2020 William James Fellow

Neil Burgess

University College London

Over the last quarter century, Neil Burgess has made important and strikingly original contributions to our scientific understanding of spatial and episodic memory. His contributions have been key to successfully bridging the gap between brain science and observed behavior. Using single-cell recordings in rodents, as well as neuroimaging experiments with both healthy human participants and human neuropsychological patients, he has discovered mechanisms of spatial cognition that connect animal and human neuroscience.

A central focus of his work is the nature and function of spatial representations in the hippocampal formation. Burgess pioneered the use of virtual reality with functional neuroimaging, enabling the use of novel experimental manipulations and analyses to explore spatial memory, navigation, episodic memory, and imagery. These innovations enabled Burgess and colleagues to identify many of the neural representations and computations supporting spatial cognition in humans, often complementing and extending related findings in rodents. Burgess complemented his diverse and innovative empirical work by employing his background in math and physics to develop computational models that provide a quantitative understanding of spatial representations in the brain, these representations’ role in memory function and dysfunction, and their manifestation in brain activity. These influential models combine insights from the full range of experimental approaches, generating novel predictions that have helped drive an increasingly complete understanding of spatial cognition.

Burgess is a Fellow of the British Royal Society and a Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow.