Neuroscientist wins presidential award

December 20, 2001

Martin Usrey, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, Center for Neuroscience has won a Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering for his research on vision. He will receive the award at a White House ceremony early next year.

"This is fitting recognition of Dr. Usrey, who even at this early stage of his career has proven himself to be a scientist of exceptional talent and one who is destined to make major contributions to neurobiology in the future," said Edward Jones, director of Center for Neuroscience.

Instituted in 1996, the award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of establishing independent research careers. Recipients receive research grants for up to five years.

Usrey describes his work as "unraveling the circuitry" of how neuronal responses emerge in the brain.

When light hits a sensitive cell in the eye, it generates an electrical impulse which first travels to a structure called the thalamus before the cerebral cortex. Usrey's laboratory studies how these signals are passed from one structure to another, and how the brain turns these single impulses into a complex picture that allows us to see the outside world.

Usrey has a bachelor's degree from UC San Diego, a master's from San Diego State University and a doctorate from Duke University. He worked at Rockefeller University and Harvard Medical School before joining UC Davis in January 2000.

"This award is a great personal achievement for Marty at an early stage of his career. It also attests to the tremendous strides that have been made on this campus -- in a relatively short time period -- in attaining worldwide pre-eminence in neuroscience," said Leo Chalupa, interim dean of the Division of Biological Sciences and chair of the section of neurobiology, physiology and behavior at UC Davis.
Two UC Davis faculty won Presidential Early Career Awards in last year's round, computer scientist Kwan-Liu Ma and mathematician Naoki Saito. No more than 60 awards are made each year.

Note: A black-and-white photograph of Usrey is available in electronic format. Contact Andy Fell for details.

University of California - Davis

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