Image of a cell

Eric R. Kandel

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For discovering the first cellular and molecular mechanisms contributing to simple learning and memory.

How does the human mind work? How do we learn and does it affect behavior? That is what Eric Kandel has been exploring and sharing for more than six decades — “The great challenge in all of biology is to understand the human mind in biological terms.”

His access point into this odyssey was to look at memory storage, not surprising since Kandel’s memories as a young boy in Vienna were seared by his family experience after the Nazi invasion.

Kandel’s groundbreaking investigation into how the mind works focused on the neurons of the species, aplysia, or as it is more commonly called, the sea slug. He ultimately demonstrated that it is the signaling between neurons that affects learning and memory.

In 2000, Eric Kandel was awarded the Nobel Prize for this profound research. While neuronal signaling is so essential to our understanding of normal memory, it also has vast implications in our study of brain diseases and illnesses [e.g. dementia, schizophrenia].

Meeting Kandel in person or catching him as a frequent co-host on The Charlie Rose Show, we will remember his bright red bow tie, that infectious laugh, and certainly his all-enveloping passion for the brain, for “It is what makes us what we are!”

By Barbara Valentino