April 27, 2010

Salk scientist Terrence Sejnowski elected to National Academy of Sciences

Salk News

Salk scientist Terrence Sejnowski elected to National Academy of Sciences

LA JOLLA, CA—Salk Institute professor Terrence J. Sejnowski, Ph.D., whose work on neural networks helped spark the neural networks revolution in computing in the 1980s, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences. The Academy made the announcement today during its 147th annual meeting in Washington, DC. Election to the Academy recognizes distinguished and continuing achievements in original research, and is considered one of the highest honors accorded a U.S. scientist.

“Terry is an extraordinary neuroscientist,” said Salk President William R. Brody. “His work has bridged computer science and neuroscience and has helped spur many advances in neuroscience. His election is a wonderful recognition of his pioneering accomplishments in computational neuroscience.”

A Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, Dr. Sejnowski tries to understand the computational resources of brains, and to build linking principles from brain to behavior using computational models. He pursues his goal by combining both experimental and modeling techniques to study the biophysical properties of synapses- the connections between brain cells- and the population dynamics of large networks of neurons. For example, he demonstrated that the release of chemical signals from nerves isn’t restricted to synapses, as neuroscientists had previously believed, but is mostly released outside the expected region.

He has created computer models of networks of neurons to explore the mechanisms underlying attention in the awake brain and brain rhythms in the sleeping brain and the links between them. These models also help explain how epilepsy arises from imbalances in brain circuits.

By studying how computer simulations can perform operations that resemble the activities of the cerebral cortex, Dr. Sejnowski hopes to gain new knowledge of how the human brain is capable of learning and storing memories. This knowledge ultimately may provide medical specialists with critical clues to combating Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders that rob people of the critical ability to remember faces, names, places and events.

As of today, 16 of the Salk Institute’s 60 faculty (about 27%) are members of the National Academy of Sciences.

About Terrence J. Sejnowski:

Dr. Sejnowski graduated from Case Western Reserve University, and earned his doctorate in physics at Princeton University. After completing post-doctoral research studies in biology at Princeton and in neurobiology at Harvard University, he held an appointment in the department of biophysics at Johns Hopkins University before he was appointed a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. In 1988, he joined the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, where he directs the Crick-Jacobs Center for Computational Neurobiology. He also heads the Institute for Neural Computation and co-directs the NSF Science of Learning Center, both at UCSD.

Dr. Sejnowski, who is also a member of the Institute of Medicine and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science has been the recipient of multiple honors, including the Wright Prize for interdisciplinary research from Harvey Mudd College, the Hebb Prize and the Neural Network Pioneer Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He has published over 300 scientific papers and 12 books, including The Computational Brain, with UC San Diego professor of philosophy, Patricia Churchland.

About the National Academy of Sciences:

The National Academy of Sciences is an organization of scientists and engineers established by Congress and dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. It was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, which calls on the Academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology.

Additional information about the Academy is available at www.nasonline.org

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world’s preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.

Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.

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