Neuroscientists

Adele Diamond

Adele Diamond

The conference and resulting book served to jumpstart many research collaborations and the nascent field of developmental cognitive neuroscience.

Adele Diamond’s team made two discoveries that led to worldwide improvements in the medical treatment for phenylketonuria (PKU), improving the lives of thousands of children. Prof. Diamond identified the biological mechanism causing EF deficits in children treated for PKU, and, demonstrated how to prevent those deficits. 

She provided the first demonstration of a visual deficit in treated PKU children (which changed international guidelines for the age of treatment onset and that markedly improved children’s lives.)

Her 2005 paper on the fundamental neurobiological and clinical differences between the inattentive-type ADHD and those ADHD types in which hyperactivity is present was titled “BADD (ADHD without hyperactivity), a neurobiologically and behaviorally distinct disorder from ADHD (with hyperactivity)”.

Her lab is now investigating:

  • the power of the arts (music and the spoken word) to improve mood and slow or reverse cognitive decline with aging.
  • whether children with ADHD are being over-medicated for optimal school performance.
  • the effects of stress on EFs, and how that differs by gender and genotype.

Much of Diamond’s work has started with a “YES, YOU CAN” premise: even though a child may appear incapable of doing or understanding something, if we pose the question differently or teach the concept in new ways, the child can succeed.

Adele Dorothy Diamond FRSC is a professor of neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, where she is currently a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. One of the pioneers in the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience,

Diamond researches how executive functions are affected by biological and environmental factors, especially in children. Her discoveries have improved treatment for disorders such as phenylketonuria and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and they have impacted early education.

Diamond grew up in Brooklyn and Queens and attended public schools. She graduated from John Bowne High School as Valedictorian.

She attended Swarthmore College on a four-year Swarthmore National Scholarship and graduated in 1975, majoring in Sociology-Anthropology and Psychology. She was a member of the Varsity Volleyball and Archery teams all four years.

While still at Swarthmore, in 1972, she attended the London School of Economics, studying the philosophy of science with Imre Lakatos, an important Popperian philosopher.

Diamond did her PhD graduate work at Harvard University (graduating in 1983), with a four-year NSF Graduate Fellowship for those thought to have outstanding research promise and a three-year Danforth Graduate Fellowship for those committed to university teaching.

Although officially a PhD candidate in Psychology, she spent her first four years of graduate school working primarily in Anthropology and Sociology. At that time, Harvard had an NIMH-funded Pre-doctoral Training Program in Cross-Cultural Psychological Research and the program awarded Diamond three years of funding for her dissertation: one year to prepare to go into the field, one year to go anywhere in the world to do the research (she chose the South Pacific because it seemed the most idyllic), and one year to write up the results.

Diamond organized a seminal conference, “The Development and Neural Basis of Higher Cognitive Functions,” that brought together developmental psychologists, neuroscientists, and cognitive scientists who were using the same behavioral paradigms but did not know it because people in different fields had not been talking to one another.


Miguel Nicolelis

Miguel Nicolelis

On January 15, 2008, Dr. Nicolelis lab saw a monkey implanted with a new BCI successfully control a robot walking on a treadmill in Kyoto, Japan. The monkey could see the robot, named CB, on a screen in front of him, and was rewarded for walking in sync with the robot (which was under the control of the monkey).

After an hour the monkey’s treadmill was turned off, but he was able to continue to direct the robot to walk normally for another few minutes, indicating that a part of the brain not sufficient to induce a motor response in the monkey had become dedicated to controlling the robot, as if it were an extension of itself.

In 2013, a report of research by Nicolelis and others was published which showed brain to brain communication between two rats using brain–computer interfaces. This result may demonstrate the feasibility of a biological computer consisting of a network of animal, or human, brains. Currently, researchers are divided on their views of this research. 

*March 7, 1961, São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

Miguel Ângelo Laporta Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D. is a Brazilian scientist, physician and Duke School of Medicine Professor in Neuroscience at Duke University, best known for his pioneering work surrounding brain-machine interface technology.

Nicolelis holds a medical degree from the University of São Paulo (1984), a doctorate in Sciences (General Physiology) from the University of São Paulo (1989) and a PhD in Physiology and Biophysics from Hahnemann University.

He is a full professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Co-Director of the Neuroengineering Center at Duke University (USA).

Founder of the Alberto Santos Dumont Association for Research Support (AASDAP) and the Santos Dumont Institute (ISD), he proposed the use of science as an agent of social and economic transformation.

Nicolelis is a Researcher at the International Institute of Neurosciences Edmond and Lily Safra (IIN-ELS) and Coordinator of the Andar de Novo Project, developed at AASDAP in São Paulo.

He and his colleagues at Duke University implanted electrode arrays into a monkey’s brain that were able to detect the monkey’s motor intent and thus able to control reaching and grasping movements performed by a robotic arm. This was possible by decoding signals of hundreds of neurons recorded in volitional areas of the cerebral cortex while the monkey played with a hand-held joystick to move a shape in a video game. 

These signals were sent to the robot arm, which then mimicked the monkey’s movements and thus controlled the game. After a while the monkey realised that thinking about moving the shape was enough and it no longer needed to move the joystick. So it let go of the joystick and controlled the game purely through thought. A system in which brain signals directly control an artificial actuator is commonly referred to as brain-machine interface or brain-computer interface.


Eric R. Kandel

Eric. R. Kandel

Grundfest was known for using the oscilloscope to demonstrate that action potential conduction velocity depends on axon diameter. The researchers Kandel interacted with were contemplating the technical challenges of intracellular recordings of the electrical activity of the relatively small neurons of the vertebrate brain.

Working with Alden Spencer, he found electrophysiological evidence for action potentials in the dendritic trees of hippocampal neurons.

Since 1974, Kandel actively contributes to science as a member of the Division of Neurobiology and Behavior at the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University. In 2008, he and Daniela Pollak discovered that conditioning mice to associate a specific noise with protection from harm, a behavior called “learned safety”, produces a behavioral antidepressant effect comparable to that of medications.

He is a Senior Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He was also the founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, which is now the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University.

He currently serves on the Scientific Council of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. Kandel’s popularized account chronicling his life and research, In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, was awarded the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology.

*7 November 1929, Vienna, Austria

Eric Richard Kandel is an Austrian-born American medical doctor who specialized in psychiatry, a neuroscientist and a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.

He was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard.

After arriving in the United States and settling in Brooklyn, Kandel was tutored by his grandfather in Judaic studies and was accepted at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, from which he graduated in 1944. He attended Brooklyn’s Erasmus Hall High School in the New York City school system.

Kandel’s initial interests lay in the area of history. History and Literature was his undergraduate major at Harvard University. He wrote an undergraduate honors thesis on “The Attitude Toward National Socialism of Three German Writers: Carl Zuckmayer, Hans Carossa, and Ernst Jünger”. While at Harvard, a place dominated by the work of B. F. Skinner, Kandel became interested in learning and memory.

However, while Skinner championed a strict separation of psychology, as its own level of discourse, from biological considerations such as neurology, Kandel’s work is essentially centered on an explanation of the relationships between psychology and neurology.

The world of neuroscience was opened up to Kandel when he met Anna Kris, whose parents Ernst Kris and Marianne Rie were psychoanalysts. Sigmund Freud, a pioneer in revealing the importance of unconscious neural processes, was at the root of Kandel’s interest in the biology of motivation and unconscious and conscious memory.

In 1952 he started at the New York University Medical School. By graduation he was firmly interested in the biological basis of the mind. During this time he met his future wife, Denise Bystryn. Kandel was first exposed to research in Harry Grundfest’s laboratory at Columbia University.


Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Santiago Ramón y Cajal

He took part in an expedition to Cuba in 1874–75, where he contracted malaria and tuberculosis. To aid his recovery, Ramón y Cajal spent time in the spa-town Panticosa in the Pyrenees mountain range.

After returning to Spain, he received his doctorate in medicine in Madrid in 1877. Two years later, he became the director of the Zaragoza Museum.

In 1887 Ramón y Cajal moved to Barcelona for a professorship. There he first learned about Golgi’s method, a cell staining method which uses potassium dichromate and silver nitrate to (randomly) stain a few neurons a dark black color, while leaving the surrounding cells transparent. 

In 1892, he became professor at Madrid. In 1899 he became director of the Instituto Nacional de Higiene – translated as National Institute of Hygiene , and in 1922 founder of the Laboratorio de Investigaciones Biológicas – translated as the Laboratory of Biological Investigations , later renamed to the Instituto Cajal, or Cajal Institute.

He died in Madrid on October 17, 1934, at the age of 82, continuing to work even on his deathbed.

*1 May 1852, Petilla de Aragón, Navarre, Spain

†17 October 1934, Madrid, Spain

Santiago Ramón y Cajal was a Spanish neuroscientist, pathologist, and histologist specializing in neuroanatomy and the central nervous system. He and Camillo Golgi received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1906.

He discovered the axonal growth cone, and demonstrated experimentally that the relationship between nerve cells was not continuous, or a single system as per then extant reticular theory, but rather contiguous; there were gaps between neurons. 

Ramón y Cajal was the first person of Spanish origin to win a scientific Nobel Prize. His original investigations of the microscopic structure of the brain made him a pioneer of modern neuroscience.

Hundreds of his drawings illustrating the arborizations (“tree growing”) of brain cells are still in use, since the mid-20th century, for educational and training purposes.

As a child he was transferred many times from one school to another because of behavior that was declared poor, rebellious, and showing an anti-authoritarian attitude.

An extreme example of his precociousness and rebelliousness at the age of eleven is his 1863 imprisonment for destroying his neighbor’s yard gate with a homemade cannon. 

He was a keen painter, artist, and gymnast, but his father neither appreciated nor encouraged these abilities, even though these artistic talents would contribute to his success later in life

Over the summer of 1868, his father took him to graveyards to find human remains for anatomical study. Early sketches of bones moved him to pursue medical studies. Ramón y Cajal attended the medical school of the University of Zaragoza, where his father worked as an anatomy teacher. He graduated in 1873, aged 21, and then served as a medical officer in the Spanish Army.


Robert Sapolsky

Robert Sapolsky

As a neuroendocrinologist, he has focused his research on issues of stress and neuronal degeneration, as well as on the possibilities of gene therapy strategies for protecting susceptible neurons from disease. Currently, he is working on gene transfer techniques to strengthen neurons against the disabling effects of glucocorticoids.

Sapolsky’s work has been featured widely in the press, most notably in the National Geographic documentary Stress: Portrait of a Killer, articles in The New York Times, Wired magazine, the Stanford magazine, and The Tehran Times.

Sapolsky’s specialization in primatology and neuroscience has made him prominent in the public discussion of mental health—and, more broadly, human relationships—from an evolutionary context.

*6 April 1957, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.

Robert Morris Sapolsky is an American neuroendocrinology researcher and author. He is currently a professor of biology, and professor of neurology and neurological sciences and, by courtesy, neurosurgery, at Stanford University. In addition, he is a research associate at the National Museums of Kenya.

In 1978, Sapolsky received his B.A. in biological anthropology summa cum laude from Harvard University. He then went to Kenya to study the social behaviors of baboons in the wild. When the Uganda–Tanzania War broke out in the neighboring countries, Sapolsky decided to travel into Uganda to witness the war up close, later commenting that “I was twenty-one and wanted adventure… I was behaving like a late-adolescent male primate.”

Sapolsky then returned to New York and studied at Rockefeller University, where he received his Ph.D. in neuroendocrinology working in the lab of endocrinologist Bruce McEwen.

After the initial year-and-a-half field study in Africa, he would return every summer for another twenty-five years to observe the same group of baboons, from the late 70s to the early 90s. He spent 8 to 10 hours a day for approximately four months each year recording the behaviors of these primates in order to identify the sources of stress in their environment, and the relationship between personality and patterns of stress-related disease in these animals.

More specifically, Sapolsky studies the cortisol levels between the alpha male and female and the subordinates to determine stress level. An early but still relevant example of his studies of olive baboons is to be found in his 1990 Scientific American article, “Stress in the Wild”.He has also written about neurological impairment and the insanity defense within the American legal system.


Antonio Damasio

Antonio Damasio

He demonstrated experimentally that the insular cortex is a critical platform for feelings, a finding that has been widely replicated, and he uncovered cortical and subcortical induction sites for human emotions, e.g. in ventromedial prefrontal cortex and amygdala.

In another development, Damasio proposed that the cortical architecture on which learning and recall depend involves multiple, hierarchically organized loops of axonal projections that converge on certain nodes out of which projections diverge to the points of origin of convergence (the convergence-divergence zones).

This architecture is applicable to the understanding of memory processes and of aspects of consciousness related to the access of mental contents.

Damasio heads the Brain and Creativity Institute, and has authored several books: his next to latest work, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (2010), explores the relationship between the brain and consciousness. Damasio’s research in neuroscience has shown that emotions play a central role in social cognition and decision-making.

*25 February 1944, Lisbon, Portugal

Antonio Damasio is a Portuguese-American neuroscientist. He is currently the David Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience, as well as Professor of Psychology, Philosophy, and Neurology, at the University of Southern California, and, additionally, an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute. He was previously the chair of neurology at the University of Iowa for 20 years.

During the 1960s, Damasio studied medicine at the University of Lisbon Medical School, where he also did his neurological residency and completed his doctorate in 1974. For part of his studies, he researched behavioral neurology under the supervision of Norman Geschwind of the Aphasia Research Center in Boston.

Damasio’s main field is neurobiology, especially the neural systems which underlie emotion, decision-making, memory, language and consciousness.

