June 10, 2016
University of Portland alumnus Mike Merzenich ’64 has been awarded the 2016 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience by the Norwegian Academy of Science for his work in documenting the fundamental plasticity of the human brain. Merzenich shares the prize with fellow neuroscientists Eve Marder of Brandeis University and Carla Schatz of Stanford University.
A native of Lebanon, Ore., Merzenich attended the University of Portland on a merit scholarship and was inspired to pursue neuroscience by biology professor Blondel Carleton. After finishing as Valedictorian at UP, Merzenich attended Johns Hopkins University, earned his Ph.D. in neurophysiology in 1968, and completed a fellowship in sensory physiology from the University of Wisconsin in 1971. He joined the faculty of at the University of California San Francisco in 1971 and retired in 2007 as Francis A. Sooy Professor and co-director of the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience. Among many academic honors and appointments, Merzenich was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1999 and the Institute of Medicine in 2008.
Merzenich was on the team that invented the cochlear implant, which gained FDA approval in 1984 and is now used by over 200,000 people worldwide to restore their sense of hearing. He is also the founding CEO of Scientific Learning Corporation, which markets and distributes software that applies principles of brain plasticity to assist children with language learning and reading problems. He was awarded the 2015 Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize, the bioengineering profession's highest honor, thanks to his work with cochlear implants.
The Kavli Prizes are presented every two years in the fields of neuroscience, astrophysics, and nanoscience, and recognize scientists for pioneering advances in the understanding of existence at its biggest, smallest, and most complex scales. Laureates are chosen by committees whose members are recommended by six of the world’s most renowned science societies and academies.
First awarded in 2008, Kavli Prizes have honored 31 scientists from seven countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. The Kavli Prize is a partnership between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (U.S.), and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. It is named after Fred Kavli, a Norwegian-born U.S. philanthropist and founder of the Kavli Foundation.