The 2018 Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize has been awarded to Doris Tsao (BS '96), Caltech professor of biology, T&C Chen Center for Systems Neuroscience Leadership Chair, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and director of the T&C Chen Center for Systems Neuroscience. Winrich Freiwald of The Rockefeller University is also a recipient of this year's prize.
The $20,000 award is given by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine to honor seminal discoveries in the field of neuroscience. Tsao and Freiwald were given the award for their "major contributions to our understanding of how the brain recognizes human faces," according to the chair of the prize committee.
Tsao and Freiwald both conduct research on how the brain recognizes faces and have worked to demonstrate the existence of face patches, regions of neurons in the brain that are activated by faces. Recently, Tsao discovered how neurons in the monkey brain encode facial features.
"I feel incredibly honored and humbled to receive this prize," she says. "For an organ touted to be the most complex machine in the universe, the notion of cortical patches dedicated to processing faces seems almost ridiculously simplistic. Yet it's true, and it has been such an incredible experimental boon in many unexpected ways."
Tsao received her undergraduate degree from Caltech in 1996 and her PhD from Harvard in 2002. In 2016, she was appointed leadership chair and director of the T&C Chen Center for Systems Neuroscience at Caltech.