2016: Simoncelli

Leading computational neuroscientist recognized for insightful models of vision

Every day, our sensory systems trick us into believing that what we perceive is a direct reflection of the physical world around us. But scientists have recognized for centuries that perception is a process of inference, in which incoming information is fused with internal expectations. Since the early 1990s, Eero Simoncelli, a professor of Neural Science, Mathematics, and Psychology at New York University, has used theories of coding efficiency and statistical inference to understand the means by which percepts arise from neural responses.

“Our sensory systems provide us with a remarkably reliable interpretation of the world, allowing us to make predictions, recognize patterns, and perform difficult tasks with surprising accuracy,” Simoncelli said. “How do these capabilities arise from the underlying neural circuitry? Specifically, how do populations of neurons encode sensory information, and how do subsequent populations extract that information for recognition, decisions, and action?”

The goal of the Simoncelli lab is to answer these questions, using a combination of computational theory and modeling, coupled with perceptual and physiological experiments. Over the past several decades, he has made important contributions to our understanding of how the mammalian visual system optimally processes images projected onto the retina and translates them into percepts of the physical world. To test his statistical models, Simoncelli has also developed innovative experimental paradigms, including novel stimuli and analysis methods for both physiological experiments and perceptual studies in humans.

“Eero Simoncelli is the foremost investigator in the world in the field of computational vision,” said Bill Newsome, a professor of neurobiology at Stanford University and former Golden Brain Award recipient. “He has a unique perspective as a theory and data analytics maven, which enables him to frame fundamental problems in vision science in a clear, concise manner that has had a dramatic influence on the course of vision research over the past two decades.”  

For his seminal contributions to the field of visual neuroscience, Simoncelli has been named the recipient of the 2016 Golden Brain Award from the Berkeley, California-based Minerva Foundation. The award, now in its 32nd year, recognizes outstanding contributions in vision and brain research. Simoncelli was honored in a private ceremony on November XXth in New York City. “It’s an honor to receive this award,” Simoncelli said. “It’s especially nice to be recognized, given that my work is highly interdisciplinary and not restricted to a specific traditional field.”

Simoncelli started his higher education as a physics major at Harvard University, and then attended Cambridge University to study mathematics for a year and a half. After building a strong base of quantitative skills, he decided that he wanted to focus his research on understanding the brain as a signal processing engine. To do so, he returned to the United States to pursue a doctorate degree in electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“For my PhD work, I studied the representation of visual motion, in terms of a common set of principles that had implications for computer vision, neurobiology, and perception,” Simoncelli said. “The synergies of that cross-disciplinary experience became a prototype for the kind of work I wanted to do, and have done ever since.”

After earning his PhD in 1993, Simoncelli joined the faculty of the Computer and Information Science department at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1996, he joined the Center for Neural Science, as part of the Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Visual Neuroscience, at New York University. He received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant in 1996 for research and teaching in visual information processing, a Sloan Research Fellowship in 1998, and became an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2000 under its new computational biology program. In 2008, Simoncelli was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Over the years, Simoncelli has been widely recognized by the scientific community for constructing computational models of vision that are consistent with the properties of the visual world, the requirements of visual tasks, and the constraints of biological implementation. Through a series of incisive theoretical and statistical studies, he has shown that regularities in the statistics of natural visual scenes place huge constraints on how any given pattern of light that falls on the retina can be interpreted by the brain, thereby narrowing down the very large number of possible interpretations about what is actually out there in the 3D visual world.

In collaboration with physiologists, he has shown that the properties of neurons in both the retina and the central visual system incorporate these constraints in the representation of the visual image. “This combined theoretical/experimental insight has explained a number of observations about the central visual system that are otherwise anomalous,” Newsome said.

One major arm of Simoncelli’s research has focused on the optimal encoding of visual information. It has long been assumed that visual systems are adapted, at evolutionary, developmental, and behavioral timescales, to the images to which they are exposed. Since not all images are equally likely, it is natural to assume that the visual system uses its limited resources to process best those images that occur most frequently, using the statistical properties of the environment.

Since the mid-1990s, Simoncelli has developed successively more powerful models describing the statistical properties of local regions of natural images. Moreover, he has demonstrated the power of these models by using them to understand the structure and function of both visual and auditory neurons, and to develop state-of-the-art solutions to classical engineering problems, such as compression, transmission, and image enhancement.

Simoncelli’s results have provided strong support for the ecological hypothesis that neural computations are well matched to the statistics of the environment. He has found that sensory systems are optimized to represent signals that occur more frequently in the natural environment of an organism. For example, a study published in Neural Computation in 2014 revealed that more cells are dedicated to processing more common stimuli, resulting in enhanced perceptual sensitivity for these stimuli.

His body of work has shed light on how sensory systems maximize information transmitted to the brain. For example, a study published in Nature in 2008 showed that the activity of populations of retinal neurons is far more precise and predictable than the highly variable responses of individual neurons. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: Correlated activity among neural populations enables the visual system to extract more information from a scene than uncorrelated activity.

Simoncelli’s statistical models have been used to explain human perception of visual texture patterns, motion speed, the orientation of contours, and complex sounds. For example, he has shown that people are more efficient at processing vertical and horizontal contours, which are more prevalent in the natural environment. His models also account for the responses of neurons in the retina and primary visual cortex (area V1), motion-sensitive neurons in the middle temporal cortex (area MT), texture-sensitive neurons in secondary visual cortex (area V2), and auditory neurons that respond to complex sounds such as rain, swarms of insects, or an audience applauding.

“We offer concrete examples of fairly abstract principles that govern the operation of sensory systems, or indeed, any machine that must process visual signals,” Simoncelli said. “Our work has had an impact on neuroscience and perception, but also engineering, including image processing, computer vision, and the design of visual displays.”

These findings have been used to design better man-made systems for processing sensory signals. Last year, Simoncelli received an Engineering Emmy Award from the Television Academy for developing an algorithm for estimating the perceived quality of images and videos. This algorithm, known as Structural Similarity (SSIM), uses powerful neuroscience-inspired models of the human visual system to achieve breakthrough quality prediction performance. Its computational simplicity and ability to accurately predict human assessment of visual quality has made it a standard tool in broadcast and post-production houses throughout the television industry.

Unlike previous complex error models that required special hardware, SSIM can be easily applied in real time on common processor software. The algorithm is now a widely used perceptual video quality measure, used to test and refine video quality throughout the global cable and satellite TV industry, and directly affects the viewing experiences of tens of millions of viewers daily. This honor reflects the interdisciplinary and applied nature of Simoncelli’s work, and it has not gone unnoticed among his peers. “Eero is the only vision scientist I know of who has won an Emmy Award,” Newsome said.

2016: Eero Simoncelli
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2015: Hikosaka

October 2015

Revealing how reward-based decision-making guides adaptive behavior

Berkeley, CA. Reward and punishment are powerful drivers of human behavior, causing us to seek out pleasurable experiences while avoiding negative ones. We constantly use information about the outcomes of our past actions to decide how to behave in the future. Over the past several decades, Okihide Hikosaka, chief of the Neuronal Networks Section at the National Eye Institute, has conducted pioneering work to shed light on how the brain allows us to make decisions based on the expected outcome of our actions.

Hikosaka’s work has revealed how motivation and the expectation of reward affect neural activity in a brain region called the basal ganglia to influence behavior, specifically eye movements. This research has provided key insights into the motivational deficits experienced by patients with depression, Parkinson’s disease and other disorders associated with basal ganglia damage.

“Hikosaka is working on a central problem in neuroscience: What is the mechanism in the brain that provides rewards for some behaviors and punishments for other behaviors,” said Robert Wurtz, chief of the Visual Motor Integration Section at the National Eye Institute and Hikosaka’s former postdoctoral adviser. “The answer to this question is central to understanding how the brain controls our behavior. Hikosaka has provided the critical experimental insights for answering these questions.”

For his seminal contributions to the field of visual neuroscience, Okihide Hikosaka has been named the recipient of the 2015 Golden Brain Award from the Berkeley, California-based Minerva Foundation. The award, now in its 31st year, recognizes outstanding contributions in vision and brain research. Hikosaka was honored in a private ceremony on Saturday, October 17th, at the Society for Neuroscience's 45th annual meeting taking place in Chicago.

“We discovered that a deep brain structure called the basal ganglia plays an essential role in decision making, especially when the decision is made based on past emotional experiences, for example, a reward or threat,” Hikosaka said. “Importantly, we found that the basal ganglia contain at least two separate mechanisms: one for voluntary and conscious decisions and the other for automatic and unconscious decisions. The voluntary and automatic mechanisms together should allow us to survive in both stable and flexibly changing environments.”

When Hikosaka started his research career, virtually no oculomotor researcher was interested in the basal ganglia, and very few basal ganglia researchers were interested in eye movements. This situation changed in the mid-1980s with the publication of landmark studies in the Journal of Neurophysiology. In these studies, Hikosaka and Wurtz discovered that the basal ganglia control movements, specifically eye movements, by tonic inhibition that is released only briefly to allow the movement to be generated. “The tonic inhibition of movement and its transient release has provided the best evidence for how the basal ganglia modulate movements in both health and disease,” said Wurtz, who himself received the Golden Brain Award in 1991.

As an independent investigator, Hikosaka went on to show how expected reward influences neural activity in the basal ganglia, specifically in a subregion called the caudate nucleus, to control eye movements. In a study published in Nature Neuroscience in 1998, animals were trained to make eye movements to four locations on a screen, and they received a juice reward after they moved their eyes to only one of these locations. The animals made eye movements toward the location associated with a reward more quickly than to locations not associated with a reward, due to a stronger release from tonic neural inhibition in the basal ganglia. The findings have clear evolutionary implications, as the ability to act fast to receive a reward imparts a strong survival advantage. 

Hikosaka and his collaborators also shed light on the role of a reward chemical called dopamine in this process. It had been generally assumed that dopamine-releasing neurons that send signals to the basal ganglia were homogenous in function, uniformly representing reward-related information in a similar manner. But in a study published in Nature in 2009, Hikosaka and his team demonstrated the existence of distinct types of dopamine neurons.

In this study, animals were either rewarded with juice or punished with air puffs directed at the face. While some dopamine neurons were activated by the expectation of the juice reward and inhibited by the expectation of an upcoming air puff, a separate set of dopamine neurons were strongly activated by expected reward and punishment. The findings completely revised the prevailing concept of the role of dopamine neurons in emotion and motivation.

In other groundbreaking experiments, Hikosaka and his collaborators discovered that the dopamine neurons receive negative value signals, which indicate either the expectation of punishment or no upcoming reward, from an evolutionarily conserved brain region called the lateral habenula. In studies published in Nature in 2007 and Nature Neuroscience in 2008, the researchers found that neurons in the lateral habenula were activated when animals were either not rewarded or punished with an air puff to the face. By contrast, these neurons showed a decrease in activity when the animals were rewarded with juice.

The findings suggest that the lateral habenula plays a role in adaptively controlling reward-seeking and punishment-avoidance behaviors. This research inspired subsequent studies that revealed a role for the lateral habenula in psychiatric disorders such as depression, drug addiction and schizophrenia, which are characterized by impairments in motivation and reward-related decision-making.

More recently, Hikosaka and his team changed widely held beliefs about the neural basis of decision-making by discovering that neurons in the basal ganglia represent stable object values. Choosing valuable objects is critical for survival. For example, when an animal forages in the forest, it may encounter many objects, but would benefit from choosing to eat appetizing food items while avoiding bitter, nauseating, or inedible items. Such choices need to be prompt and efficient, because the animal may not thrive if it uses a slow trial-and-error strategy to decide which items to taste. These efficient choices are likely based on stable, long-term memories of the value of objects, enabling automatic, unconscious decision-making to increase the chance of survival.

Hikosaka and his team examined this question in a study published in 2012 in The Journal of Neuroscience. They let animals look at many visual objects (typically more than 300) repeatedly for many days. Half of them were always associated with a large reward (good objects), and the other half with a small reward (bad objects). The researchers found that neurons in the posterior part of the basal ganglia showed completely opposite responses to the good and bad objects. Moreover, these neurons retained high-capacity memories for a long time (at least 100 days). Owing to the basal ganglia neuronal activity, the animals chose a good object among bad objects and did so very quickly (about 0.2 sec). The findings show that the basal ganglia use stable object values to guide automatic, unconscious behavior and thereby guide decisions that may be critical for survival.

This impressive body of research has revealed that the basal ganglia are crucial for decision-making based on emotional experiences. Importantly, this is achieved by two separate neuronal circuits including separate dopamine pathways, one for voluntary motivation and the other for automatic skills. The findings may lead to new therapies targeting these basal ganglia circuits differentially, one for people with mood disorders to improve their motivation and the other for people with Parkinson’s disease to improve their daily routine behaviors.

“Okihide Hikosaka is a pioneer in exploring how the basal ganglia of the brain produce two fundamental features of behavior: the modulation of movements and their alteration by reward,” Wurtz said. “He provided key evidence that the basal ganglia are closely related to motivation and reward. These observations and many others, made over more than three decades, have shaped our understanding of both the movement and motivation functions of the basal ganglia and their diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and depression.”

2015: Okihide Hikosaka
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2014: Tsao

November 2014

Rising star at Caltech earns award for innovative research on face processing


Berkeley, CA. We all take for granted how easily we can recognize the faces of our friends and family members, but the brain has to perform complex computations to enable this crucial perceptual ability. By discovering and characterizing a network of six distinct face-selective regions in the temporal lobe and three regions in the frontal lobe using an innovative combination of approaches, Doris Tsao, assistant professor of biology at the California Institute of Technology, has revealed important insights into face recognition in both monkeys and humans.

“In the brain sciences, perhaps more than in other fields, it is clear that we need researchers to step back and look at the grand picture,” said Rudiger von der Heydt, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. “Doris is able to do this, partly because of her broad knowledge of neuroscience, but also by a natural talent of what I would call cheerful independent thinking. At her young age, she has a remarkable track record in neuroscience.”

For her seminal contributions to the field of visual neuroscience, Doris Tsao has been named the recipient of the 2014 Golden Brain Award from the Berkeley, California-based Minerva Foundation. The award, now in its 30th year, recognizes outstanding contributions in vision and brain research. Tsao will be honored in a private ceremony at the Society for Neurscience's 44th annual meeting taking place this November in Washington, D.C.

“When I heard I got this award, I felt simply incredulous, since many of the people who had gotten it previously are my scientific heroes, whose work has deeply inspired and motivated me,” Tsao said. “I am just starting out in my career, and this award is an amazing piece of encouragement.”

As a graduate student in the lab of Margaret Livingstone, professor of neurobiology at Harvard University, Tsao published one of her first groundbreaking papers on face processing in Science. In that study, Tsao and her collaborators pioneered the use of two approaches that provide complementary information about visual processing. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in macaque monkeys to search for the largest brain region that responds selectively to faces compared with objects, and single-unit electrophysiological recordings to characterize the responses of neurons within the brain region identified by fMRI. Nearly all of the visually responsive neurons in this region were strongly face selective, indicating that a dedicated cortical area supports face processing.

“This discovery was important because it opened the door to systematically understanding the neural machinery for face perception,” Tsao said. “For the first time, we could access on a daily basis a large, homogenous population of cells all involved in coding the same basic form, a face, and ask how they are doing it.” 

Two years later, Tsao and her collaborators reported in Science the discovery of a network of six discrete but strongly interconnected patches of face-selective cortex in the temporal lobe of each hemisphere in the macaque monkey brain. That same year, the researchers reported in Nature Neuroscience that monkeys also have three highly face-selective patches in prefrontal cortex, which is involved in higher-level functions and could contribute to remembering or paying attention to faces, or even social reasoning about faces. Another study revealed that face-selective regions in macaques are similar to those in the human brain, suggesting that core principles about face processing discovered in monkey studies may generalize to humans.

“Because of the forces of social evolution and the importance of faces in primate evolution in particular, primates have developed this specialized neural machinery for face processing,” said Leslie Ungerleider, senior investigator at the National Institute of Mental Health and a previous Golden Brain Award recipient. “I really think Doris’ contribution has been the discovery that it’s not just cells, it's a network of areas. But we don't yet know the specific contributions of the different components of the network. That’s a big question for the future.”

Tsao and her collaborators have begun to tackle this question. Focusing on the largest face-selective patch in the macaque brain, they found that these neurons detect distinct constellations of face parts. Moreover, the cells are tuned to the geometric shape of various face parts, such as nose width and the distance between the eyes, especially when the features are present on whole, upright faces. The findings suggest that these neurons use a combination of part-based and holistic strategies to detect faces.

By analyzing the activity of neurons across the face patch system, Tsao and her collaborators found that cells in some patches responded to specific viewpoints of faces, while cells in other patches were not sensitive to face rotation or showed only partial sensitivity. The findings suggest that each of these regions in the macaque brain plays a different role in face processing, such as detecting faces among non-face objects, or linking together different views of the same face. “Ultimately, I hope this research will reveal new principles about the steps by which a complex visual object is represented in the brain.”

This research interest has early roots for Tsao. “Sometime around the end of high school, I formulated the scientific problem I wanted to solve: How can a piece of tissue perform geometry and create a vivid percept of objects in 3D space?” she said. “Twenty years later, this remains the problem I am working on. My dream is to understand the visual system with mathematical clarity, the way physicists understand the universe.”

Having earned a double major in math and biology as an undergraduate at the California Institute of Technology, Tsao is now making use of her broad interests and educational background to tackle one of the most challenging problems in vision: how to recognize a face or object despite dramatic changes in appearance due to changes in perspective. To do so, she has teamed up with her mathematician father, Thomas Tsao, to develop a new mathematical theory of object vision, and she is currently testing some of the models’ surprising experimental predictions. “This mathematical work brings me back to my original dream: to understand the cortical geometric engine responsible for creating objects in space,” Tsao said. “I am very excited that I can now bring together my experimental and mathematical interests and begin exploiting this system to ask deeper questions about object representation.”

And all signs indicate that Tsao will find the answers she’s looking for. “Among her peers, there is no one who stands out like Doris or has had an impact as Doris has,” Ungerleider said. “Given all of her major contributions thus far at such an early stage in her career, we can all expect a bright and shining future from this rising star.”

2014: Doris Tsao
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2013: Movshon

October 2013

Leading figure in vision research recognized for groundbreaking studies on motion perception


Berkeley, CA. Imagine a cheetah ambling through its natural habitat of shrubs and tall grasses. The individual spots on its legs and torso may appear to bounce around in different directions, but it’s clear that the animal is moving in only one direction. This phenomenon illustrates our ability to perceive not only the local movements of individual parts of a moving object, but also the global motion of the entire object.

Based on psychophysical evidence for this effect in humans, Joseph Anthony Movshon, director of the Center for Neural Science at New York University, predicted and discovered the existence of neurons in the brain that enable global motion perception. “I was looking for what I considered to be the Holy Grail,” Movshon said. “No one else had ever used perceptual evidence as the basis for a search for neurons involved in a higher-order stage of visual analysis.”

For his foundational contributions to the field of visual neuroscience, Movshon has been named the recipient of the 2013 Golden Brain Award from the Berkeley, California-based Minerva Foundation. The award, now in its 29th year, recognizes outstanding contributions in vision and brain research. Movshon was honored in a private ceremony on Saturday, November 9th, at the Society for Neuroscience's 43rd annual meeting taking place in San Diego, California. “I am honored to be recognized by the Minerva Foundation,” Movshon said. “It means a great deal to me to join the company of great visual neuroscientists who have received the Golden Brain Award.”

When Movshon embarked on his groundbreaking research several decades ago, it was known that a given neuron in primary visual cortex (V1), the cortical area in the brain where visual information is first processed, responds to motion within a small part of the visual field. As a result, V1 neurons are well suited to process the local motion of individual components of an object. But nothing was known about where global motion was processed in the brain.   

In the 1980s, Movshon and his collaborators discovered the existence of neurons involved in global motion perception in a higher-order motion area called MT, or V5. This visual cortical area receives V1 signals, which convey local motion information, and combines them to process global motion across larger regions in space.

“It was quite controversial for a while whether this was really important and told us something fundamentally new and interesting about how we see motion,” Movshon said. “Ultimately, over the test of time, it’s won the day, and it’s now part of people’s default way of thinking about motion processing in the cortex. It is also a standard model for how higher cortical areas take information from V1 and reorganize it to reveal complex features of images.”


Movshon and his collaborators also conducted pioneering experiments in which they recorded from individual neurons in MT and compared their responses with behavioral performance on psychophysical tasks involving motion discrimination. As reported in the Journal of Neuroscience in 1992, they discovered a close match between the two; the activity of single neurons was sufficient to predict behavioral performance.

In addition to his critical contributions regarding the neural basis of motion perception, Movshon published a trio of groundbreaking papers in the Journal of Physiology in 1978. In those classic studies, he and his collaborators used quantitative models to describe the responses of two types of V1 neurons known as simple cells and complex cells. “Tony was the first person to really take the methods of linear systems analysis and do quantitative measurements on simple and complex cells in V1,” said Bill Newsome, professor of neurobiology at Stanford University and former Golden Brain Award recipient. “This is really foundational work for thinking about models of cellular processing of visual information, and it has influenced many subsequent generations of visual and sensory physiologists as a model of how to characterize early sensory systems in a quantitative fashion.”

