The Masakazu Konishi Lectureship in Neural Systems and Behavior

Dr. Masakazu “Mark” Konishi was the Bing Professor of Behavioral Biology at the California Institute of Technology. He worked extensively for three decades on the auditory systems of barn owls, which can use their acute hearing to home in on mice on the ground, even in total darkness. The research led to an understanding of how the owl’s brain manages to “compute” precise locations in two dimensions, and how the neural pathways and circuits are involved. Dr. Konishi’s work had implications for better understanding the human brain and perhaps even for future interventions in certain neurological disorders. Dr. Konishi received a B.S. and M.S. from Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Following post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Tubingen and Max-Planck-Institut in Germany, Dr. Konishi was appointed an assistant professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He subsequently held assistant and associate professor positions at Princeton University. He was a professor at Caltech for the remaining 38 years of his career, until his retirement in 2013. Dr. Konishi was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as numerous professional organizations. He received many awards, including The Peter Gruber Prize in Neuroscience.

The John G. Nicholls Lectureship

John G. Nicholls is Professor of Neurobiology and Cognitive Neuroscience at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy (SISSA). He was born in London in 1929 and received a medical degree from Charing Cross Hospital and a Ph.D. in physiology from the Department of Biophysics at University College London, where he did research under the direction of Sir Bernard Katz. He worked at University College London, at Oxford, Harvard, Yale and Stanford Universities and at the Biocenter in Basel, before moving to SISSA, Trieste. With Stephen Kuffler, he made experiments on neuroglial cells and wrote the first edition of “From Neuron to Brain” which is soon to appear in its fifth edition. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a member of the Mexican Academy of Medicine, the recipient of the Venezuelan Order of Andres Bello and of Honorary degrees from the University of Tasmania and the University of Trieste. He has given laboratory and lecture courses in neurobiology at the Marine Biological Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor, and at universities throughout the world. His work concerns synaptic transmission and regeneration of the nervous system after injury, which he studied first in an invertebrate, the leech, and then in the immature mammalian spinal cord. Since 2004, he has studied neural mechanisms that give rise to the rhythm of respiration.

The Alexander Forbes Lectureship

Since 1959, the special two-part Forbes Lecture has been supported by The Grass Foundation, a private foundation that supports research and education in neuroscience. The first lecture is traditionally a public Friday Evening Lecture, while for the second lecture the Forbes Lecturer gives a research seminar hosted in alternating years by the Neural Systems & Behavior and Neurobiology courses at the MBL.

The lectures are given in honor of pioneering neurobiologist Alexander Forbes. The scientific career of Alexander Forbes spanned fifty-six years of active research and saw the development of the realm of neurophysiology to which he contributed over 100 publications. As a proper Bostonian of his day he could scarcely avoid going to Harvard. He graduated in 1905. He also received a Master’s Degree in Biology from that institution in 1906 before undertaking a degree at Harvard Medical School. By the time he received his M.D. in 1910 he had been infected with the lure of the research laboratory while he learned the rudiments of electrophysiology with Professor G. H. Parker. In his fourth year of studies he was challenged by application of these techniques to problems in inhibition in the central nervous system reflex pathways under the guidance of Professor Walter B. Cannon. After Forbes graduated Dr. Cannon immediately offered him the position of Instructor in Physiology, but further suggested he go to Liverpool to work with Sir Charles Sherrington for two years. In England Forbes also spent a short time with Keith Lucas and E. D. Adrian in Cambridge while they were pioneering the biophysics of peripheral nerve. Traditionally, the Forbes lecturer also spends several weeks at the MBL, working alongside the Grass Fellowship Program.