Masakazu Konishi and Eric Knudsen Win International Neuroscience Prize
Peter Gruber Foundation Honors Researchers for Remarkable Collaboration and Fundamental Discoveries on Sound Localization
St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., November, 2005 - Eminent neurobiologists Masakazu Konishi and Eric Knudsen, who discovered fundamental neural mechanisms that underlie sound localization in a brilliant series of experiments, were selected by an international panel of experts to receive the 2005 Neuroscience Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation.
Each year the Foundation presents a gold medal and a $200,000 unrestricted cash award to an outstanding scientist or scientists who have contributed to fundamental advances in the field of neuroscience. This year’s prize, shared by the co-recipients, was presented on November 13 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C.
Sound localization is a computational process wherein the brain associates individual sounds with their locations in space. For decades auditory localization appeared deeply mysterious. Conventional wisdom held it unlikely that the auditory system uses a map-like representation of space, but Konishi and Knudsen thought differently. Guided by behavioral observations on the sound localization ability of barn owls, who can catch their prey in the dark, Konishi and Knudsen made the startling discovery that a map of auditory space exists in the midbrain of the barn owl. The discovery demonstrated that novel spatial maps can be synthesized within the brain based on primary cues that are encoded in the periphery. It also showed that maps are a primary mechanism used by the brain to represent and process sensory information.
The official citation reads:
“The 2005 Neuroscience Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is hereby proudly presented to Dr. Masakazu Konishi, California Institute of Technology, and Dr. Eric Knudsen, Stanford University, whose studies provided the keys for our understanding of the basis of sound localization and neural plasticity in the auditory system. The work is a paradigm for the precise organization of a sensory system and its ability to adapt to environmental experiences. Their work established the topographic map of auditory space in the midbrain of the barn owl and elucidated the mechanisms of plasticity that calibrate the auditory map with the neighboring map of the visual world. The elegance and high standard of their work, and their mentorship and care of their disciples, have made Konishi and Knudsen models for scientists all over the world.”
Born in Kyoto, Japan in 1933, Masakazu Konishi received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Hokkaido University in Sapporo and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1963. After holding positions in Germany at the University of Tubingen and the Max-Planck Institute, he returned to the U.S. to work at the University of Wisconsin and Princeton University before going to the California Institute of Technology in 1975 as Professor of Biology. He has been the Bing Professor of Behavioral Biology at Caltech since 1980.
Eric Knudsen, 55, was born in Palo Alto, California, received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his Doctorate from the University of California, San Diego, in 1976. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Caltech, where Masakazu Konishi was his sponsor, he arrived at Stanford University School of Medicine in 1979 as Assistant Professor and where, since 2001, he has chaired the Department of Neurobiology.
Peter Gruber, chairman of the foundation that bears his name, said, “Professors Konishi and Knudsen have contributed exciting knowledge to the field. We are proud to honor them and the expanding future of neuroscience research.”
The Neuroscience Prize was established in 2004 and is recognized as the leading international prize in the field. Winner of the inaugural prize was pioneering neurogeneticist Seymour Benzer.
The Foundation’s Neuroscience Advisory Board, a panel of experts in the field, selects the annual winner of the prize. Current members are: Huda Akil, Ph.D, Mental Health Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Dr. Fred H.Gage, Salk Institute, La Jolla, California; Dr. Tomas G.M. Hokfelt, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden; Lily Yeh Jan, Ph.D, University of California, San Francisco, California; Mu-Ming Poo, Ph.D, University of California, Berkeley, California; Dr. Solomon H. Snyder, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland; and Dr. Torsten N. Wiesel, President Emeritus, Rockefeller University, New York, New York.
The Peter Gruber Foundation
The Peter Gruber Foundation was founded in 1993 and established a record of charitable giving principally in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it is located. In recent years the Foundation has expanded its focus to a series of international awards recognizing discoveries and achievements that produce fundamental shifts in human knowledge and culture. In addition to the Neuroscience Prize, the Foundation presents awards in the fields of Cosmology, Genetics, Justice, and Women’s Rights. Further information about the Peter Gruber Foundation and its awards is available from www.petergruberfoundation.org.