John M. Allman, Hixon Professor of Psychobiology at the California Institute of Technology, won the 1990 Golden Brain Award from the Minerva Foundation for pioneering research that revealed how the brain processes information from the eyes.
Allman was the sixth recipient of the award, and was honored at a dinner on Thursday, October 18th, 1990, following a lecture he gave at the University of California, Berkeley.
Announcing Allman's selection, the late 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 agenda for the study of the brain."
Allman explored the role of the brain in visual memory and learning. His work influenced integrated circuit design for artificial visual systems – including development of a chip to achieve color constancy in video cameras. It 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 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," examined 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 warm-bloodedness, lactation, and play.