranging in age from one month to two years. His research attempts to reveal how infants make sense of the sights and sounds of the world around them, how they learn new patterns in visual scenes and streams of speech, and the brain mechanisms that enable these developments to unfold.

The professorship was established in 1966 by the William R. Kenan, Jr., Charitable Trust. Kenan was born in 1872 and raised in North Carolina. He attended a military school there and went on to major in chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There he participated with his chemistry professor in the discovery of calcium carbide, which led to worldwide travel as he participated in the set-up and operation of carbide and acetylene plants. He married and settled in Lockport, NY where he and his extended family amassed a considerable fortune. He died in 1965, and his mansion at 433 Locust Street is now a center for Lockport arts and community life.