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National Eye Institute

National Eye Institute's Wurtz Recognized for Outstanding Brain/Eye Research

NEI Press Release

National Institutes of Health
National Eye Institute

March 5, 2004

Robert Wurtz, Ph.D. has been selected as one of three recipients of the Dan David Prize for innovative research that crosses traditional boundaries and paradigms. Dr. Wurtz is one of the nation's leading researchers on cognitive neuroscience and a scientist at the National Eye Institute (NEI), one of the Federal government's National Institute's of Health.

The Dan David Prize covers the past, present, and future time dimensions, representing realms of human achievement. Dr. Wurtz won his award for the future time dimension, the topic of which this year was "Brain Sciences." The future time dimension focuses on breakthroughs that hold great promise for improvement of our world. Dr. Wurtz will share the $1 million award with Dr. William T. Newsome, an NEI grantee at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and Dr. Amiram Grinvald of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. The work of all three was cited "for having revolutionized neurobiology by showing that higher mental processes can be analyzed in the intact behaving primate in terms of individual nerve cells and cellular populations."

Dr. Wurtz introduced methods for the study of brain cells in the visual system of the monkey while the monkey was using its visual system to perform sophisticated visual and behavioral tasks. This approach has become the standard animal model for the study of the human visual system. It has paved the way for the growth of research on neuronal activity in the brain that underlies visual perception and higher brain function. Wurtz's subsequent work has tried to unravel the components in the brain that transform visual input from the eye into visual perception and eye movements. He and his colleagues identified neuronal activity in the brain that contributes to a person's ability to attend to some parts of the visual scene but not to others, and the brain mechanisms that underlie human perception of a stable visual world in spite of eye movements that occur several times per second.

Dr. Wurtz is a Senior Investigator in the NEI's Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research, a laboratory he founded in 1978 at the NEI. He received his A.B. Degree in Chemistry from Oberlin College in Ohio and his doctorate degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Wurtz has earned many honors and awards, including the W. Alden Spencer Award of Columbia University, the Karl Spencer Lashley Award of the American Philosophical Society, the Friedenwald Award of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association. He has authored or co-authored more than 150 scientific papers.

A former president of the Society for Neuroscience, Dr. Wurtz was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1988 and to the Institute of Medicine in 1997. He presently serves as a Non-Resident Fellow of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies; on the Scientific Board of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and on the Board of Scientific Advisors at the Center for Neural Science at New York University.

Established by international entrepreneur and automatic photo booth developer Dan David, the Dan David Prize is funded from a $100 million Dan David Foundation endowment and is administered by Israel's Tel Aviv University. Winners donate 10 percent of their prize money to outstanding doctoral students at universities around the world, which helps to foster the next generation of scholars. The Dan David Prize aims to promote the scientific, technological and humanistic achievements that advance and improve our world. This is the third year the prize has been awarded.

Dr. Wurtz and other prize recipients will receive their awards at Tel Aviv University on May 16, 2004. For more information about the Dan David Prize and its former winners please visit The Dan David Prize website,

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The National Eye Institute (NEI) conducts and supports research that leads to sight-saving treatments and plays a key role in reducing visual impairment and blindness. The NEI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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