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Michael Merzenich

Professor Emeritus, University of California, San Francisco; Kavli Laureate in Neuroscience

Michael M. Merzenich is a Professor Emeritus Neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. He attended the University of Portland in Portland, Oregon earning his Bachelor of Science.

He was valedictorian, receiving only one non-A, a C in a philosophy course in which he argued with the instructor. Merzenich earned his PhD in Physiology at Johns Hopkins Medical School in the lab of Vernon Mountcastle, studying neural coding of stimulus magnitude in the hairy skin. He left Johns Hopkins to conduct his postdoctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin under Jerzy Rose. There, he did a cross-species analysis of the cochlear nucleus in large game cats and pinnipeds, did the first auditory cortical microelectrode maps in the macaque with John Brugge, and the first somatosensory maps in the macaque with neurosurgeon Ron Paul. He earned his neurophysiology fellowship between 1968 and 1971. He left Wisconsin to join the faculty at UCSF as the only basic scientist in the clinical Otolaryngology department, head and neck surgery. Dr. Merzenich started with UCSF in 1971 as faculty member becoming full professor in 1980. Dr. Merzenich is Co-Director at the Coleman Memorial Laboratory where he conducts research on the cerebral cortex. His research examines neurological illness, learning processes and the neurological processes of the cerebral cortex. He remains in the same department, now as a professor emeritus, retiring in 2007.

His contributions to the field are numerous. He took the sensory cortex maps developed by his predecessors like Archie Tunturi, Clinton Woolsey, Vernon Mountcastle, Wade Marshall, and Philip Bard, and refined them using dense micro-electrode mapping techniques. Using this, he definitively showed there to be multiple somatotopic maps of the body in the postcentral sulcus, and multiple tonotopic maps of the acoustic inputs in the superior temporal plane. He led the cochlear implant team at UCSF, which transferred its technology to Advanced Bionics, and their version is the Clarion cochlear implant. He collaborated with Bill Jenkins and Gregg Recanzone to demonstrate sensory maps are labile into adulthood in animals performing operant sensory tasks. He collaborated with Paula Tallal, Bill Jenkins, and Steve Miller to form the company Scientific Learning. This was based on Fast ForWord software they co-invented that produces improvements in children’s language skills that has been related to the magnitude of their temporal processing impairments prior to training. Dr. Merzenich was director and Chief Scientific Officer between November 1996 and January 2003. Dr. Merzenich took two sabbaticals from UCSF in 1997 and 2004. In 1997 he led research teams at Scientific Learning Corporation, and in 2004 at Posit Science Corporation. Currently, Merzenich’s second company, Posit Science, is working on a broad range of behavioral therapies. Their lead product is brain-training software called Cortex (TM) with InSight (TM). Dr. Merzenich is Chief Scientific Officer and on the Board of Directors at Posit Science. In May 1999, Dr. Merzenich was honored by election into the National Academy of Sciences for his research on brain plasticity. He went on to be elected to the National Academy’s Institute of Medicine in 2008, making him one of a very select few to have been elected to more than one of the National Academies. As of 2001, he received the Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions. He has been awarded the International Ipsen Prize, Zülch Prize of the Max-Planck Institute, Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award, the Purkinje Medal, and Karl Spencer Lashley Award.

Dr. Merzenich has published more than 200 articles. His work is also often covered in the popular press, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time and Newsweek. He has appeared on Sixty Minutes II, CBS Evening News and Good Morning America. He holds over 50 US patents. Dr. Merzenich is the Francis A. Sooy Chair of Otolaryngology, in the Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.

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