APS Member Isabel Gauthier, Vanderbilt University, has been awarded the 2008 Troland Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The $50,000 prize is awarded every year to two young (under 40 years old) researchers in recognition of unusual achievement in empirical psychological research which explores the relationships between conscious awareness and the physical world around us.
According to the National Academy, Gauthier was given the award “for seminal experiments on the role of visual expertise in the recognition of complex objects including faces and for exploration of brain areas activated by this recognition.” Gauthier was first drawn to perception research after reading fellow Troland winner Martha Farah’s book, Visual Agnosia. As Gauthier discussed, there are easily discernible differences in how the brain process various categories, such as faces, letters or cars, but it is much more difficult to understand what these differences mean. Her work has explored the role of expertise with objects in recruiting, a system well-known to be important for face recognition.
Gauthier is very honored to receive this award and calls it “incredible” to be in the company of so many respected colleagues who have previously won the award, including her advisor Michael Tarr, post-doc advisor Nancy Kanwisher, and friends such as Marvin Chun and Jeff Schall. Gauthier is also “proud to be a recognized female scientist” especially because the male-female ratio of Troland Award winners is about 5 to 1. But, says Gauthier, this “is probably not a bias from the award committee: It’s incredibly important that senior colleagues think of nominating their female colleagues for important awards.”
Winning this award will spur Gauthier to new research heights. “I don’t know if it does this to everyone,” she says, “but receiving an award of this sort makes me want to take new risks [because] the everyday challenges and frustrations of research dissipate when your hard work is recognized. It makes me want to sit down with each of my students and say ‘wait, let’s think bigger than that!’”
APS Fellow Randy L. Buckner and Member Pawan Sinha received last year’s Troland Awards.
For more APS coverage of Gauthier’s work, see “About Face” in the February 2008 issue of the Observer. For more information on the Troland Awards and other awards from NAS, go to http://www.nasonline.org.