The Guest Lecturer
William Newsome, PhD
Professor of Neurobiology Stanford University, School of Medicine
Bill Newsome is the Harman Family Provostial Professor, director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, and professor of neurobiology and (by courtesy) psychology at Stanford University. He began his academic career at Stony Brook University as an assistant professor in 1984 in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior before moving to Stanford in 1988. He now teaches graduate and medical courses in neuroscience, and co-teaches an undergraduate course on social and ethical issues in the neurosciences.
Newsome is a leading investigator in sensory and cognitive neuroscience and has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying visual perception and simple forms of decision making. Among his honors are the Rank Prize for Optoelectronics, the Spencer Award for highly original contributions to research in neurobiology, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, the Dan David Prize, and the Karl Spencer Lashley Award of the American Philosophical Society. Most recently, he was asked to co-chair the Advisory Committee for President Obama's BRAIN Initiative.
He seeks to understand how higher mammals acquire sensory information about the world, how that information is processed within the brain, and how behavioral responses to that information are organized. New experimental and conceptual tools are creating a paradigm shift in the field. The analysis of single-neuron activity remains critical, but single-neuron activity is most comprehensible in the context of collective neural states that are revealed through dynamical systems analysis.
The long-term goal of Newsome's research is to understand the neuronal processes that mediate visual perception and visually guided behavior. To this end the Newsome Lab is conducting parallel behavioral and physiological experiments in animals that are trained to perform selected perceptual or eye movement tasks. By recording the activity of cortical neurons during performance of such tasks, initial insights are gained into the relationship of neuronal activity to the animal's behavioral capacities. Hypotheses concerning this relationship are tested by modifying neural activity within local cortical circuits to determine whether behavior is effected in a predictable manner.
Computer modelling techniques are then used to develop more refined hypotheses concerning the relationship of brain to behavior that are both rigorous and testable. This combination of behavioral, electrophysiological and computational techniques provides a realistic basis for neurophysiological investigation of cognitive functions such as perception, memory and motor planning.
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