1992: Newsome


William Newsome of Stanford University's School of Medicine was 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, was the eigth 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 the late Elwin Marg, the Minerva Foundation's Executive Officer. "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 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 was honored at a dinner on Friday, October 23rd, 1992 following a lecture he gave on "The Neural Basis of Motion Perception" at the University of California, Berkeley. During the lecture, Newsome explained how the activity of individual neurons in the brain produces perception of motion. The lecture was 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.