Salk Institute


Terrence Sejnowski wins Brain Prize


Salk Institute Professor Terrence Sejnowski will receive the 2024 Brain Prize for “pioneering the field of computational and theoretical neuroscience, making seminal contributions to our understanding of the brain, and paving the way for the development of brain-inspired artificial intelligence,” the Lundbeck Foundation announced on March 5.

Sejnowski shares the prize – the world’s top recognition in neuroscience – with Larry Abbott of Columbia University and Haim Sompolinsky of Harvard University and Hebrew University. They will receive the award from His Royal Highness King Frederik of Denmark, at an event in Copenhagen on May 30, 2024.

Sejnowski, who is head of Salk’s Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, holder of the Francis Crick Chair, and a distinguished professor at UC San Diego, has helped shape the fields of neuroeconomics, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, psychology, and artificial intelligence. In 1985, while at Johns Hopkins University, he collaborated with computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton to invent the Boltzmann machine, the first algorithm to solve the problem of learning in multilayered neural networks. It remains the most biologically plausible of all subsequent learning algorithms for artificial neural networks.

Soon after announcing the Boltzmann machine, Sejnowski created NETtalk, a computer program that, like the human brain, was able to learn how to turn written text into speech. Not only was this an astounding engineering accomplishment, but it also marked a major cultural milestone as it raised new challenges for philosophy, linguistics, and cognitive science.

Sejnowski also helped develop the first unsupervised learning algorithm for independent component analysis, which is now a mainstay in brain imaging. In addition, he has shown that sleep spindles (brain wave patterns during nonrapid eye movement sleep) are not synchronous across the cortex, as previously believed, but instead create circular traveling waves.

“Terry’s pioneering work in the field of neuroscience has long been recognized throughout the scientific community, and so this honor is not a complete surprise but is certainly an important accolade,” Salk President Gerald Joyce shared. “His receiving the Brain Prize confirms how critical his work has been to our understanding of cognition and the world around us. We take special pride at Salk that two of our faculty have received this prize in the past three years, with Martyn Goulding having been honored in 2022.”

Sejnowski has received numerous other awards, including being named the 2024 Scientist of the Year by the ARCS Foundation of San Diego, winning the Gruber Prize in Neuroscience, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Frank Rosenblatt Award, Neural Network Pioneer Award, Hebb Prize, and Wright Prize. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Engineering, and National Academy of Inventors.

“I am incredibly honored to receive the 2024 Brain Prize,” Sejnowski shared with GB Magazine. “I am proud that this award recognizes the remarkable computational advances being made by computer scientists and neuroscientists to our understanding of brain function.”

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Photo Credit: Salk Institute


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Esteban Villanueva