More recently, Movshon has made important discoveries about the neural underpinnings of smooth pursuit eye movements, which allow us to follow moving objects with our eyes. In order to accomplish this seemingly simple task, neurons must process information about an object’s motion to precisely calculate how to move the eyes to ensure that the image of the object stays on the same position on the retina. Movshon and his collaborators elucidated the role of MT and a nearby visual area called the medial superior temporal (MST) area in this process. “In higher mammals, it’s now one of the best understood sensory-motor loops where we can really understand the different stages of signal processing, from motion input to movement output of the eye,” Movshon said.

Movshon continues to pursue an active and wide-ranging research program. Earlier this year, he and his collaborators published a study in Nature Neuroscience in which they identified a new functional role for V2, a major area in visual cortex that had remained mysterious despite years of research. They found that V2 neurons respond to naturally occurring texture patterns in a way that V1 neurons did not, suggesting how these cells may contribute to our ability to parse and ultimately perceive visual scenes.


Throughout his career, Movshon has been a preeminent expert in neurophysiological techniques as well as psychophysics and computational methods. “For a couple of decades, Tony was the leading figure in vision research for understanding the mammalian visual system and how the brain helps us see, and he was the one person in the world who best combined competence in all three of those approaches,” Newsome said.

Movshon’s far-reaching impact in the field of visual neuroscience stems in part from his commendable personal traits, according to Newsome. “Tony is uncompromising in his sense of quality and his rigorous approach to designing experiments,” he said. “Many scientists try to use very high standards of evidence, but Tony holds himself and others to even higher standards. I’ve always admired that about him.”

2013: Joseph Anthony Movshon
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2012: Shadlen

October 2012
 
Columbia University researcher pioneered the study of the neural basis of decision-making

Berkeley, CA. Decision-making is a fundamental aspect of our daily lives, and cognitive psychologists have studied how we make choices for decades. But until relatively recently, very little attention was paid to the neurobiological basis of decision-making. This all changed twenty years ago when Michael Shadlen, now a professor of neuroscience at Columbia University, started his postdoctoral fellowship in neurobiology at Stanford University. Upon joining the lab of Bill Newsome, a professor of neurobiology and former Golden Brain Award recipient, Shadlen laid the groundwork for an entirely new field of neuroscience—the study of the neural basis of decision-making. Now, stand-alone societies and multiple sessions of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Meeting are dedicated to this burgeoning research topic.

"When he and I started work on that topic in the 1990s, there was literally nothing published at all on the neural mechanisms underlying decisions," Newsome said. "Mike helped to invent a new field from scratch, and he's the single most innovative driving force in that field."

For these seminal contributions, Shadlen has been named the recipient of the 2012 Golden Brain Award from the Berkeley, California-based Minerva Foundation. The award, now in its 28th year, recognizes outstanding contributions in vision and brain research. Shadlen was honored in a private ceremony on Sunday, October 14th, at SfN's 42nd annual meeting taking place in New Orleans.

"It's very fulfilling to receive this award. I've known about the Golden Brain Award since its inception, and I saw the very first recipient give his talk when I was a graduate student, so I'm very excited and extremely honored to join that impressive group of people," said Shadlen, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

The philosophy underlying Shadlen's work closely matches that of Minerva Foundation founder Elwin Marg. "The Minerva Foundation's view is that you can understand higher brain functions through the window of visual neuroscience," Shadlen explained. "Ultimately, I want to see my work exposing the general principles of cognitive neuroscience, not limited to perceptual decision-making."

Shadlen earned his medical degree from Brown University and doctoral degree from the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked under the direction of vision scientist Ralph Freeman. He then started his residency in neurology at Stanford University, where he shortly thereafter met Newsome to discuss research on a brain area called MT, which is involved in motion perception. During their initial meeting, Newsome mentioned problems he had been having linking neural activity in MT to perceptual abilities, and one week later, Shadlen developed a quantitative model to do just that. "This was his first step building these model-driven links between neural activity and behavior," Newsome said.

In 1996, the duo published a milestone paper entitled "Motion perception: seeing and deciding" in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Since then, as a faculty member in the department of physiology and biophysics at the University of Washington, Shadlen has made rigorous measurements of neural activity and perceptual decision-making and contributed a number of influential models that describe the connection between the two. More recently, he has conducted elegant and innovative experiments to examine neural activity associated with confidence in sensory decisions, publishing the findings in Science.

"Mike is amazingly creative and deeply curious about how cognition works, and his original curiosity about cognition was driven by his experience with patients who were having difficulties with higher-order cognitive processes, like disorders of thought, attention and decision-making," Newsome said. "Based on his hands-on experience with patients, he invented very creative ways to address these questions in experiments. As a result, his work has provided insights into the neurobiological basis of visual cognition that seemed unobtainable a decade ago."

2012: Michael Shadlen

 

 

 
| | Minerva Foundation

The Award Sculpture

Inspired by a human brain preserved in formaldehyde, as well as various models and drawings of brains, Tamia Marg sculpted oil-based clay to resemble a brain. She made a silicone mold of the clay brain, and enclosed it in a plaster mothermold (to hold the otherwise floppy silicone in place). After pouring hot wax into the stem end of the mold, she rotated the mold to coat its interior with a thin even coat of wax. This hollow wax casting and a separate solid casting of the ovoid base were taken to the Artworks foundry in Berkeley.

The craftspeople there encased the wax brain in a heat-resistant material, burned the wax away, and then poured molten bronze into the heated shell. Later, they heated the bronze base while spraying it with an acidic mixture to give it the bluish-green patina. They also gave the bronze brain a high polish before it received its 23-carat gold plating at Monsen Plating in Berkeley. Tamia painted the entire brain with black lacquer and wiped the paint clean from the high points and stem.

Brain and base were fastened together, and a polished brass circle engraved with the awardee's name was mounted on the award. Furniture maker, Lawrence Gandsey of Oakland, designed and crafted the box to house the award. The box is of eastern maple grown in the Appalachians (Acer saccharum) and is held together with splines of mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) from Honduras, and is finished with a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine.

 
| | Minerva Foundation

2011: Ungerleider

October 2011
 
NIMH Researcher’s work reveals how the brain processes what we see

 
Berkeley, CA. Brain researcher Leslie Ungerleider has spent her career leading efforts to figure out which parts of the brain are used in making sense of all that we see in the world around us. That has been no easy task. It took two decades for Ungerleider and her collaborators to trace what scientists now call the “what” and “where” pathways--areas of the brain are independently responsible for helping us recognize objects and navigate our world.

A distinguished investigator at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Ungerleider also discovered more recently the areas of the brain that preferentially respond to scenes and landscapes.

This painstaking work in both humans and monkeys has revealed some of the most basic workings of the human brain, making Ungerleider one of the most influential and heavily cited authors in the field.

“Leslie Ungerleider has been an important leader in the study of the structure and function of the visual cortex,” said John Allman, a professor of neurobiology at California Institute of Technology.

Ungerleider’s groundbreaking work over more than 40 years has earned her the 2011 Golden Brain Award from the Berkeley, California-based Minerva Foundation. The award, now in its 27th year, recognizes outstanding contributions in vision and brain research. The 2011 Golden Brain will be presented to Ungerleider in a private ceremony during the 41st annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience to be held in Washington, D.C. in November, 2011.

Early in her career, Ungerleider focused on the visual cortex, the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information. In particular, she began by studying how the brain recognizes objects under conditions that are constantly changing. That work opened up a whole new area of research that culminated in the discovery of the “what” and “where” pathways.

“We confirmed the existence of the pathways and delineated the precise anatomical connections within the brain,” said Ungerleider, who is also in charge of NIMH’s Laboratory of Brain and Cognition.

Ungerleider began her work in monkeys, but, with the improvement of imaging technology, she began using PET scans and fMRI to confirm her findings in humans.

“We found that we could now light up these pathways in normal, healthy human brains.”

Ungerleider and her colleagues continue to work on these two pathways and have since discovered that there are interconnections between the two. “There are areas in the brain where the two pathways converge, so there is the opportunity for cross talk and integration of ‘what’ and ‘where’ information.”

Currently, Ungerleider has also become interested in confirming the existence of an area of the brain that is responsible for face recognition. The clues exist, she said. Brain damage to certain areas of the brain results in the loss of the ability to recognize faces. In addition, a certain birth defect impairs a person’s ability to recognize the faces of even close relatives.

“We also know from work in the late 70s that there are cells in the monkey brain that are activated by faces and not by presentation of non-face objects.”

Ungerleider continues to map one of the most fascinating ‘landscapes’ known to man: the visual cortex of the human brain.


2011: Leslie Ungerleider
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2010: Wolpert

Daniel Wolpert
Department of Engineering
Cambridge University, UK

July 2010

Cambridge Researcher Shapes Understanding of Brain's Control of Movement

BERKELEY, CA – Whether it’s foraging for food or attracting a waiter's attention, movement is the only way we have of interacting with the world. The brain makes these actions possible by taking visual and other sensory signals and using them to determine future actions. Scientists working to understand how this process works have taken on the task of reverse-engineering the human brain.

Engineering professor Daniel Wolpert of Cambridge University examines computational models that allow scientists to describe and predict how the brain solves problems related to action. When existing models fall short, Wolpert creates new ones.

In this way, Wolpert has changed our understanding of how the brain works, said Karl Friston, professor and neuroscientist at University College London.

“Wolpert uses computational theory and beautifully crafted, simple behavioral experiments to get at the fundamental principles governing how we move and coordinate our actions,” Friston said.

This groundbreaking work has earned Wolpert the 2010 Golden Brain Award from the Berkeley, California-based Minerva Foundation. The award, now in its 26th year, recognizes outstanding contributions in vision and brain research. The 2010 Golden Brain will be presented to Wolpert in a private ceremony during the 41st annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience to be held in Washington, D.C. in November, 2011.

Among Wolpert’s contributions are findings that resulted in a paradigm shift in the field. Combining theoretical and behavioral work he has shown that our brains represent information about the world as probabilities and processes such information in a mathematically predictable way.

“It turns out the brain behaves in a very statistical manner,” Wolpert said. “We’ve shown that this is a very powerful framework for understanding the brain.”

For example, when we try to estimate where a ball may bounce while playing tennis, our brains effortlessly combine our prior knowledge of how likely it is that our opponent will place the ball at different locations on the court with visual information of the approaching ball. As our visual system is not perfect, our brains combine these two sources of information to make an optimal estimate of the location of the bounce.

Wolpert has shown that, when faced with these kinds of tasks, the brain reliably makes such optimal estimates before selecting the best action.

To test these and other theories in the lab, Wolpert and his colleagues use virtual reality and robotic interfaces to tightly control the experiences of the adult humans that are part of their experiments. “We can control what people see and feel and, in this way, we can tease apart which theories hold true.”

Currently, Wolpert is working to unite two fields of neuroscience: that which studies decision-making and that which deals with motor control. “We want to better understand how people link decisions with what they are going to do,” he explained.