 Damasio might believe that emotions play a critical role in high-level cognition—an idea counter to dominant 20th-century views in psychology, neuroscience and philosophy.

Damasio formulated the somatic marker hypothesis, a theory about how emotions and their biological underpinnings are involved in decision-making (both positively and negatively, and often non-consciously). Emotions provide the scaffolding for the construction of social cognition and are required for the self processes which undergird consciousness.

Damasio also proposed that emotions are part of homeostatic regulation and are rooted in reward/punishment mechanisms.

He recovered William James’ perspective on feelings as a read-out of body states, but expanded it with an “as-if-body-loop” device which allows for the substrate of feelings to be simulated rather than actual (foreshadowing the simulation process later uncovered by mirror neurons).


Michael Gazzaniga

Michael Gazzaniga

They study how those with split brain act emotionally and physically in comparison to those who do not have a split brain. Through Gazzaniga’s studies a much greater understanding of the split brain phenomenon has been brought to other physiologists as well as the general population of the world.

Gazzaniga’s publication career includes books for a general audience such as The Social Brain, Mind Matters, Nature’s Mind, The Ethical Brain and Who’s in Charge?.

He is also the editor of The Cognitive Neurosciences book series published by the MIT Press, which features the work of nearly 200 scientists and is a sourcebook for the field. His latest monograph is entitled Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. It was published by HarperCollins in 2011.

Gazzaniga founded the Centers for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of California, Davis and at Dartmouth College, the Neuroscience Institute, and the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, of which he is the Editor-in-Chief Emeritus.

Gazzaniga was a member of U.S. President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics. He was also the Director of the Law and Neuroscience Project, a project to study the intersection of law and neuroscience.

*12 December  1939

Michael S. Gazzaniga is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the USA, where he heads the new SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind. He is one of the leading researchers in cognitive neuroscience, the study of the neural basis of mind. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences.

In 1961, Gazzaniga graduated from Dartmouth College in the USA. In 1964, he received a Ph.D. in psychobiology from the California Institute of Technology, where he worked under the guidance of Roger Sperry, with primary responsibility for initiating human split-brain research.

In his subsequent work he has made important advances in our understanding of functional lateralization in the brain and how the cerebral hemispheres communicate with one another.

Gazzaniga has led pioneering studies in learning and understanding split brained patients and how their brains work. He has performed numerous studies and done large amounts of research on split brain patients to provide a higher quality understanding into the lives of those affected by this rare phenomenon.

He has studied how people who have the two halves of the brain separated function in comparison to those who do not. Gazzaniga has looked into what bodily functions are controlled by each half of the brain. He has looked at what split brained patients are able to do as a result of their condition such as the ability to draw two different objects with each hand, an ability that a person with a non split brain is unable to do.


Michael Merzenich

Michael Merzenich

He led the cochlear implant team at UCSF, which transferred its technology to Advanced Bionics, and their version is the Clarion cochlear implant.

He collaborated with Bill Jenkins and Gregg Recanzone to demonstrate sensory maps are labile into adulthood in animals performing operant sensory tasks. He collaborated with Paula Tallal, Bill Jenkins, and Steve Miller to form the company Scientific Learning.

This was based on Fast ForWord software they co-invented that produces improvements in children’s language skills that has been related to the magnitude of their temporal processing impairments prior to training.

Merzenich was director and Chief Scientific Officer of Scientific Learning between November 1996 and January 2003. Merzenich took two sabbaticals from UCSF, in 1997 and 2004.

In 1997 he led research teams at Scientific Learning Corporation, and in 2004 at Posit Science Corporation. Currently, Merzenich’s second company, Posit Science Corporation, is working on a broad range of behavioral therapies. Their lead product is a brain-training application called BrainHQ (TM).  Merzenich is Chief Scientific Officer, and on the Board of Directors, at Posit Science.

*1942, Lebanon, Oregon, United States

Michael Matthias Merzenich is a professor emeritus neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. His contributions to the field are numerous.

He took the sensory cortex maps developed by his predecessors (Archie Tunturi, Clinton Woolsey, Vernon Mountcastle, Wade Marshall, and Philip Bard) and refined them using dense micro-electrode mapping techniques. Using this, he definitively showed there to be multiple somatotopic maps of the body in the postcentral sulcus, and multiple tonotopic maps of the acoustic inputs in the superior temporal plane.

Merzenich grew up fascinated by science. He attended the University of Portland in Portland, Oregon earning his Bachelor of Science in 1964. Here, he was valedictorian, receiving only one non-A, a C in a philosophy course in which he argued with the instructor.

