February 15, 2011
LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute for Biological Studies today announced a generous gift from Mr. Conrad Prebys, a Salk Trustee, to establish the Conrad T. Prebys Endowed Chair in Vision Research for Dr. Tom Albright. As part of their senior scientist endowed chair challenge, Joan and Irwin Jacobs will match the donor’s gift with an additional $1,000,000 to establish the donor’s named chair at $3,000,000.
“This unique gift will help change the way we view the world,” said Salk Institute 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.”
Conrad Prebys is the owner of Progress Construction Company and a developer of real estate enterprises in California and Texas. He is a major philanthropist in San Diego, inspired to share his good fortune with the local community, and is actively building a legacy of generosity throughout the region. A native of South Bend, Indiana, Mr. Prebys was raised in a neighborhood where most of the residents worked in local factories. Encouraged by an inspirational teacher, he was the first of five brothers to graduate from a university.
“I couldn’t be more pleased to support this extraordinary research. 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,” said Mr. Prebys.
Thomas D. Albright is a Professor and Director of the Vision Center Laboratory at the Salk Institute. Throughout his career, he has been seeking new avenues to understand the neuronal structures and events that underlie visual perceptual experience, and their contributions to knowledge, behavior, and consciousness.
Dr. Albright obtained his education at the University of Maryland, B.A.; Princeton University, Ph.D., psychology and neuroscience and postdoctoral fellow. He has received noteworthy awards and appointments including: McKnight Neuroscience Development Award, 1991; Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, 1989; Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, 1997; National Academy of Sciences Award for Initiatives in Research, 1995; Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2003; Member, National Academy of Sciences, 2008; and Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2009.
The research in Dr. Albright’s laboratory focuses on the neural structures and events underlying the perception of motion, form, and color. Recent studies of the primate cerebral cortex have unveiled the existence of multiple areas devoted to the processing of visual information. Richly interconnected collections of these areas constitute functional subsystems for the detection, analysis, and interpretation of specific types of visual information.
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.
For centuries, humans have understood that there is more to visual perception than meets the eye. Foremost among the factors that interact with incoming sensory data are our memories which enable us to infer the cause, category, meaning, utility, and value of retinal images. Dr. Albright 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.
“Tom is a leader in understanding the complexities of vision and perception. His commitment to deepening our knowledge of the interconnectedness of processing visual information puts him at the forefront in his field,” said Marsha Chandler, Executive Vice President at the Salk Institute.
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.