Another Stanford Neurobiology professor has won a prestigious prize for their research: Bill Newsome has been awarded this year's Champalimaud Vision Award. The prize, worth $1.3 million, is given in odd-numbered years to honor accomplishments in preventing blindness, and even-numbered years for outstanding scientific research in the field of vision. This year's prize is shared between Newsome and Dr. Anthony Movshon (NYU) for their work characterizing areas of the brain involved in making perceptual judgments about direction. Bill Newsome, well known among neuroscience students and med students for his enthusiastic depictions of intracranial self-stimulation in rats, studies neuronal processes relating to visual perception and visually guided behavior. To this end, his lab studies rhesus monkeys trained to perform visual discrimination tasks, using neurophysiological recordings to measure the activity of cortical neurons during task performance. Of particular interest are neurons in the visual cortex (particularly the middle temporal visual area, MT) that respond optimally to visual stimuli moving in a particular direction - these neurons are believed to underlie our ability to perceive and judge motion direction. In addition, the Newsome uses perceptual discrimination tasks to investigate the neural basis of the decision process, studying two brain areas, the intraparietal region of the parietal lob (LIP) and the superior colliculus, both of which contain neurons whose activity predicts an animals decisions. For a detailed description of the ongoing research in the Newsome lab, see Newsome's HHMI Research Abstract, or visit his lab's website.*
Stanford Report interviewed Newsome, who reportedly learned of his award June 2nd, after turning his cell phone back on after lab meeting. "There was a message from my wife telling me an ophthalmologist in Portugal had called and told her he was absolutely sure I would really, really want to call him back.” (The opthalmologist in question was Dr. Alfred Summer dean of the School of Hygiene and Public Health, and professor of Opthalmology, Epidemiology, and International Health at Johns Hopkins University, and a member of the Champalimaud jury.)
Congratulations to Bill for a well deserved recognition of his amazing contributions to neuroscience.
*Also of note this spring for the Newsome lab was the successful thesis defense of Dr. Rachel Kalmar, whose thesis research delved into the neural dynamics of movement preparation.