Professor Mriganka Sur, who has made significant contributions to the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences during his 11 years at MIT, has been named the first Hans-Lukas Teuber Scholar in the Brain Sciences, effective July 1. He will serve a five-year term.
Professor Sur, who was the McDonnell-Pew Visiting Professor in the Department of Physiology at Oxford University in England this summer, also will be interim head of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences starting September 1, his 44th birthday. Professor Emilio Bizzi has been the head of the department since 1986.
The Teuber Fellowship honors the founder and first head of the MIT Department of Psychology, who drowned during the summer of 1977, shortly after he received the Killian Award.
Professor Sur noted that Professor Teuber's vision that the study of the mind is inseparable from the study of the brain endures to this day. "While this may seem commonplace now, it shaped our department uniquely," he said. "It is a singular honor to be named a Teuber Scholar, particularly now as I step in as the interim head of the department."
Professor Teuber's primary interests were in the relationship between brain and behavior, specifically visual perception, memory, and the plasticity of the cortical circuitry. Professor Sur's research deals with similar issues. He is known for his studies on the function, development and plasticity of the cerebral cortex, the organization of brain regions mediating visual perception, and the role of visual experiences in shaping the circuitry of cortical areas during development.
He anticipates more flexiblity in his research as a result of being a Teuber Scholar. For instance, he has been collaborating with Professor Earl Miller on a study of cortical plasticity on-line during the process of learning. "I look forward to taking these experiments in new and innovative directions," Professor Sur said.
A native of India, he graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur in 1974 with a bachelor of technology degree. He received the MS (1975) and PhD (1978) from Vanderbilt University.
After doing postdoctoral research at Vanderbilt for two years, he joined the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the State University of New York in Stony Brook in 1980. He was an assistant professor in the Section of Neuroanatomy at the Yale University School of Medicine from 1983-86.
Professor Sur joined the MIT faculty as an associate professor of neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in 1986. He became a full professor in 1993 and associate head of the department the following year.
He has received numerous awards and honors, including the Charles Judson Herrick Award from the American Association of Anatomists (1983), the A.P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship (1985), the Distinguished Neuroscientist Award from the Association of Indian Scientists in America (1987), the McKnight Neuroscience Development Award (1988), and the MIT Graduate Student Council Teaching Award (1989).
In addition to serving on the editorial boards of several professional journals, Professor Sur serves on various review and advisory panels of the National Institutes of Health and the National Research Council and on visiting and advisory committees of other institutions.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 16, 1997.