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Torsten Wiesel

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Title: Torsten Wiesel  
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Subject: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Carla J. Shatz, Stephen Kuffler, Arvid Carlsson, Cognitive tuning
Collection: 1924 Births, American University and College Presidents, Foreign Fellows of the Indian National Science Academy, Foreign Members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Foreign Members of the Royal Society, History of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet Alumni, Living People, Members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Members of the United States National Academy of Sciences, National Medal of Science Laureates, Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, People from Uppsala, Presidents of Rockefeller University, Recipients of the Order of the Rising Sun, Swedish Neuroscientists, Swedish Nobel Laureates
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Torsten Wiesel

Torsten Wiesel

At a conference in 2006
Born (1924-06-03) 3 June 1924
Uppsala, Sweden
Nationality Swedish
Institutions Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Known for visual system
Notable awards Dr. Jules C. Stein Award[1] (1971)
Lewis S. Rosenstiel Prize[2] (1972)
Freidenwald Award[3] (1975)
Karl Spencer Lashley Prize[4] (1977)
Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (1978)
Dickson Prize (1980)
Ledlie Prize[5] (1980)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1981)
W.H. Helmerich III Award[6] (1989)
Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research[7] (1996)
Presidential Award[8] (1998)
David Rall Medal[9] (2005)
National Medal of Science[10] (2005)
Marshall M. Parks MD Medal of Excellence[11] (2007)

Torsten Nils Wiesel (born 3 June 1924) is a Swedish neurophysiologist. Together with David H. Hubel, he received the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, for their discoveries concerning information processing in the visual system; the prize was shared with Roger W. Sperry for his independent research on the cerebral hemispheres.


  • Biography 1
  • Research 2
  • Human rights 3
  • Selected list of honors and awards 4
  • Further reading 5
  • See also 6
  • Publications 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Wiesel was born in Uppsala, Sweden in 1924, the youngest of five children. In 1947, he began his scientific career in Carl Gustaf Bernhard's laboratory at the Karolinska Institute, where he received his medical degree in 1954. He went on to teach in the Institute's department of physiology and worked in the child psychiatry unit of the Karolinska Hospital. In 1955 he moved to the United States to work at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine under Stephen Kuffler. Wiesel began a fellowship in ophthalmology, and in 1958 he became an assistant professor. That same year, he met David Hubel, beginning a collaboration that would last over twenty years. In 1959 Wiesel and Hubel moved to Harvard University. He became an instructor in pharmacology at Harvard Medical School, beginning a 24-year career with the university. He became professor in the new department of neurobiology in 1968 and its chair in 1971.

In 1983, Wiesel joined the faculty of Rockefeller University as Vincent and Brooke Astor Professor and head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology. He was president of the university from 1991 to 1998.[12] At Rockefeller University he remains the director of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Center for Mind, Brain and Behavior.

From 2000-2009, Wiesel served as Secretary-General of the Human Frontier Science Program, an organization headquartered in Strasbourg, France, which supports international and interdisciplinary collaboration between investigators in the life sciences. Wiesel also has chaired the scientific advisory board of China's National Institute of Biological Science (NIBS) in Beijing, and co-chairs the board of governors of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST). He is also member of the boards of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, the Hospital for Special Surgery, and an advisory board member of the European Brain Research Institute (EBRI).

Wiesel has also served as chair of the board of the New York Academy of Sciences (2001–2006); and he was the academy's chairman and interim director in 2001-2002.[13]

Wiesel is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts,[14] and a foreign fellow of the Indian National Science Academy.

Wiesel was married to author and editor Jean Stein from 1995-2007.


The Hubel and Wiesel experiments greatly expanded the scientific knowledge of sensory processing. In one experiment, done in 1959, they inserted a microelectrode into the primary visual cortex of an anesthetized cat. They then projected patterns of light and dark on a screen in front of the cat. They found that some neurons fired rapidly when presented with lines at one angle, while others responded best to another angle. They called these neurons "simple cells." Still other neurons, which they termed "complex cells," responded best to lines of a certain angle moving in one direction. These studies showed how the visual system builds an image from simple stimuli into more complex representations.[15]

In 1978, Wiesel and Hubel were awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University.

