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Salk professor Terrence Sejnowski elected to National Academy of Engineering

LA JOLLA, CASalk Institute professor Terry J. Sejnowski, Ph.D., has been elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering, an honor considered one of the highest accolades in the engineering world. Dr. Sejnowski, whose work on neural networks helped spark the neural networks revolution in computing in the 1980s, is recognized for his "contributions to artificial and real neural network algorithms and applying signal processing models to neuroscience."

Dr. Sejnowski is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, making him one of only ten living individuals to have been elected to all three branches of the National Academies.

"Terry is a truly visionary scientist," said Salk president William R. Brody. "He was the first one to apply the power of computing to the brain, pioneering the field of computational neuroscience. It's a beautiful example of how transcending disciplines can revolutionize science and open up entirely new fields of study. We are very proud of what Terry and his students have accomplished."

Dr. Sejnowski, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, studies real neural networks in which the interaction of many neurons produces surprisingly complex behavior, and he has also shown how artificial neural networks can solve practical engineering problems.

A physicist by training, he combines both experimental and modeling techniques, habitually overthrowing scientific dogma. For decades the assumption was that the most important information from neurons was the total number of times the neurons fired. Dr. Sejnowski, however, discovered that the timing and pattern of nerve impulses is just as important for understanding brain function. Similarly, he demonstrated that the release of chemical signals from nerves isn't restricted to synapses, as neuroscientists had previously believed, but takes place outside the expected region.

He has created computer models of networks of neurons to explore the mechanisms underlying attention in the awake brain and brain rhythms in the sleeping brain and the links between them. These models also help explain how epilepsy arises from imbalances in brain circuits.

By studying how computer simulations can perform operations that resemble the activities of the cerebral cortex, Dr. Sejnowski hopes to gain new knowledge of how the human brain is capable of learning and storing memories. This knowledge ultimately may provide medical specialists with critical clues to combating schizophrenia and other disorders that rob people of their critical thinking ability and memory for faces, names, places and events.

Dr. Sejnowski joins Dr. Irwin Jacobs, chair of the Salk Board of Trustees, and Dr. William Brody as the third member of the National Academy of Engineering at the Salk Institute.


Contact: Gina Kirchweger
Salk Institute

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Salk professor Terrence Sejnowski elected to National Academy of Engineering
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