Renowned vision researcher to deliver the next Ian P. Howard Lecture

The use of technology to simplify the early stages of visual processing is at the heart of intriguing lecture presented by University of California, San Diego Professor Terry Sejnowski at the Ian P. Howard Lecture in Vision Science Friday.

The lecture will take place Nov. 9 at 2pm in the Robert McEwen Auditorium, W141 Seymour Schulich Building, Keele campus. A reception will follow the talk.

Brains need to make quick sense of massive amounts of ambiguous information with minimal energy costs and have evolved an intriguing mixture of analog and digital mechanisms to allow this efficiency. Analog electrical and biochemical signals inside neurons are used for integrating synaptic inputs from other neurons. The digital part is the all-or-none action potential, or spike, that lasts for a millisecond or less and is used to send messages over a long distance.

Terry Sejnowski head shotTerry Sejnowski

“Spike coincidences occur when neurons fire together at nearly the same time,” says Sejnowski. “In this lecture I will show how rare spike coincidences can be used efficiently to represent important visual events and how this architecture can be implemented with analog Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) technology to simplify the early stages of visual processing.”

Sejnowski is professor and laboratory head of the Computational Neurobiology laboratory. He is considered to be a pioneer in computational neuroscience and his goal is to understand the principles that link brain to behavior. His laboratory uses both experimental and modeling techniques to study the biophysical properties of synapses and neurons and the population dynamics of large networks of neurons.

Among other things, Sejnowski is interested in the hippocampus, believed to play a major role in learning and memory; and the cerebral cortex, which holds our knowledge of the world and how to interact with it. In his lab, Sejnowski’s team uses sophisticated electrical and chemical monitoring techniques to measure changes that occur in the connections among nerve cells in the hippocampus during a simple form of learning. They use the results of these studies to instruct large-scale computers to mimic how these nerve cells work. By studying how the resulting computer simulations can perform operations that resemble the activities of the hippocampus, Sejnowski hopes to gain new knowledge of how the human brain is capable of learning and storing memories. This knowledge ultimately may provide medical specialists with critical clues to combating Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders that rob people of the critical ability to remember faces, names, places and events.

Sejnowski has published more than 300 scientific papers and 12 books, including The Computational Brain (1992), with Patricia Churchland. He received his PhD in physics from Princeton University and was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School. He was on the faculty at the Johns Hopkins University and now holds the Francis Crick Chair at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He is a professor of biology at the University of California, San Diego, where he is co-director of the Institute for Neural Computation and co-director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center. Sejnowski is the president of the Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) Foundation, which organizes an annual conference attended by over 1000 researchers in machine learning and neural computation and is the founding editor-in-chief of Neural Computation published by the MIT Press.

An investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, he is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He has received many honors, including the NSF Young Investigators Award, the Wright Prize for interdisciplinary research from the Harvey Mudd College, the Neural Network Pioneer Award from the Institute of Electricaland Electronics Engineers and the Hebb Prize from the International Neural Network Society.

Sejnowski was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2008, to the National Academy of Sciences in 2010 and to the National Academy of Engineering in 2011. He is one of only 10 living persons to be a member of all three national academies.

The Ian P. Howard Lecture Series in Vision Science provides a venue for world-renowned vision researchers to deliver lectures on their findings.

The series was established in 2006 to celebrate Howard’s enormous contributions to the international reputation of York’s Centre for Vision Research. Howard’s own research investigates the fundamental mechanisms that enable humans to orient themselves and perceive the three-dimensional layout of their surroundings.

For further information, contact Teresa Manini, administrative assistant, Centre for Vision Research, at