April 30, 2008

Salk scientist Thomas Albright elected to National Academy of Sciences

Visual perception pioneer discovered "form-cue" invariance

Salk News

Salk scientist Thomas Albright elected to National Academy of Sciences

Visual perception pioneer discovered "form-cue" invariance

La Jolla, CA – Salk Institute professor Thomas Albright, who studies the neuronal basis of visual perception, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences. The Academy made the announcement today during its 145th 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 U.S. scientists.

“Tom’s election to the National Academy of Sciences is without question a well-deserved honor in recognition of his leading scientific contributions,” said Salk Interim President Dr. Roger Guillemin. “As of today, over 25 percent of Salk’s faculty are members of the prestigious NAS. This is quite an extraordinary testament of Salk’s outstanding research.”

Throughout his career, Dr. Albright has been seeking new avenues to identify how sensory signals in the brain become “integrated” to form neuronal representations of the objects that populate our visual environment and form our conscious experiences of the world. It is known that our eyes take in the visual environment and break the incoming images down into simple features such as color, brightness, motion and form. These pieces of information are channeled from the eye to the brain along specialized pathways before they are put back together and give rise to perception.

Dr. Albright 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.

His research also provided answers to the question of how the visual system changes the interpretation of the same visual stimulus in different contexts, just as the meaning of a single word depends on the phrase it helps compose.

Human memory relies mostly on association and objects frequently seen together to become linked in our mind; when we try to retrieve information, one thing reminds us of another, which reminds us of yet another, and so on. Long thought to be limited to higher levels of information processing, Dr. Albright successfully traced this type of associative learning to early stages of the visual processing pathway.

About Thomas Albright:

Thomas Albright received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Maryland and his master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology and neuroscience from Princeton University. He was a postdoctoral fellow with Charles Gross at Princeton, where he studied the organization and functions of primate visual cortex before he joined the Salk faculty in 1987.

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:

Internationally renowned for its groundbreaking basic research in the biological sciences, the Salk Institute was founded in 1960 by Dr. Jonas Salk, five years after he developed the first safe and effective vaccine against polio. The Institute’s 57 faculty members are scientific leaders in the fields of molecular biology, neurosciences and plant biology.

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