NEW CANAAN — Town resident Andrew J. Gerber came from a family where service and working with people were a natural part of life. Now, as the newly named president and medical director at Silver Hill Hospital, he’ll be able to do just that.

“I’ve always wanted to devote my life to being helpful to people,” Gerber said.

The 46-year-old New Canaan resident said he developed a strong interest in science while growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Gerber joked he was a science fair kid — whether he was studying chemistry, biology or physics, he was heavily interested in science.

At 11 years old, he participated in his first science fair.

“I had my project where I looked under the microscope trying to understand why the water for a period of a few weeks in Brooklyn had a funny smell to it,” Gerber said.

With the help of his father, he was able to discover an algae growing in the water that was tied to the smell. For his work and time, he won a prize at the science fair, which fueled his passion and love for science.

“I never imagined from that simple project in this huge building that I would win a prize,” Gerber said.

At Yale University, he majored in physics. However, after college he decided he needed a bigger challenge.

“It was after college I started to learn about how little we knew about the mind,” he said.

Gerber said he decided to specialize in psychiatry because it felt like one of the last frontiers in medicine that the world knows the least about.

“It’s incredible in the 21st century with all the technology we have — our phones, our computers — we still know relatively little about how the brain and mind work,” he said.

The challenge of learning how the brain and mind work and using that to help people suffering from mental illness has been a compelling question, Gerber said.

“There’s millions and millions of people for whom we have some treatments, but we could use a lot more,” he said. “I’ve always felt devoting my life to learning about that and furthering the treatment is a worthy cause.”

After graduate school and medical school, Gerber became an assistant professor at Columbia University. There, he ran a clinic for individuals with autism and a set of research projects.

“We would use neuroimaging to look at the brain of individuals before they went into psychotherapy and then after,” he said. “We would see the difference and then try to understand why particular psychotherapies led to those brain changes. ... I wanted to find ways that discovery and learning about the universe, the world, could be useful to people. It led me to the field of medicine.”

Gerber’s new role at Silver Hill Hospital will see him combining two positions — medical director and president.

“The president role is an intrisically leadership type role,” he said. “Management when done well is such an important function. You’re recognizing what everybody has to offer and not putting one ahead of the other.”

As medical director, Gerber said he understands the importance of working with the patients.

“There’s a reason our medical director is somebody who is trained as a clinician and has always been somebody trained as a clinician,” he said.

In the short term, Gerber said he looks forward to getting to know and understand his new staff, as well as the patients. As he steps into his new role, he plans to build upon Silver Hill’s storied tradition.

“I want to be true to the mission and tradition of this place,” Gerber said. “I want to continue to enhance how we serve our patients and our community.”

dj.simmons@hearst mediact.com; 203-842-2568