Years of painstaking research led to the discovery that different neurons within the visual cortex recognize different shapes and patterns. The columns, lines, colors, and various shapes of an image are all individually recognized by distinct sets of neurons, which are then viewed in its totality by the higher brain centers. This groundbreaking work led to Hubel and Weisel, along with Roger W. Sperry, winning the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In addition to their Nobel Prize research, Hubel and Wiesel uncovered the importance of the critical period, a transient, early developmental stage where the brain is highly plastic. They showed that normal visual stimulation during this time is critical for the visual system to wire correctly. Their pioneering work has opened the door to the study of how the critical period is controlled by the brain, and how could it be reopened in adulthood to treat not only central deficits of vision, but to allow rewiring of the nervous system after traumatic brain injury.
Roald Hoffman, the fall 2009 Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College, was born on July 18, 1937 in Zloczow, Poland. His childhood took place during a Russian occupation, and most of his relatives, including his father, were killed by Nazis during the war. By 1949, he immigrated to America and learned his sixth language, English, at a public school in the Bronx. He studied chemistry at Columbia and Harvard and began teaching undergraduate students at Cornell University. Among his numerous awards and honors in science is the 1981 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, co-won with Kenichi Fukui for developing the theory of conservation of orbital symmetry. A most literary chemist, Hoffman has also published several poems, plays and essays (1). Here, the DUJS talks to Hoffman about how his personal history has shaped his artistic and scientific endeavors.
The Windsor native, who shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with longtime research partner Torsten Wiesel and Roger Sperry, died from kidney failure in Lincoln, Mass.