Hubel and Wiesel received the Nobel Prize 1981 for their work on ocular dominance columns in the 1960s and 1970s. By depriving kittens from using one eye, they showed that columns in the primary visual cortex receiving inputs from the other eye took over the areas that would normally receive input from the deprived eye. These kittens also did not develop areas receiving input from both eyes, a feature needed for binocular vision. Hubel and Wiesel's experiments showed that the ocular dominance develops irreversibly early in childhood development. These studies opened the door for the understanding and treatment of childhood cataracts and strabismus. They were also important in the study of cortical plasticity.[15]

Wiesel was among the eight 2005 recipients of the National Medal of Science.[16]

In 2006, he was awarded the Ramon Y Cajal Gold Medal from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC - Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas). In 2007, both Wiesel and Hubel were awarded the Marshall M. Parks, MD Medal from The Children's Eye Foundation.

Human rights

Wiesel has done much work as a global human rights advocate. He served for 10 years (1994–2004) as chair of the Committee of Human Rights of the National Academies of Science in the U.S.A., as well as the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies.[17] He was awarded the David Rall Medal from the Institute of Medicine in 2005, in recognition of this important work. In 2009, Wiesel was awarded the Grand Cordon Order of the Rising Sun Medal in Japan.

He is a founding member of the

  • Nobel Prize Biography
  • The Official Site of Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize

External links

  • Berlucchi, Giovanni (2006). "Revisiting the 1981 Nobel Prize to Roger Sperry, David Hubel, and Torsten Wiesel on the occasion of the centennial of the Prize to Golgi and Cajal.". Journal of the history of the neurosciences 15 (4) (Dec 2006). pp. 369–75.  
  • Shampo, M A; Kyle, R A (1994). "Torsten Wiesel--Swedish neurobiologist wins Nobel Prize.". Mayo Clin. Proc. 69 (11) (Nov 1994). p. 1026.  
  • Korczyn, A (1981). "[Nobel prize winners in medicine--1981 (Torsten Wiesel, David Hubel)]". Harefuah 101 (12) (Dec 15, 1981). pp. 378–9.  
  • Prasanna, Venkhatesh V (2011). "Do we learn to see?". Resonance: Journal of Science Education 16 (1) (Jan 12, 2011). pp. 88–99.  


  1. ^ "Torsten N. Wiesel - Biographical". Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "Torsten N. Wiesel - Biographical". Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  3. ^ "Torsten N. Wiesel - Biographical". Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  4. ^ "Torsten N. Wiesel - Biographical". Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  5. ^ "Torsten N. Wiesel - Biographical". Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  6. ^ "Torsten N. Wiesel - Biographical". Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "Torsten N. Wiesel - Biographical". Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  8. ^ "Torsten N. Wiesel - Biographical". Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  9. ^ "David Rall Award Recipients". Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  10. ^ "Torsten N. Wiesel - Biographical". Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  11. ^ "Torsten N. Wiesel - Biographical". Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  12. ^ Angier, Natalie. "Acting President of Rockefeller U. to Stay at Least 3 More Years," New York Times. February 21, 1992; Sengupta, Somini. "Princeton Cancer Expert Is New Rockefeller U. President," New York Times. July 1, 1998.
  13. ^ Overbye, Dennis. "New York Academy of Sciences Elects a New Chief Executive," New York Times. November 19, 2002.
  14. ^ "The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences: Torsten Wiesel". Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  15. ^ a b Goldstein, B. (2001). Sensation and Perception (6th ed.). Wadsworth. 
  16. ^ a b National Eye Institute: "NEI Grantees Receive National Medals of Science," 2007.
  17. ^ a b 1981 Nobel Prize biography
  18. ^ Emma Marris (14 July 2004). "Bush accused of trying to foist favourites on health agency". Nature 430 (281): 281–281.  
  19. ^ Seth Shulman (2007). Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration. University of California Press. 
  20. ^ Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "2009 Autumn Conferment of Decorations on Foreign Nationals," p. 1.


  • Hubel, D. H. & T. N. Wiesel. Receptive Fields, Binocular Interaction And Functional Architecture In The Cat's Visual Cortex, Journal of Physiology, (1962), 160, pp. 106–154, With 2 plates and 20 text-figures.
  • Hubel, D. H. & T. N. Wiesel, Receptive Fields Of Single Neurones In The Cat's Striate Cortex, Journal of Physiology, (1959) I48, 574-59I.


See also

  • David H. Hubel, Torsten N. Wiesel. Brain and Visual Perception: The Story of a 25-Year Collaboration. Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0195176189

Further reading

Selected list of honors and awards

[19][18] In 2001, Wiesel was nominated for a position on an advisory panel in the


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