2004 Laureate Prize Winner

Eric Kandel

2004 Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate in the Sciences

Eric Kandel received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002 for his groundbreaking work on how memories are stored in the brain at the cell level, in neurons. Dr. Kandel shared the prize with fellow neuroscientists Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard.

 Eric with his wife Denise

Eric with his wife Denise

Raised within the Jewish community in Vienna, Austria, Kandel emigrated with his family to Brooklyn, New York, in 1939. Encouraged by a High School history teacher, he applied to Harvard College, got in, and soon became interested in the physiology of learning and memory. In 1952 he entered the New York University Medical School. In his own words, “By my senior year in medical school I had become so interested in the biological basis of medical practice that I decided I had to learn something about the biology of the mind. In the 1950s most psychoanalysts thought of the mind in non-biological terms.” (Acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, 2002)

 Eric Kandel and B. Franklin Kahn with the 2003/2004 Legacy Winners

Eric Kandel and B. Franklin Kahn with the 2003/2004 Legacy Winners

Kandel went to Columbia University for neurophysiological studies within the complex field of electrophysiology of the cerebral cortex. In 1957 he moved to the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC. Eventually, first at Harvard and then in Paris, he simplified his research by choosing to study the Aplysia, a large marine snail. He recalled, “I wanted to examine learning in an experimental animal in which a simple behavior was modifiable by learning.” This was highly controversial. Senior researchers discouraged him, arguing that the human brain was far too complicated to be reduced to the invertebrate level. He risked running his career off the tracks; but Kandel was not deterred. “I believed that any insight into the modification of behavior by experience, no matter how simple the animal or the task, would prove to be highly informative.”

In 1965 Kandel started a small lab focused on neurobiology of behavior in the Departments of Physiology and Psychiatry at the New York University Medical School.  He then moved to the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University to become founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior. He is also Senior Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. With two colleagues he wrote the influential Principles of Neural Science, now in its fifth edition. In addition, he wrote the autobiographical In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, in 2006. He has received numerous awards and honorary degrees from nine universities.