Wolpert’s ultimate goal is both to understand normal function of the brain and apply this understanding to brain disorders. “Five percent of the population suffers from diseases that affect movement,” he explained. “The hope is that we will not only understand what goes wrong in disease, but how to design better mechanisms for rehabilitation.”

2010: Daniel Wolpert
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2009: Deisseroth

November 2009

A novel way of studying neural circuits

Berkeley, CA. Scientists have long known that brain cells don’t work in isolation. They form complex neural networks that control everything from breathing to behavior. However, researchers wanting to understand how the brain works have for years been stymied by one major technological hurdle: they can only measure the activity of one brain cell at a time.

Stanford University’s Karl Deisseroth has created a novel way of studying neural circuits that promises to revolutionize our understanding of brain function. The method, called optogenetics, even shows potential as a treatment for brain disorders, like Parkinson’s disease.

In honor of these seminal findings in brain research, Deisseroth has been named the recipient of the 2009 Golden Brain Award by the Berkeley, California-based Minerva Foundation.

“Optogenetics is a truly novel and innovative approach to understanding how specific neural circuits regulate behavior, and even complex phenomenon such as emotions,” said Elwin Marg, professor emeritus of vision sciences at the University of California Berkeley and co-founder of the Minerva Foundation.

Optogenetics is a technique used to directly control brain cell activity with light. In the lab, Deisseroth and his team insert genes for producing light-sensitive proteins into cells of interest. One gene, (ChR2) derived from algae, makes affected neurons more active when exposed to blue light. Another gene (NpHR), which is borrowed from a microbe called an archaebacterium, can make neurons less active in the presence of yellow light.

Combined, the two genes make neurons obey pulses of light like drivers obey a traffic signal: Blue means “go” (emit a signal), and yellow means “stop” (don't emit). The pulses of light are delivered via a thin, flexible fiber-optic cable placed deep into the brain of the animal. The animals move and behave freely during experiments.

“This research provides a tool that we didn't have before, which is precise on-or-off control over specific neural cells in living creatures and intact circuits," said Deisseroth, an associate professor of bioengineering and psychiatry when describing his work in 2007. “This gives us the power to ask what the causal role of specific cell types is in neural circuit function,” he said.

Deisseroth has been busy collaborating with colleagues, both in the U.S. and abroad, to apply this technique to a variety of biological questions. In 2007, then National Institutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni called Deisseroth’s work “…a prime example of the highly innovative approaches to major challenges in biomedical research…” and “…a key step toward the important goal of mapping neural circuit dynamics…”

2009: Professor Karl Deisseroth
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2008: Young

November 2008

Emory researcher pioneers field of neurogentic regulation of social behavior

Berkeley, CA. The ability to form long-term pair bonds is exhibited by only a small percentage of mammals and is, therefore, the exception rather than the rule. Research by Emory University’s Larry Young has shown for the first time that differences in complex social behavior are the result of genetic variation.

Young and his colleagues at the Yerkes National Primate Cente traced the monogamous and polygamous behaviors of species of voles to differences in the structure of the gene that codes for brain cell receptors for vasopressin and oxytocin—hormones released when males and females meet and mate. “We found that, in monogamous species, receptors for these hormones are found in higher numbers in the reward centers of the brain, the same brain regions involved addiction,” Young said.

In honor of this pioneering work in brain research, Young has been named the recipient of the 2008 Golden Brain Award by the Berkeley, California-based Minerva Foundation. The award, now in its 24th year, was presented to Young in a private ceremony during the 38th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience being held in Washington, DC.

“Larry Young has conducted excellent work using animal models that is now the basis of human studies into the molecular mechanisms behind behavior, emotion and love,” said Elwin Marg, professor emeritus of vision sciences at the University of California Berkeley and co-founder of the Minerva Foundation.

Thanks to Young’s work, researchers are beginning to shed some light on the evolution and maintenance of human trust, cooperation and social behavior by looking at the vasopressin/oxytocin peptide family and the distribution of their respective receptors in the human brain. Recent work by Swedish researchers, for example, showed that variation in the human vasopressin gene AVPR1A predicts relationship quality, such as whether a person is likely to ever get married.

In voles, social behaviors correspond to ecological niches, with prairie voles being the monogamous species and meadow and mountain voles being the polygamous ones. “We’ve shown that you can take the prairie vole form of the gene and put it into the reward area of the brain of a meadow vole and it will be able to form social bonds,” Young said. He was also able to take the receptor gene from the monogamous prairie vole and put it into mice, making them more social.

Young continues to refine his work in voles, while human studies into this fascinating research area are just getting started. Already, research has shown that oxytocin enhances trust and the ability to infer the emotions in humans. “These hormones are likely responsible for tuning us into the social world,” he explained.

Young and his colleagues theorize that human studies on the roles of vasopressin and oxytocin could one day be used to enhance marital therapies, or perhaps even lead to a treatment for disorders of social behavior, including autism. “It’s possible,” Young said.

2008: Professor Larry Young
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2007: Kanwisher

Professor Nancy Kanwisher
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, USA

November 2007

MIT researcher’s work led to better understanding of how we discern faces and places

Berkeley, CA. “Faces are among the most important stimuli we ever perceive because they are loaded with biologically important information critical to our survival,” said Nancy Kanwisher, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Kanwisher’s research has demonstrated the remarkable specificity of the parts of the brain activated during facial perception and in response to visually present words. She also discovered specialized regions of the brain that are likewise activated during the perception of places and body parts.

In honor of these seminal findings in vision and brain research, Kanwisher has been named the recipient of the 2007 Golden Brain Award by the Berkeley, California-based Minerva Foundation. The award, now in its 23rd year was presented to Kanwisher in a private ceremony Saturday, November 3 during the 37th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience being held in San Diego, California.

“We have enlarged our current understanding of how the brain handles complex visual stimuli from work done by Nancy Kanwisher,” said Elwin Marg, professor emeritus of vision sciences at the University of California Berkeley and co-founder of the Minerva Foundation. For centuries, scientists have argued over whether the brain utilizes specialized regions to process important information or whether it uses generalized machinery for all information processing. “We now have added evidence to support the specialization theory of how the brain handles complex processes such as facial perception,” Marg said.

Kanwisher has an international reputation for “cutting-edge” research, said Patrick Cavanagh of the Vision Sciences Lab at Harvard University and the Laboratoire de Psychologie de la Perception at the Université Paris Descartes. “Science is especially great when Nancy powers us through some new insight, taking us along, breathless,” Cavanagh said.

Kanwisher’s research involves using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the brains of subjects as they view photos of faces, places and other visual stimuli. She and her colleagues look for areas of the brain that are activated by these images. “We want to know how these specialized locations get wired up during in development and how these regions of the brains actually work,” said Kanwisher, who is also and an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. She is also interested in why the brain uses specialized regions for some visual processing tasks and not others.

Future advances in the field, Kanwisher said, will require cross-disciplinary collaborations. “A lot of people are working on this, from neurophysiology to computation to behavior. That’s what we need,” she said.

2007: Professor Nancy Kanwisher
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2006: Dolan

Professor Raymond Joseph Dolan
Institute of Neurology
University College London

December 2006

Neuroscientist Honored for Identifying Emotional Context in Which We Experience an Event in the Brain

University College London (UCL) neuroscientist Raymond Joseph Dolan is the recipient of the 2006 Golden Brain Award from the Berkeley, California-based Minerva Foundation. The Golden Brain Award, now in its 22nd year, honors researchers who make seminal findings in vision and brain research. Dolan, the Kinross Professor of Neuropsychiatry at UCL’s Institute of Neurology and head of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, was honored for his work on the effects of emotion on memory, learning and decision making and the brain chemistry underlying these processes.

“Dolan’s work has shown us that the emotional context in which we experience an event, learn a task or make a decision effects our memory of the even, how well we learn the task or what kind of choice we will make,” says Elwin Marg, director of the Minerva Foundation. “These insights not only reveal how the brain works, but give us a better understanding of the biological basis of our behavior as human beings.”

Dolan’s studies involved using a variety of methods to discover which brain chemicals and what parts of the brain are involved during memorization, learning and decision-making. The key player, he has discovered, is the amygdala—the part of the brain responsible for processing the memory of emotional reactions.

• In 2003, he showed that emotion-induced amnesia observed during experiments involving the memorization of emotionally charged words could be reversed with anxiety-reducing medication.
• In 2006, he demonstrated using brain imaging (fMRI) that the amygdala is activated by financial decision-making tasks, suggesting emotions are important in these seemingly unemotional tasks.

These studies and numerous others have advanced understanding of brain function in such disparate—but related—fields of economics, psychology and neuroscience. That’s because scientists used to think of emotion as a hindrance, Dolan says, “Now we know that it has a critical regulatory effect on attention, learning, decision-making and the quality of our consciousness.”

2006: Professor Raymond Joseph Dolan
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2005: Meister

Professor Markus Meister
Harvard University
Cambridge, USA

November 15, 2005

Harvard University researcher recognized for revealing retina research

Harvard University’s Markus Meister, PhD, is the recipient of the 2005 Golden Brain Award from the Berkeley, California-based Minerva Foundation. The Golden Brain Award, now in its 21 st year, honors researchers who make seminal findings in vision and brain research. Meister, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard, received the award at a private ceremony November 14 in Washington, DC, where he was attending the 35th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

According to the Foundation, Meister’s research has revealed surprising ways that sensory organs, specifically the retina, are organizing and coding information before sending it to the brain. “He is doing the most innovative work in the field,” said Elwin Marg, PhD, director of the Minerva Foundation and University of California at Berkeley professor emeritus. “We thought the brain did almost all. Now we know complex processing takes place in the retina,” Marg said.

Scientists have long held a simplistic view of the retina, Meister said. “People believed that the sole function of the retina was to convert light to nervous signals and the brain did most of the work that was involved in seeing,” he explained.

That’s because previous studies had measured signals of just one or two retinal neurons at a time. Meister developed an electrode array that allows him to measure impulses from up to 100 nerve cells simultaneously. He found that groups of cells were firing in synchrony, sending coded information to the brain. “We found that the retina is doing computations on images that people thought previously were happening in the brain,” Meister said.

He and his colleagues have discovered that the retina:

  •     can anticipate the motion of an object in a field, saving the brain valuable response time
  •     distinguishes movement of objects in a field of view from field movement
  •     automatically adjusts when moving from a high contrast environment to one of low contrast, as in moving from sunshine to fog

Meister hopes that he and his collaborators will one day identify upwards of a dozen computations performed by the retina. He is also beginning to apply what he has learned about vision to the study of olfaction. “We want to know if what we are discovering in the retina generalizes to other parts of the nervous system,” he said. “We are hoping to find a set of unifying principles that will guide future brain research.”

2005: Professor Markus Meister
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2004: Iriki

Professor Atsushi Iriki
Department of Cognitive Neurobiology
Tokyo Dental and Medical University, Japan

Neurobiologist Honored for Research Showing How Brain Links Vision, Touch

Berkeley, CA.... Japanese neurobiologist Atsushi Iriki has won the annual Golden Brain Award from the Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation for seminal work showing how the brain connects vision and the sensation of touch.