In 1968 he earned his PhD in Physiology at Johns Hopkins Medical School in the lab of Vernon Mountcastle, studying neural coding of stimulus magnitude in the hairy skin. He left Johns Hopkins to conduct his postdoctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin under Jerzy Rose.

There, he did a cross-species analysis of the cochlear nucleus in large game cats and pinnipeds, did the first auditory cortical microelectrode maps in the macaque with John Brugge, and the first somatosensory maps in the macaque with neurosurgeon Ron Paul.


James McGaugh

James McGaugh

The concept of such “post-training” manipulations is one of McGaugh’s greatest contributions to the field of learning and memory because it avoids many potential confounds, such as performance effects of the drug, that may occur when a drug or other treatment is given prior to the training.

Over the ensuing decades, McGaugh and his research colleagues and students extended the findings into a long-term investigation of emotionally influenced memory consolidation.

As most people realize, they have stronger memories for long-ago events that were emotionally arousing in nature, compared with memories for emotionally neutral events (which may not be remembered well at all).

McGaugh’s research examined how emotional arousal influences memory consolidation. In particular, he has found that stress hormones, such as epinephrine and cortisol, mediate much of the effects of emotional arousal on subsequent retention of the event. These hormones, in turn, activate a variety of brain structures, including the amygdala, which appears to play a key role in modulating memory consolidation.

The amygdala, when activated, influences a variety of other brain structures, including the hippocampus, nucleus accumbens and caudate nucleus that process different aspects of memory. It is through this “orchestration” of brain structures that memories are eventually formed and stored, though the exact nature of memory storage remains elusive.

James L. McGaugh is an American neurobiologist and author working in the field of learning and memory. He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus[1] in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California, Irvine and a fellow and founding director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

McGaugh received his B.A. from San Jose State University in 1953 and his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1959.

He was briefly a professor at San Jose State and then did postdoctoral work in neuropharmacology with Nobel Laureate Professor Daniel Bovet at the Istituto Superiore di Sanitá in Rome, Italy. He then became a professor at the University of Oregon from 1961 to 1964.

He was recruited to the University of California, Irvine, in 1964 to be the founding chair of the Department of Psychobiology (now Neurobiology and Behavior). He became dean (1967–1970) of the School of Biological Sciences and Vice Chancellor (1975–1977) and executive Vice Chancellor (1978–1982) of the university.

McGaugh’s early work (in the 1950s and 1960s) demonstrated that memories are not instantly created in a long-term, permanent fashion. Rather, immediately after a learning event, the memory is labile and susceptible to influence.

As time passes, the memory becomes increasingly resistant to external influences and eventually becomes stored in a relatively permanent manner, a process termed memory consolidation. McGaugh found that drugs, given to an animal shortly after a learning event, influence the subsequent retention of that event.


Fred Gage

Fred Gage

His team is investigating how such cells can be transplanted back to the brain and spinal cord. They have showed that physical exercise can enhance the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a brain structure that is important for the formation of new memories.

Furthermore, his team is examining the underlying molecular mechanisms that are critical to the birth of new brain cells, work that may lead to new therapeutics for neurodegenerative conditions.

His lab studies the genomic mosaicism that exists in the brain as a result of “jumping genes,” mobile elements, and DNA damage that occurs during development. Specifically, he is interested in how this mosaicism may lead to difference in brain function between individuals.

His lab published work showing that Human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) erase aging signatures and hiPSC-derived neurons remain rejuvenated, while direct conversion into induced neurons (iNs) preserve donor fibroblast age-dependent transcriptomic signatures.

*8 October 1950

Fred Gage is the President of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the Adler Professor in the Laboratory of Genetics at the Salk Institute, and has concentrated on the adult central nervous system and the unexpected plasticity and adaptability that remains throughout the life of all mammals.

His work may lead to methods of replacing brain tissue lost to stroke or Alzheimer’s disease and repairing spinal cords damaged by trauma. He was the President-elect of the ISSCR in 2012.

Dr. Gage graduated from St. Stephen’s High School in Rome, Italy in 1968 and received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Florida and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

He did his post-doctoral work at Lund University in Sweden, under the direction of cell transplantation pioneer Anders Bjorklund.

In 1998, Fred H. Gage (Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California) and Peter Eriksson (Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Gothenburg, Sweden) discovered and announced that the human brain produces new nerve cells in adulthood. Until then, it had been assumed that humans are born with all the brain cells they will ever have.

Gage’s lab showed that, contrary to years of dogma, human beings are capable of growing new nerve cells throughout life. Small populations of immature nerve cells are found in the adult mammalian brain, and Gage is working to understand how these cells can be induced to become mature nerve cells.