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Visionary donor endows chair in vision research

Conrad Prebys

Conrad Prebys

The Salk Institute's renowned program in vision research has received a significant boost, thanks to a generous $2 million gift from Salk trustee Conrad Prebys. The gift, which is being matched with an additional $1 million from the Joan Klein Jacobs and Irwin Mark Jacobs Senior Scientist Endowed Chair Challenge, will endow a new chair in vision research. Thomas Albright, professor and director of the Institute's Vision Center Laboratory and a leader in vision research worldwide, will be the first holder of the chair (see article, page 12).

"I couldn't be more pleased to support this extraordinary research," Prebys says. "To work with the Salk on discoveries that can potentially impact millions of people is what draws me to the Institute. Supporting this caliber of groundbreaking science under the leadership of Dr. Albright is inspiring."

Owner of Progress Construction Company and a developer of real estate enterprises in California and Texas, Prebys is a prominent philanthropist in San Diego who has shared his good fortune with the local community and is actively building a legacy of generosity throughout the region. A native of South Bend, Indiana, he was raised in a neighborhood where most of the residents worked in local factories. Through the encouragement of an inspirational teacher, he became the first of five brothers to graduate from college.

Albright, whose research focuses on the neural structures and events underlying the perception of motion, form and color, provided the first systematic evidence that humans' perception of motion does not depend on the physical characteristics, such as brightness, color or texture, of the object that is moving— a feature known as "form-cue invariance." He found that single neurons in a brain area specialized for processing motion exhibited robust form-cue invariance, a discovery that came as a surprise at the time. He also uncovered a specific neuronal process by which visual pictorial recall serves to augment sensory data with "likely" interpretations in order to overcome the ever-present noise, ambiguity and incompleteness of the retinal image.

As Albright continues to seek new avenues to understand the neuronal structures and events that underlie visual perceptual experience and their contributions to knowledge, behavior and consciousness, the Prebys Chair will add significant momentum to his already distinguished research career.

"This unique gift will help change the way we view the world," says Salk president William R. Brody. "The discoveries from Tom's lab will illuminate the mechanics of information processing in these high-level visual areas and define their unique contributions to visual perception and visually guided behavior."