Future: Brain Sciences
Dr. Robert H. Wurtz has made one of the most salient discoveries in cognitive neurosciences – he discovered how the brain processes different aspects of the visual scene in different places, segregating color, and processing motion and form.
Wurtz developed techniques for studying the activity of single visual neurons in an alert monkey trained to carry out behavioral tasks. His studies enabled careful analysis of neuronal properties without the artifacts induced by anesthesia and paralysis, and more importantly, opened up the possibility of studying cognitive and behavioral questions on a physiological level.
His unique research focused on the human being’s visual coordination of movement. Generally speaking, Wurtz was the first to identify that not only brain cells but even single neurons are responsible for visual coordination managed in real time by our brain. His research sought to understand the fundamental brain mechanisms that allow sensory-motor coordination, ranging from day-to-day activities to more demanding athletic precision.
Wurtz researched intra-cranial self-stimulation in the James Olds’ laboratory at the University of Michigan. In 1966 he joined the Laboratory of Neurobiology of the National Institute of Mental Health, where he began research on the visual system and its correlation to the behavior of monkeys. During this period he spent a year as a visiting scientist at Cambridge University in England before becoming founder and chief of the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research in 1978. He remains in the Laboratory as an NIH Distinguished Investigator.
Wurtz was also the Senior Investigator at the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research and a member of the Scientific Board of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is also a non-resident Fellow at the Salk Institute.
Wurtz’s honors include the Minerva Foundation for the Golden Brain Award in 1991 as well as the American Psychological Association Award in 1997.
Wurtz has served as President of the Society for Neuroscience and has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among his awards and honors are the Karl Spencer Lashley Award of the American Philosophical Society, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, the Ralph W. Gerard Prize of the Society for Neuroscience and the Gruber Prize in Neuroscience.
Dr. Wurtz and his collaborators are among the most outstanding contemporary behavioral neuroscientists worldwide. The 2004 Dan David Prize honors Dr. Robert H. Wurtz for his pioneering work in the field of Brain Sciences.