Image of a cell

Vernon B. Mountcastle

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his fundamental research on how the brain functions in processing and perceiving the information gathered through the somatic sensory system.

Vernon B. Mountcastle launched the field of neuroscience when he mapped column-like structures in the brain that lit up in response to stimuli in a landmark 1957 study. The findings were so radical for the time, when little was understood about how brains cells operated, his fellow researchers didn’t want their names listed on the study. The study on the cerebral cortex is now considered a sacred text in world of brain research.

Mountcastle’s work not only established that different areas of the brain are responsible for certain functions, but led to understanding how they communicate and coordinate to allow movement, thought and perception. He lived for new discoveries and in 1992 at 74, when studying the motor cortex, he realized that would be his last dive into understanding the brain.

“I was nearly brokenhearted to leave it,” he wrote in an autobiography for the Society for Neuroscience. “I found no greater thrill in life than to make an original discovery, no matter how small.”

By Christine Ayala