The Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation 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.
By working with monkeys whose visual system is very similar to that of humans, Logothetis tracked the activity of individual neurons in the brain, using electrophysiological methods, to learn more about the mechanisms of perception. He complemented this single neuron approach with functional magnetic resonance imaging, using a novel 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 received the Golden Brain Award on October 27th, at a private dinner in Miami Beach, FL, where he was attending a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.