The Golden Brain Award, now in its 20th year, honors researchers who make fundamental contributions to our knowledge of vision and the brain.  Iriki will receive the award at a private ceremony on October 25 in San Diego, where he will be attending the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Iriki is professor of cognitive neurobiology at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University and head of the Laboratory for Symbolic Cognitive Development at Japan’s RIKEN Brain Science Institute.

"Iriki was the first to demonstrate at the cellular level how the brain connects vision and tactile sensation when we use tools," said Elwin Marg, executive director of the Minerva Foundation. "In 1996, he showed that cells in the parietal cortex (the part of the brain in the back of the head near the top, just in front of the visual cortex) integrate both visual and tactile stimuli and are able to change the way they operate to become more responsive to visual stimuli related to the self image.  The combination of different kinds of sensory information and change in the way the cells respond enables us to extend our body image to include the tool and use it successfully as an extension of our arm and hand.”

More recently, Iriki and his colleagues have shown that brain cells respond in the same way to the image of the body in a video monitor during tool use, coding this image as an extension of the self.

“The neural mechanisms in the brain have made it possible for us to develop virtual reality technology,” Iriki said. “The brain treats the actual and the virtual body image alike.  That is why we can project our body sensations into the video monitor.”

In both studies, Iriki and colleagues successfully trained macaque monkeys to do things the monkeys were not believed capable of doing. To learn how the brain connects visual and tactile information during tool use, the scientists trained monkeys to use a tool (a rake to gather food pellets). For the video image study, Iriki’s research team trained monkeys to recognize their body image when using a tool in a video monitor.

Iriki believes his work has implications for understanding the evolution and, perhaps, the possible future development of human intelligence and modern technology.

2004: Professor Atsushi Iriki
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2003: Friston

Professor Karl Friston
Institute of Neurology
University College London, UK

Berkeley, CA. The Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation has selected neurobiologist Karl Friston of University College London to receive its annual Golden Brain Award for work that helps to explain how the brain is organized.

The Golden Brain Award, now in its 19th year, honors researchers who make fundamental contributions to our knowledge of vision and the brain.

Friston has developed a mathematical method known as statistical parametric mapping (SPM) that is widely used by scientists to compare data collected using brain imaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET) and functional resonance imaging.  PET and detect and measure changes in blood flow when cells in particular regions of the brain are especially active.  These techniques make it possible to determine what parts of the brain are actively engaged when humans undertake tasks such as hearing, seeing colors, or looking at faces.  Friston’s method associates imaging studies with specific areas of the brain in a way that permits researchers to compare different brains and, thus, reach more general conclusions about how the brain is organized.

"SPM has been used extensively to define areas of the brain concerned with vision.  For example, it was used to define the area that permits us to see Friston’s innovative methodology has helped us to infer connections in the human brain by learning what brain areas increase or decrease their activity simultaneously,” said Elwin Marg, executive officer of the Minerva Foundation. “His work has had a major impact on extending our knowledge about how the brain functions, and may someday help us to understand and treat schizophrenia.”

Friston is a Wellcome Principal Research Fellow and scientific director of the Functional Imaging Laboratory, University College London, UK.  He is a professor in the Institute of Neurology and holds an honorary consultant post at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square London UK.  He was awarded the first Young Investigators Award in Human Brain Mapping in 1996.  In 2000, he was president of the international Organization for Human Brain Mapping. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

2003: Professor Karl Friston
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2002: Schultz

Professor Wolfram Schultz
Department of Anatomy
University of Cambridge
Cambridge, United Kingdom

December 15, 2002

Researcher Honored for Identifying the Mechanism for Motivation in the Brain

Berkeley, CA -- The Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation has selected neurophysiologist Wolfram Schultz of the University of Cambridge as the recipient of its eighteenth annual Golden Brain Award for his work describing how neurons in the brain process information about physical and psychological rewards.

The Golden Brain Award honors researchers who make fundamental contributions to our knowledge of vision and the brain.

Rewards play a central role in survival and behavior. We eat to satisfy hunger. We behave in ways that satisfy cognitive values such as acclaim and security. Schultz has identified how individual neurons in the brain detect rewards, predict future rewards from past experience, and use this information to affect behavior. He has also identified the parts of the brain where neurons that affect motivation are found.

“Wolfram Schultz’s work has deepened our knowledge of the neural mechanism that motivates us to do what we do,” said Elwin Marg, executive officer of the Minerva Foundation. “His pioneering research may someday help us understand the mechanism for drug addiction and figure out a way to thwart it.”

A native of Germany, Schultz has been Wellcome Principal Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge since 2001. Before joining the Cambridge faculty, he was professor and chair of Neurophysiology at the Institute of Physiology, University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

2002: Professor Wolfram Schultz
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2001: Perrett

Professor David Perrett
Department of Psychology
University of St. Andrews, Scotland

April 18, 2002

Vision Scientist Wins Golden Brain Award for Research Showing How the Brain Interprets Faces

Berkeley, CA....A vision scientist whose research describes how the brain interprets faces has won the Golden Brain Award from the Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation.  The Golden Brain Award honors researchers who make fundamental contributions to our knowledge of vision and the brain. David Perrett, professor of psychology at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, has been selected for demonstrating how cells in the temporal cortex--the primary place for visual memory in the brain—process information about the face.

"Over the past 15 years, David Perrett has brought us closer to understanding the circuitry of how the brain works," said Elwin Marg, executive director of the Minerva Foundation.

Perrett discussed his research in a seminar on "Interpreting Faces" at the University of California, Berkeley on April 18 in Minor Hall.  In addition to his physiological findings, Perrett touched upon his work exploring how people use facial cues to make social judgments.

Integrating Cues from Specialized Cells

Working with monkeys whose vision and brain systems function like those of humans, Perrett has shown that the brain integrates cues from highly specialized cells that respond to visual stimuli such as form, motion, color, and facial features. Using a process that builds a successively more complicated picture of facial structure and orientation, the brain ultimately extracts information that is important for social interaction, such as the direction of the gaze of the person being observed.

"We've found that cells in the temporal cortex are highly specialized for detecting faces and ignoring all other stimuli," Perrett said.  "My work has been to detect what information these cells provide--the identity of the face, where it is looking, what emotions it reveals. Faces are so important to us that we dedicate a lot of our brain
to their processing. These processes have a deep survival value."

Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind

Perrett has also shown that memory and imagination play a part in processing visual cues in the temporal cortex.  With researcher Christopher Baker, Perrett recently demonstrated that cells sometimes continue to respond to the presence of people, even when the people are hidden from sight, as if "remembering" them until they re-emerge.

Perrett's research follows upon the work of previous Golden Brain Award winners like Semir Zeki of University College, London, and Rudiger von der Heydt of The Johns Hopkins University who elucidated how the brain detects basic visual cues. Perrett is the eventeenth recipient of the Golden Brain Award.

2001: Professor David Perrett
 
| | Minerva Foundation

2000: Miles

Dr. Frederick Miles
Senior Research Psychologist
Sensorimotor Research Laboratory
National Eye Institute, Bethesda

Released in 2001 for 2000 Golden Brain Award

Researcher Honored for New Insights into How the Brain Guides Eye Movements

Berkeley, CA....The Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation has named vision researcher Frederick Miles the winner of its sixteenth annual Golden Brain Award for pioneering work that has illuminated how the eyes and the brain work together to steady our view as we move.

Imagine that you are in your car heading for a tollbooth on the highway. As you come closer and closer to the tollbooth, your eyes are automatically, imperceptibly making ultra-rapid adjustments to help you stabilize your view. Your brain is busy too, orchestrating this response.

Miles, senior research physiologist at the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research, National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, MD, has studied our eye movements and vision in such situations for almost 30 years.

"Fred Miles' work helps to explain how the brain guides our eye movements as we move about our complex visual environment," said Elwin Marg, executive director of the Minerva Foundation. "His research demonstrates that the mechanism we use to deal with the extraordinary complexity of the visual world and to avoid problems when viewing changing distances is extremely sophisticated - far more sophisticated than had previously been suspected. His research is also unique in that it draws upon extensive knowledge in two fields that are rarely blended - visual sensory and motor control."

Miles will discuss his research in a seminar on "Population Coding of Vergence Eye Movement in the MST Area of Cortex," on Wednesday January 17 at the University of California, Berkeley, Room 489, Minor Hall. The seminar, co-sponsored by the Minerva Foundation and UC Berkeley's School of Vision Science and Optometry, is open to the public. He will receive the Golden Brain Award for the year 2000 at a private dinner following the seminar.

Miles and his colleagues were the first to show that our brain is capable of responding much more rapidly than had been previously suspected and does so without us having to think about it. These automatic, machine-like adjustments begin to occur in only seven or eight hundredths of a second, which is two to three times faster than voluntary eye movements, and can deal with diverse visual challenges such as we might encounter when driving, jogging, or playing softball.

His latest work, with colleagues here and in Tsukuba, Japan, provides a dramatic example of sensorimotor coordination in the brain. The research has been carried out on monkeys, which have eye movements very similar to ours. The team in Japan had evidence implying that a small region of the cerebral cortex known as the medial superior temporal (MST) area was involved in generating automatic eye movements. Together with Miles, the researchers have now recorded the activity of neurons in MST. Their work indicates that the individual cells in MST each encodes some restricted aspect of the sensory events that take place when we move toward or away from an object. Their unexpected finding is that the aggregate activity of the cell population in MST provides a complete description of the animal's motor responses (eye movements), including even the idiosyncratic differences between individual animals. The brain is, thus, conveying information in the activity of a population of cells in the same way that we communicate using sentences made up of individual letters and words. This finding is another small step to understanding the language of the brain.

Miles' work provides insights that may help clinical researchers someday develop ways to correct misalignments of the eyes, which affect two to five percent of the people in the world and severely impair their ability to visualize things in depth.

He plans to collaborate with clinicians to study the eye movements of children who develop strabismus (squint), a condition in which the two eyes are misaligned due to an imbalance of the eye muscles, to learn more about their motor responses and what goes wrong with their vision over time.

The Minerva Foundation was established in 1984 to promote basic research in vision and the brain. The Foundation presents the Golden Brain Award each year to a researcher who makes a fundamental contribution to our knowledge of vision and the brain.

Past Golden Brain Award winners are William Newsome and Denis Baylor of Stanford University; Robert Wurtz of the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, MD; John Allman of the California Institute of Technology; Rudiger von der Heydt, Jeremy Nathans and Gian Poggio of The Johns Hopkins University; David Sparks of Baylor College of Medicine; Semir Zeki of University College, London; Robert Desimone of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH); Antonio Damasio of the University of Iowa College of Medicine; Anne Treisman of Princeton University; Claudio Galletti of the University of Bologna, Italy; Heinz Wassle of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany; and Nikos Logothetis of the Max-Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tuebingen, Germany.

