APS Fellow and Charter Member Mortimer Mishkin from National Institutes of Health (NIH) — and one of the first recipients of APS’ William James award for lifetime achievement in basic research in psychological science — was one of 10 individuals to receive the prestigious National Medal of Science from President Barak Obama in Washington, DC. Mishkin is Chief of the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Section on Cognitive Neuroscience, and acting Chief of its Laboratory of Neuropsychology (www.neuron.nimh.nih.gov/mishkin.html).
Mishkin has spent over five decades working with nonhuman primates on understanding the pathways for vision, hearing, and touch, and how those processing streams connect with brain structures that play an important role in memory. His team discovered that the brain uses divergent pathways to process two different types of memory: Cognitive memory (new events and information) is processed separately from behavioral memory (skills and habits). “There is no more complex piece of matter in the universe than the human brain, and so the complexity is a huge challenge,” said Mishkin in an NIH press release. “Each brain area is important for a different kind of behavioral or mental function, yet no area is an island. Every area is part of a circuit. So we’ve been identifying pathways and trying to figure out how they work.”
The National Medal of Science, created by a statute in 1959, is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation. Each year the Medal is awarded to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering. Along with Mishkin, some of the nation’s brightest and most influential minds were at the medal ceremony. President Obama, on awarding the medals, stated, “It’s no exaggeration to say that the scientists in this room have…transformed the way we work and learn and communicate. [They] have truly revolutionized the world in ways that are profoundly important to people in their day-to-day lives, but also help to create those steps in human progress that really make us who we are as human beings.”
Other honorees included Esther M. Conwell, for her work with semiconducting materials; Amnon Yariv for his work with photonics and quantum electronics to facilitate our day-to-day, high-speed, optical fiber communications; and Steven J. Sasson for his invention of the digital camera. Harry W. Coover was honored for his invention of cyanoacrylates, or as the President joked, “novel adhesives known widely to consumers as ‘super glues’ which….in addition to fascinating children, has actually saved lives as a means of sealing wounds.” Helen M. Free was honored for developing the technology behind the dip-and-read urinalysis, and the team of Federico Faggin, Marcian E. Hoff Jr., and Stanley Mazor received the medal for the conception, design and application of the first microprocessor.
When asked how he felt about the award, Mishkin said, “I’m hugely honored. I also feel very happy because it reflects on the support I’ve received from the NIH and NIMH all these years.” Mishkin has worked at the NIMH Intramural Research Program on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md. since 1955. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the University College London’s Institute of Child Health, where he is collaborating with British colleagues, applying his past insights toward the improved understanding and care of children with amnesia.
Mishkin is one of three APS members to win the National Medal of Science in the last five years, together with Gordon Bower in 2005, and Mike Posner in 2009. Other APS Members who have won the prestigious award include Eleanor Jackie Gibson 1992, Roger Shepard in 1995, and William K. Estes in 1997. The research these individuals have carried out has not only transformed our daily lives and added to our body of scientific knowledge, but have advance the field of scientific psychology, legitimize psychological research in the realm of science, and promote its representation at the national and international level.
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