Wiesel, Torsten N.

The Five Senses and Beyond: The Encyclopedia of Perception - Jennifer L. Hellier 2017

Wiesel, Torsten N.

Torsten N. Wiesel is a Nobel laureate and earned this award for his pioneering work in the visual system. In 1981, Dr. Wiesel shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with David Hubel for their work investigating how visual information is transmitted to and processed in the brain’s visual cortex. Their investigations studied specialized functions and mapping of the functional architecture of individual cells within the visual cortex. Their efforts further examined the development of the visual cortex and the role of innate and experiential factors. This work analyzed the flow of nerve impulses from the eye to the visual cortex and described structural and functional details of that part of the brain. Wiesel and Hubel’s work lent strong support to the view that prompt surgery is imperative in correcting certain eye defects that are detectable in newborn children, such as congenital cataracts (cloudiness in the lens of the eye).

Dr. Wiesel was born in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1924, and received his medical degree from Karolinska Institute in 1954. His academic career spans the Karolinska Institute, Johns Hopkins University Medical School, and a 24-year position at Harvard Medical School where he did much of his neurophysiological research work in the Department of Neurobiology. After earning his medical degree, Dr. Wiesel became a postdoctoral fellow at the Wilmer Institute, Johns Hopkins Medical School where he met his colleague, Dr. David Hubel. This began their 20-year scientific collaboration and led to their Nobel Prize. In addition, Drs. Wiesel and Hubel have written a book together describing their research and collaborative work, titled Brain and Visual Perception: The Story of a 25-Year Collaboration (2004).

Torsten Wiesel has received numerous awards for his work in neuropsychological research including, most recently, the 1996 Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research, the 1998 Society for Neuroscience Presidential Award, the 2005 Institute of Medicine David Rall Medal, the 2005 National Medal of Science Award (USA), the 2006 Spanish National Research Council Gold Medal, and the 2007 Marshall M. Parks MD Medal of Excellence Children’s Eye Foundation Award, which he shared with colleague David Hubel.

Dr. Wiesel’s work includes serving on the Committee of Human Rights of the National Academies of Science (USA) and the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies. He is a founding member of the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization (IPSO). Furthermore, Dr. Wiesel has served as chair of the board of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center (1995—2001), president of the International Brain Research Organization, IBRO (1998—2004), chair of the Board of Governors of the New York Academy of Sciences (2001—2006), and on the board of directors of the Population Council (1999—2008).

In 2007, Wiesel’s efforts to support research on eye diseases were recognized when the Torsten Wiesel Research Institute was established as part of the World Eye Organization, based in Chengdu, China. This institute allows scientists to engage in basic and clinical research on eye diseases prevalent in Asian populations.

Karen Savoie

See also: Hubel, David H.; Visual System

Further Reading

Hubel, David H., & Torsten N. Wiesel. (2004). Brain and visual perception: The story of a 25-year collaboration. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.