2000: Dr. Frederick Miles
 
| | Minerva Foundation

1999: Logothetis

Professor Nikos Logothetis
Director of Biological Cybernetics
Max-Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics,
Tuebingen, Germany

October 22, 1999

Researcher Honored for Exploring How the Brain Differentiates Visual Illusion from Reality

Berkeley, CA....The Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation has named vision researcher Nikos Logothetis the winner of its 1999 Golden Brain Award for pioneering work that explores visual perception. The Foundation presents the Golden Brain Award each year to a researcher who makes a fundamental contribution to our knowledge of vision and the brain.

Logothetis, professor of neuroscience and director of the Max-Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tuebingen, Germany, studies how the brain makes sense of conflicting images when the eyes see an optical illusion-for example, a three-dimensional cube in which the walls appear to face first in one direction and then in another. (See graphic.)

Working with monkeys whose visual system is very similar to that of humans, Logothetis tracks the activity of individual neurons in the brain, using electrophysiological methods, to learn more about the mechanisms of perception. He complements this single neuron approach with functional magnetic resonance imaging, using a new technique developed for studying monkeys in his laboratory.

His work suggests that the neurons interpreting what we see are distributed over the entire visual pathway, as opposed to residing in a single higher vision association area of the brain.

Furthermore, the areas of the brain involved in planning and decision making-for example, the areas of the frontal lobe, as suggested by other investigators-may control the process that selects a particular image when there are conflicting images, as in the case of an optical illusion. This selection process is not limited to visual stimuli but may also apply to auditory and other sensory stimuli.

Logothetis will receive the Golden Brain Award, October 27, at a private dinner in Miami Beach, FL, where he will be attending a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

The Minerva Foundation was established in 1984 to promote basic research in vision and the brain. Past Golden Brain Award winners are William Newsome and Denis Baylor of Stanford University; Robert Wurtz of the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, MD; John Allman of the California Institute of Technology; Rudiger von der Heydt, Jeremy Nathans and Gian Poggio of The Johns Hopkins University; David Sparks of Baylor College of Medicine; Semir Zeki of University College, London; Robert Desimone of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH); Antonio Damasio of the University of Iowa College of Medicine; Anne Treisman of Princeton University; Claudio Galletti of the University of Bologna, Italy; and Heinz Wässle of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany.

1999: Professor Nikos Logothetis
 
| | Minerva Foundation

1998: Wassle

Professor Heinz Wassle
Director of Neuroanatomy
Max Planck Institute for Brain Research,
Frankfurt, Germany

November 4, 1998

Researcher Honored for Insights into How the Eye Sends Signals to the Brain

Berkeley, CA....The Minerva Foundation has named vision researcher Heinz Wassle the winner of its 1998 Golden Brain Award for discoveries that explain how the eye process and transmits visual information.

The Berkeley-based foundation presents the Golden Brain Award each year to a researcher who has made a fundamental contribution to our knowledge of vision and the brain.

Wassle, director of the Department of Neuroanatomy at the Max Planck Institue for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany, has devoted his career to exploring the cellular anatomy and function of the eye.

He has pioneered in applying biochemical techniques to the study of the chemical composition and the interactions of cells in the retina. His research provides evidence that the retina (the light sensitive layer in the eye) contains different sets of neurons that process brightness, contrast, color, and movement simultaneously.

He will receive the Golden Brain Award, Monday, November 9, at a private dinner in Los Angeles, where he will be attending a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

The eye is often compared with a camera, Wassle said, but this comparison doesn't begin to explain the eye's extraordinary capacity: "We can detect a single particle of light in absolute darkness," he said. "We perceive light particles by the billions in bright sunlight. We see minute differences in contrast. We perceive a huge range of colors. We are alert to moving objects, and our visual acuity can resolve the finest detail. To function like the eye, a camera would have to be miraculous. It would contain many different films, all exposed at once: a high speed film, a low speed film, a fine grain film, a color negative film, a color positive film, a movement sensitive film, and so on."

How does the eye do its job?

The eye contains 10 to 15 different types of ganglion cells, which send their messages through the optic nerve to the visual centers of the brain. Within the retina, between the photoreceptors (the actual light sensors) and the ganglion cells, at least 10 types of bipolar cells provide parallel routes for the light signal. Other cells (including horizontal cells and some 30 different unipolar nerve cells) provide a complex network of feedforward and feedback loops for anticipating, measuring, and taking action-similar to feedforward and feedback loops in a microchip. Using microelectrodes, Wassle measures the light responses of the different neurons. He analyzes the anatomy of the different sets of neurons, and he uses molecular methods to understand how the cells in the retina receive and transmit information (signal flow).

His work on the retina also helps to explain how the brain functions. "During embryonic development, the retina forms as part of the brain," Wassle said. "Thus, the retina is a model system for brain function, which is much more complex. We study the eye and the retina as a window to look into the brain."

The Minerva Foundation is a private foundation established in 1984 to promote basic research in vision and the brain.

Past Golden Brain Award winners are William Newsome and Denis Baylor of Stanford University; Robert Wurtz of the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, MD; John Allman of the California Institute of Technology; Rudiger von der Heydt, Jeremy Nathans and Gian Poggio of The Johns Hopkins University; David Sparks of the University of Pennsylvania; Semir Zeki of University College, London; Robert Desimone of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH); Antonio Damasio of the University of Iowa College of Medicine; Anne Treisman of Princeton University; and Claudio Galetti of the University of Bologna, Italy.

1998: Professor Heinz Wassle
 
| | Minerva Foundation

1997: Galletti

Professor Claudio Galletti
Physiology Department
University of Bologna

October 20, 1997

Vision Researcher Honored for Discovering How We Know Where We Are, How We Reach for Objects

Berkeley, CA – The Minerva Foundation has named Italian scientist Claudio Galletti the winner of its 1997 Golden Brain Award for discoveries that help to explain how the brain links seeing, knowing, and reaching.

The Berkeley-based foundation presents the Golden Brain Award each year to a researcher who has made a fundamental contribution to our knowledge of vision and the brain.

Galletti, professor of physiology at the University of Bologna, is being honored for discovering two mechanisms in the brain that help us survive--one that enables us to have a stable perception of our visual environment and one that links vision and reaching.

He will receive the Golden Brain Award, Tuesday, October 28, at a private dinner in New Orleans, where he will be attending a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Galletti works with macaque monkeys, whose visual system is very similar to that of humans. In his earlier research, he found that certain cells in the brain (called real position cells) keep track of the position of objects in space, regardless of where the eyes move. The part of the visual field from which these real position cells receive information (their receptive field) remains constant when the eyes move, in contrast to other known visual cells, whose receptive field moves with the direction of the gaze.

If, for example, we look directly at a lamp ahead of us and then move our glance to the left or right, the real position cells keep us aware of the lamp’s true location--that is, we perceive the lamp still in the same place in space, even though shifting our eyes will cause the lamp to appear at the edge, rather than the center, of our field of vision.

"Without this mechanism," said Elwin Marg, executive officer of the Minerva Foundation, "every time we moved our eyes, objects would appear to be moving. We couldn’t function. Galletti has helped to explain how this critical machinery works."

Galletti recently found that the same region of the brain in which he discovered real position cells also links vision to reaching and grasping.

In this cortical visual region, he found cells related to arm movement. No such cells had previously been known to exist there. He concluded that this part of the brain "seems to be an interface between the visual world and the motor world."

Galletti is currently continuing his research to prove that the arm-movement-related cells in this area (parietal cortex) use information coming from the motor centers of the brain to tell their neighboring visual cells what the arm is doing. He believes the interaction of these two kinds of cells enables us make the complex adjustments needed to reach successfully for objects.

"When you want to reach for a glass of water, for example," he said, "you thrust your arm towards the glass. To do that, you need the spatial coordinates of the glass. Real position cells could well provide this information. Moreover, while your arm is moving toward the glass, you can correct its position in space. To do this, you need visual information about where your arm is and where it is going, and you need information about the position of the glass in your visual field. This area of the brain can provide all the necessary visual information as well as somatosensory and somatomotor information about the position of your arm and the direction in which it is moving."

Galletti said the link he found between vision, reaching and grasping in the macaque could explain why humans with a lesion in the corresponding region of the brain are unable to reach for and grasp objects – a condition known as optic ataxia.

The Minerva Foundation is a private foundation established in 1984 to promote basic research in vision and the brain.

Past Golden Brain Award winners are William Newsome and Denis Baylor of Stanford University; Robert Wurtz of the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, MD; John Allman of the California Institute of Technology; Rudiger von der Heydt, Jeremy Nathans and Gian Poggio of The Johns Hopkins University; David Sparks of the University of Pennsylvania; Semir Zeki of University College, London; Robert Desimone of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH); Antonio Damasio of the University of Iowa College of Medicine; and Anne Treisman of Princeton University.

1997: Professor Claudio Galletti
 
| | Minerva Foundation

1996: Treisman

Professor Anne Treisman
Psychology
Princeton Unversity, New Jersey

November 12, 1996

Researcher Honored for Pioneering Work On Visual Attention, Perception, Memory

Berkeley, CA – With so much to see in the world around us, how do we focus on some things and not others? What are the limits of our awareness? It turns out that more than we consciously know meets the eye – and brain.

A Princeton researcher who has shown that the human brain absorbs and retains images we are not aware of having seen has been honored for this and other pioneering work exploring visual attention perception, and memory.

Anne Treisman, James S. McDonnel Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Princeton University, has won the 1996 Golden Brain Award, presented annually by the Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation to a researcher who has made a fundamental contribution to our knowledge of vision and the brain. Treisman is the first psychologist to win the award.

"To understand vision, we need to understand both its physiological and psychological aspects," said Elwin Marg, executive officer of the Minerva Foundation. "Treisman has advanced our understand of visual organization by characterizing the earliest stages of perception -- the first few tenths of seconds of neural processing -- that occur in the brain."

Using novel shapes, patterns, letter in different colors, and other visual representation, Treisman studies how people absorb and process visual information at the earliest stages. Besdies establishing that we form detailed representations of novel shapes without being aware of them, Treisman, in other research, has described how our eyes and mind can play tricks on us. She has shown that we put information about different aspects of what we see together by attending to one object at a time, and, if this serial process gets overloaded, we can begin seeing combinations that don't exist.

Her work has implications for understanding patients with brain damage, for learning what might improve visual attention, and for learning how to avoid overloading visual attention, for example, in settings where workers must make fine visual distinctions fast.

Treisman holds a B.A. from Cambridge, England, and a D. Phil, from Oxford, England. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society, London, a Fellow of the American Psychological Society, a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences, and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The twelfth recipient of the Golden Brain Award, Treisman will be honored Wednesday, November 20, at a private dinner in Washington, D.C.

The Minerva Foundation is a private foundation established in 1984 to promote basic research on vision and the brain.

Past Golden Brain Award winners are William Newsome and Denis Baylor of Stanford University; Robert Wurtz of the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, MD; John Allman of the California Institute of Technology; Rudiger von der Heydt, Jeremy Nathans and Gian Poggio of The Johns Hopkins University; David Sparks of the University of Pennsylvania; Semir Zeki of University College, London; Robert Desimone of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH); and Antonio Damasio of the University of Iowa College of Medicine.

1996: Professor Anne Treisman
 
| | Minerva Foundation

1995: Damasio

Professor Antonio R. Damasio
Neurology
University of Iowa, Iowa City

UI's Damasio receives 1995 Golden Brain Award from Minerva Foundation

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Dr. Antonio R. Damasio, Maurice Van Allen Professor and head of the Department of Neurology in the University of Iowa College of Medicine, has won the 1995 Golden Brain Award from the Minerva Foundation for his groundbreaking work on the brain basis of rationality and decision-making.

In conjunction with the award, he will present a lecture on Friday, Nov. 17, on the University of California-Berkeley campus and will receive the award at a dinner that evening.c

In announcing the award, Minerva Foundation Executive Director Elwin Marg says, "Damasio's theories of how rationality has developed and his study of the role of emotion in the behavior of patients with lesions of the frontal cortex have illuminated how emotions and feelings contribute to how we reason."

Marg, who also serves as professor of vision science at the University of California-Berkeley, described Damasio's work as "original and highly significant."

The Minerva Foundation, based in Berkeley, was established in 1984 to promote basic research on vision and the brain. The Golden Brain Award honors researchers who are making fundamental breakthroughs that extend knowledge of the brain and expand understanding of important physiological functions.

Damasio is the 11th recipient of the award, which is presented annually to a scientist for exceptional basic research on vision and the brain. Past recipients of the award include William Newsome and Denis Baylor of Stanford University; Robert Wurtz of the National Eye Institute; John Allman of the California Institute of Technology; Rudiger von der Heydt, Jeremy Nathans and Gian Poggio, all of Johns Hopkins University; Semir Zeki of University College, London; David Sparks of the University of Pennsylvania; and Robert Desimone of the National institute of Mental Health.

Damasio joined the UI faculty in 1976 and became head of the Department of Neurology in 1986. He was named Maurice Van Allen Distinguished Professor in 1989.

His most recent book, "Descartes' Error; Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain," is being translated into 12 languages and is reaching lay audiences as well as readers in the scientific and medical communities. In it, Damasio says that mind and body, reason and emotion are inextricably intertwined, and that emotion is at least as important a brain function as cognition.

He and his colleague and wife, Dr. Hanna Damasio, have created a leading research center at the UI for the study of the neural basis of cognition and behavior.

Damasio also serves as an adjunct professor with the Salk Institute and is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, and several other societies, boards of leading neuroscience journals and research foundations.

1995: Professor Antonio R. Damasio
 
| | Minerva Foundation

1994: Desimone

Dr. Robert Desimone
Laboratory of Neuropsychology
National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda

1994: Dr. Robert Desimone
 
| | Minerva Foundation

1993: von der Heydt

Professor Rudiger von der Heydt
Neuroscience
Johns Hopkins University

Now You See It – Maybe

Researchers from The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and the University Hospital of Zurich have pinpointed where and how the brain "sees" optical illusions. In doing so, they have developed a better understanding of how vision is processed in the brain and how the "mind" fills in missing information.

The work by Hopkins neurophysiologist Rudiger von der Heydt, Ph.D., and cm researchers Esther Peterhans, D.M.V., and Gunter Baumgartner, M.D., in Zurich, deals with a phenomenon called illusory contours - in which the brain fills in the outline of an object, even though there are genuine gaps in that outline. For his role, von der Heydt will receive the Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation's 1993 Golden Brain Award on Nov. 8, given annually for exceptional basic research on vision and the brain.

By showing monkeys optical illusions and recording the response of brain cells, the research team found that cerebral cells in an area at the back of the head called the prestriate cortex can fill in the gaps, anticipating a complete object.

These cells, which "fire" when the eye is shown a contrasting object at a certain orientation - a tilted white bar on a black background, for example, will fire also in the same way if there are gaps in the bar. Cells at a lower level in the visual system, however, did not fire.

"The brain devotes from a quarter to a third of the cerebrum to interpreting what we see, and the area where we found the illusory contour responses is one of the largest of the visual areas," says von der Heydt. "That's a large piece of the brain to use just for optical illusions, so there are certainly other or more important purposes."

One purpose, he explains, is that "the system wants to have something that is constant." If, for example, you look at a car driving away, there may be parts of the car's contour that don't stand out because of changes in lighting. But your perception tells you that the car is still intact. Constancy, von der Heydt says, keeps the world a reasonable place.

Another purpose, he says, is 3-D perception. "We see the world in three dimensions, although our eyes receive only two dimensional images. When this happens, information from near and distant objects gets jumbled in the brain at the lower levels of the visual system, closer to the eye where sensory information enters."

Higher centers in the brain sort out this jumble to produce a 3-D representation, he explains. The question has been how far up in the visual system this occurs.

Researchers once thought perception was strictly a higher brain function. Now it appears that certain perceptions, such as illusory contours, may be "wired" at a lower level. "These studies of perception are a gate to understanding brain function in general," says von der Heydt. "We get closer to understanding thought this way."

1993: Professor Rudiger von der Heydt
 
| | Minerva Foundation

1992: Newsome

Professor William T. Newsome
Neurobiology Department
Stanford University, Stanford

Stanford Vision Researcher Wins 1992 Golden Brain Award

STANFORD, CA - William Newsome of Stanford University School of Medicine has been chosen to receive the Minerva Foundation's 1992 Golden Brain Award for his research demonstrating that certain brain cells are intimately linked to the process of visual perception.

Newsome, an associate professor of neurobiology, is the eighth recipient of the Golden Brain Award (the second winner from Stanford) presented annually by the Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation for exceptional basic research on vision and the brain.

The award "recognizes deserving scientists doing basic research of the caliber that will be the basis for future Nobel prizes," said Minerva Foundation Executive Officer Elwin Marg. While many other foundations support researchers who are solving clinical problems and fighting disease, explained Marg, the Minerva Foundation honors people who are making fundamental breakthroughs that extend the knowledge of vision and the brain and expand the comprehension of important physiological functions.

"Basic research is underrecognized," Marg said. "It does not always allow us to cure serious diseases, but it does give us a chance to understand more about how vision and the brain work, which, ultimately leads to cures."

"Dr. Newsome's work is at the forefront of neuroscience," said Marg in announcing Newsome's selection. "We're trying to understand how the brain works, and his research has made an important contribution to our understanding of the physiological basis of perception. It bridges the fields of neurophysiology and perceptual psychology."

The work of Newsome and his collaborators has provided some of the first evidence that certain perceptions are actually caused by the stimulation of distinct circuits of neurons in the visual cortex.

"Vision occurs in the brain, not in the eye," Newsome explained. "A major goal of our research is to understand how the brain interprets the signals that arrive from the eye."

Newsome will be honored at a dinner on Friday, October 23, following a lecture he will give on "The Neural Basis of Motion Perception" at the University of Califomia, Berkeley. During the lecture, scheduled for 4 p.m. in LeConte Hall, Room 2, Newsome will explain how the activity of individual neurons in the brain produces perception of motion. The lecture is jointly sponsored by the Minerva Foundation and Berkeley's School of Optometry.

Newsome said he is motivated by the intellectual challenge of being able to understand how people see, but he is also excited by the prospects for practical application of his work. For example, scientists struggling to develop machine vision are realizing that they may pick up some clues by looking at biological visual systems. If the links between nerve cell activity and perception can be clarified, researchers will be able to find the best ways of looking at the brain to determine normal and abnormal neural functioning.

Newsome was a predoctoral trainee with Golden Brain Award winner John Allman at the California Institute of Technology and received his Ph.D. in 1979. He also completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Cal Tech in 1980. Newsome went on to work as a staff research fellow with another Golden Brain Award winner, Dr. Robert H. Wurtz, at the National Eye Institute's Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research. He then became an assistant professor of neurobiology and behavior at State University of New York at Stony Brook before joining the Stanford faculty in 1988.

Stanford's neurobiology department boasts another Golden Brain recipient, professor Denis Baylor, who won the award in 1988 for his research explaining the molecular process that enables people to see.

Other past recipients of the Golden Brain Award are Professors Jeremy Nathans and Gian Poggio of The Johns Hopkins University, David Sparks of the University of Pennsylvania and Semir Zeki of University College, London.

1992: Professor William T. Newsome
 
| | Minerva Foundation

1991: Wurtz

Dr. Robert H. Wurtz
Chief, Sensorimotor Research Laboratory
National Eye Institute, Bethesda

November 29, 1991

Vision Research Pioneer Wins 1991 Golden Brain Award

Berkeley, Calif. -- The Minerva Foundation has awarded Dr. Robert H. Wurtz, chief of the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research at the National Eye Institute (NEI) in Washington, D.C., its 1991 Golden Brain Award for seminal research that has revealed how the brain processes visual information and controls eye movement.

Wurtz is the seventh recipient of the Golden Brain Award, presented annually by the Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation for exceptional basic research on vision and the brain.

His latest research suggests that certain "very smart neurons" in the brain guide us in moving through the environment, helping us especially with depth perception.

"When you walk down the hall, you don't consciously notice the visual information you get--what we call the optic flow--but many different brain cells are processing this information in such a way as to keep you from bumping into the wall," explains Wurtz.

Wurtz will be honored at a dinner on Friday, December 6, following a lecture he will give on "Moving in 3-D Space: Motion Processing in Primate Cerebral Cortex" at the University of California, Berkeley. The lecture, scheduled for 4 p.m. in 2 Le Conte Hall, will examine how neurons in the cerebral cortex are organized to respond to optic flow stimuli. The Minerva Foundation and Berkeley's School of Optometry are co-sponsoring the lecture.

Announcing Wurtz's selection, Minerva Foundation Executive Officer Elwin Marg said, "Robert Wurtz, a pioneer in neurophysiology, has made an extraordinary contribution to our understanding of how the brain works at the level of the single cell."

Wurtz and his collaborators were the first to identify parts of the brain that control certain eye movements. His current research is the first to describe the relationship of binocular disparity (close v. far vision) to optic flow stimulation.

Wurtz studies the organization of the visual and oculomotor system in monkeys as a means of inferring how the human brain perceives motion and controls eye movements. Visual perception and eye movement in monkeys and humans are virtually identical.

While his primary goal is to understand how the brain is organized to produce behavior, Wurtz says his research can have shorter-term practical results: "By understanding how the circuits in the brain function, we hope to be able to suggest where deficits might be and possibilities for treating diseases and disorders, such as stroke."

A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the past president of the Society for Neuroscience, Wurtz earned a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College in 1958 and a doctorate from the University of Michigan in 1962. From 1962 to 1965 he was a research fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. He worked at the National Institute of Mental Health before joining the NEI in 1978.

Other past recipients of the Golden Brain Award are Professors John Allman of the California Institute of Technology, Denis Baylor of Stanford University, Jeremy Nathans and Gian Poggio of The Johns Hopkins University, David Sparks of the University of Pennsylvania, and Semir Zeki of University College, London.

1991: Dr. Robert H. Wurtz
 
| | Minerva Foundation

1990: Allman

Professor John M. Allman
Biology Division (Psychology)
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena

October 17, 1989

Scientist Honored for Revealing Role of Brain in Vision, Memory

BERKELEY, CA – John M. Allman, Hixon Professor Psychobiology at the California Institute of Technology, has won the 1990 Golden Brain Award from the Minerva Foundation for ioneering research that has revealted how the brain processes information from the eyes.

Allman is the sixth recipient of the award, presented annually for exceptional basic research on vision and the brain. He will be honored at a dinner on Thursday, October 18, following a lecture he will give at the University of California, Berkeley.

Announcing Allman's selection, Executive Officer Elwin Marg said, "John Allman's research has consistently challenged and changed the conventional scientific wisdom about visual perception. His elegant work reflects a lifelong interest in the evolution of the capacity of the brain, and has set a new agneda for the study of the brain."

Currently, Allman is exploring the role of the brain in visual memory and learning. His work has influenced integrated circuit design for artificial visual systems – including developmento f a chip to achieve color constancy in video cameras – and may someday help people suffering from visual disorientation, like victims of amnesia or Alzheimer's disease.

In the late 1960s, Allman and co-worker Jon Kaas discovered new areas of the brain responsible for processing visual stimuli. Allman has since shown that distinct parts of the brain process different features of visual perception, such as motion or form. He has also found that the various areas work together cooperatively to integrate visual information – a function that enables us to see the world as a continuous whole.

Allman, 47, joined the Caltech faculty in 1974, after receiving a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Chicago and doing postdoctoral work in neurophysiology at the University of Wisconsin. He was named Hixon Professor of Psychobiology in 1989, succeeding Nobel Laureate Roger Sperry.

Allman's lecture at Berkeley, "Evolution of Neocortex," will examine how the development of neocortex, a part of the brain that is unique to mammals and plays the key role in vision, is related to other characteristic mammalian features, such as warmbloodedness, lactation, and play. He will speak at 2 p.m. in 2 Le Conte Hall.

The lecture is one of two co-sponsored by the Minerva Foundation and Berkeley's School of Optometry in celebration of the Decade of the Brain.

The second lecture in the series, "Function of Striate Cortex," will be given by Semir Zeki, professor of neurobiology at University College, London, England. Zeki, a fellow of the Royal Academy, was the first recipient of the Golden Brain Award in 1985. He will speak on Friday, October 19, at 2 p.m. in 2 Le Conte Hall.

Other past recipients of the Golden Brain Award are Professors Denis Baylor of Stanford University, Jeremy Nathans of The Johns Hopkins University, Gian Poggio of Johns Hopkins; and David Sparks of the University of Pennsylvania.

 

1990: Professor John M. Allman
 
| | Minerva Foundation

1989: Nathans

Professor Jeremy Nathans
Neuroscience Department
The John Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore

October 27, 1989

SCIENTIST HONORED FOR WORK ON GENES, COLOR VISION

Berkeley – Molecular biologist Jeremy Nathans, M.D., Ph.D., has won the 1989 Golden Brain Award from the Minerva Foundation for pioneering research which has revealed how genes govern color vision.

Nathans, 31, was the first to isolate the genes responsible for color vision in work done at Stanford University with Professor of Biochemistry David Hogness. Now at

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., Nathans is using molecular genetics to explore the mechanisms that permit us to see color. His work with the retina of the eye is helping to explain basic evolutionary processes and may someday make it possible to treat hereditary eye disease.

The Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation annually gives the &olden Brain Award for exceptional basic research on vision and the brain. Nathans is the youngest recipient to be so honored.

Nathan's work has not only explained the genetics of color blindness by identifying the genes responsible for red, green, and blue color reception, but also provides insight into the workings of the central nervous system.

"The retina of the eye is part of the brain and the nervous system," Nathans explained. "If you are going to study how the brain works, it is a good idea to start with the simplest part. The retina is the simplest part--it is specialized for seeing light--yet it has all the elements of the larger system, such as cells communicating with each other."

Using genes to learn about the fundamental mechanisms at work in the retina, and applying this knowledge to central nervous system biology, is the challenge for the next 30-50 years, Nathans said.

Nathans has been at Hopkins since 1988 as an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics and the Department of Neuroscience. He received the Initiatives in Research Award of the National Academy of Sciences in 1987, the Newcomb-Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1988, the Distinguished Young Scientist Award of the Maryland Academy of Sciences in 1989, and others.

The fifth scientist to receive the Golden Brain Award, Nathans will be honored at a dinner, Tuesday, October 31, in Phoenix, Ariz., where he will be attending a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Past recipients of the award are Dr. Denis Baylor of Stanford University School of Medicine; Semir Zeki, professor of neurobiology at University College, London; Gian Poggio, M.D., professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins; and David Sparks, professor of neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania.

1989: Professor Jeremy Nathans

 

 
| | Minerva Foundation

1988: Baylor

Professor Denis Baylor
Neurology & Neurobiology Departments
Stanford University, Stanford

November 8, 1988

Stanford University Researcher Wins 1988 Golden Brain Award

Dr. Denis Baylor of Stanford University School of Medicine has been chosen to receive the 1988 Golden Brain Award from the Minerva Foundation.

Baylor, a professor of neurobiology, is being honored for his research explaining the molecular process that enables people to see.

Specifically, he has isolated how individual cells in the retina of the eye convert light into electrochemical signals that the brain uses to create visual images.

Baylor is the fourth recipient of the award, given annually to honor extraordinary research on vision and the brain. The award "recognizes deserving scientists doing basic research of the caliber that will be the basis for future Nobel prizes," said Elwin Marg, vice president and executive officer of the Berkeley-based foundation.

While Baylor is focusing on learning how vision works, he explained, his findings may someday lead to an understanding of retinitis pigmentosa, a degeneration of the retina that often leads to blindness. As many as 100,000 people in the United States are afflicted with the disease.

Baylor has been a member of Stanford's faculty since 1974. He received the Paul Kayser International Award of Merit in Retina Research at the International Congress of Eye Research in September. Other honors include the Sinsheimer Foundation Award for Medical Research, the Mathilde Solowey Award in the Neurosciences, the Rank Prize in Optoelectronics, and the Proctor Medal from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

Baylor graduated Cum Laude from Yale Medical School in 1965, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship there in 1968. He held positions with the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, the United States Public Health Service, and the faculty at University of Colorado Medical School prior to joining Stanford.

Past recipients of the Golden Brain Award are Semir Zeki, professor of neurobiology at University College London; Gian Franco Poggio, professor of neurobiology at John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; David Sparks, professor of neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

1988: Professor Denis Baylor

 

 

 
| | Minerva Foundation

1987: Sparks

Professor David Sparks
Division of Neuroscience
Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas

October 26, 1987

Berkeley -- How the human brain controls eye movements is the subject of outstanding research by David Sparks, professor of neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Sparks will be awarded the Golden Brain Award - the Oscar of the world of the visual brain for his research. The award presentation will take place in New Orleans on November 18.

The Golden Brain Award, now in its third year, is the brain child of the Minerva Foundation, a Berkeley group of scientists devoted to recognizing extraordinary original discoveries regarding vision and the brain.

Sparks' research demonstrates that there are at least three separate maps set up in a part of the brain for the visual scene. "These new maps significantly add to our understanding of the signals the brain generates to control eye movements," he says. "Ultimately, this knowledge allows for a more intelligent appraisal of appropriate optical and pharmacological treatments for patients with eye movement disorders," he adds.

A native of Guntersville, Alabama, and a graduate of the University of Alabama, where he received his Ph.D. in 1963, Dr Sparks joined the University of Alabama faculty in 1965 and is a former chairman of the UAB Department of Psychology. He serves on the editorial boards of three scientific journals and is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and of the Society for Neuroscience. His research has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

The Golden Brain, commissioned by the Minerva Foundation, was designed by nationally known sculptor, Florence Resnikoff, professor of art and head of the Metal Arts Program at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Golden Brains have been awarded in the past to Semir Zeki, professor of neurobiology at University College London, (1985); and Gian Franco Poggio, professor of neurobiology at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, (1986).

1987: Professor David Sparks

 

 
| | Minerva Foundation

1986: Poggio

Professor Gian F. Poggio
Neuroscience Department
The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore

November 12, 1986

Berkeley – The second annual Golden Brain Award, honoring outstanding original discoveries in vision and brain research, has been won by Gian Franco Poggio, Professor of Neurobiology at The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

The award is given by the Minerva Foundation based in Berkeley, California.

Poggio has discovered how the brain perceives three-dimensional space from the nerve impulses it receives from both eyes, according to Elwin Marg, the Foundation's executive officer.

Poggio earned his M.D. degree at the University of Genoa School of Medicine in 1951 and joined the Department of Physiology at the Johns Hopkins University in 1957. He was appointed Professor of Physiology in 1975 and Professor of Neurobiology in 1980.

The Golden Brain, sculpted by Professor Florence Resnikoff of the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, is a gold model of a human brain on a pedestal ten inches high. The award was established by the Minerva Foundation to recognize outstanding original discoveries in vision and brain research.

1986: Professor Gian F. Poggio

 

 
| | Minerva Foundation

1985: Zeki

June 10, 1985

Berkeley – The first Golden Brain Award, honoring original discoveries in vision and brain research, has been won by Semir Zeki, professor of neurobiology at University College, London. The award is given by the Minerva Foundation, based in Berkeley, California.

Zeki has discovered the specialized functions of certain areas in the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for vision in the brain, according -to Elwin Marg, the foundation's executive officer. These areas appear the same under the microscope but perform dramatically different tasks for seeing, such as analyzing movement and direction and stabilizing the perception of color.

Zeki graduated from University College in 1964 and earned his Ph.D. in anatomy there in 1967. He joined the College's teaching staff in 1969 and became professor in the Department of Anatomy and Embryology in 1981. From 1975 to 1980 Zeki was also Henry Head Research Fellow of the Royal Society, London.

His other honors include the Hocart Prize, in 1961, awarded by the Royal Anthropological Institute. He is a Fellow of the Institute for Neuroscience in New York City and a member of the Board of Advisers of the Beit Memorial Trust.

The Golden Brain was designed and crafted by Florence Resnikoff, professor of art and head of the Metal Arts Program of the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.

1985: Professor Semir Zeki