Winrich Freiwald, associate professor and head of the Laboratory of Neural Systems, has received the 2016 W. Alden Spencer Award. The prize, given by Columbia University, recognizes outstanding research contributions in the field of neuroscience. Freiwald shares the award with his long-time collaborator Doris Y. Tsao of the California Institute of Technology. Freiwald and Tsao will receive the prize and present lectures on November 1 at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Freiwald studies one of the most basic aspects of social interaction—how the brain processes faces. His work focuses on understanding how a specialized system in the brain responds to the sight of a face and contributes to an individual’s ability to interact with others. He also uses face processing as a model to investigate how the brain couples visual perception to memory, attention, emotion, and communication.
In work published in 2006 and 2008, Freiwald and Tsao, who is a professor of biology at Caltech, used functional magnetic resonance imaging and electrophysiological techniques to identify a network of face areas, which they call face patches, in the brains of rhesus monkeys. Similar areas have been found in the human brain. Work in Freiwald’s lab has since uncovered how the face-processing system integrates facial forms and motion, and has identified several brain areas in charge of facial movements crucial to emotional expression.
Freiwald received his Ph.D. from the University of Tübingen and conducted postdoctoral work at MIT, the Hanse Institute for Advanced Study, and Harvard Medical School. He was the head of the Primate Brain Imaging Group at Bremen University before joining Rockefeller as assistant professor in 2009. He is the recipient of several honors, including an Irma T. Hirschl/Monique Weill-Caulier Trust Research Award in 2009 and a Klingenstein Fellowship in 2010. He is also a Sinsheimer Fund Scholar, a Pew Biomedical Scholar, a McKnight Scholar, and a New York Stem Cell Foundation Robertson Neuroscience Investigator.
Established in 1978, the prize honors the late W. Alden Spencer, who was a professor of physiology and neurology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. The annual award is given jointly by three divisions at Columbia: the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the department of neuroscience, and the Kavli Institute for Brain Science. Previous Rockefeller recipients of the award are A. James Hudspeth in 1985, Cori Bargmann in 1997, Roderick MacKinnon in 1998, Charles D. Gilbert in 2002, and Marc Tessier-Lavigne in 2010.