Robrrt Wurtz is distinguished investigator emeritus in the National Eye Institute of the NIH. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1958. He received his Ph.D. in Physiological Psychology from the University of Michigan in 1962, where his thesis advisor was James Olds. He then went to Washington University in St. Louis as a postdoctoral fellow, and then to the NIH, and in 1966 joined the Laboratory of Neurobiology. In 1978 he established the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research in the National Eye Institute, where he created a major center in the world for study of the neuronal mechanisms of the visual and oculomotor systems in non-human primates. He is known for his own work in developing the now widely used method for training monkeys to hold their eyes steeady so that visual receptive fields could be studied in awake behaving animal. He did the first experients on the viausl and oculomotor organization of the suerior colliculus, and identified the first corollary dischage circuit in the monkey visual system and determined what its functions might be. He is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine and was elected President of the Society for Neuroscience.

Research Interests

I have concentrated my research on one of the primary functions of the brain: how it processes sensory information for perception and the initiation of movement. Experiments in my laboratory center on the visual and oculomotor systems of the brain of awake behaving monkeys as a model for similar systems in the human brain. One oculomotor system, the saccadic system, moves the eye rapidly from one region of the visual field to another, and my laboratory has investigated the nature of the visual-motor transformations that must occur between the visual input and the eye-movement-related output. Experiments use behavioral, electrophysiological, anatomical, and theoretical approaches on a series of brain areas including the superior colliculus, the cerebral cortex, and the basal ganglia. Preparation to make these eye movements has also been used to determine the regions of the brain related to visual attention and the neuronal processes that occur with shifts of attention. Visual motion information is used to generate a second type of eye movement, smooth pursuit, and we have identified regions of visual cortex that are related to these movements. Recent work has also suggested that the visual motion resulting from our own movements is processed in a separate but adjacent region of the cerebral cortex.

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Primary Section

Section 28: Systems Neuroscience

Secondary Section

Section 52: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences