Photo of Torsten N. Wiesel

Torsten N. Wiesel

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For providing key insights into the operation of the visual system and for the discovery of the manner in which neural connections in the brain are made during development and how they are maintained.

Swedish neurophysiologist, Torsten Nils Wiesel dedicated his career to researching the physiology of vision, making breakthrough discoveries in information processing, leading to expanded understanding of this complex and largely misunderstood sensory process.

The mischievous, sports-loving student dove into medicine at age 17. In 1954, Wisel moved to the United States to conduct his research in Dr. Stephen Kuffler’s laboratory at the Wilmer Institute, Johns Hopkins Medical School.

In tandem with David Hubel, who Kuffler met in 1958 and would go on to work with for 20 years, began the exploration of receptive field properties of cells in the central visual pathways. Together, their experiments in microelectrodes expanded knowledge into the primary visual cortex of simple cells, showing the potential of the visual system in building images from stimuli into complex representations.

His discoveries in the 1960s would impact our understanding of light sensory processing. Because of his work, it is better understood how light-sensitive cells of the retina capture information to eventually send signals to the brain for processing into visual impressions. Wiesel and Hubel would also prove how this physiological relationship began during early childhood in development phases initially after birth.

By Melissa Ayala