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David Hubel

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 09 December 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7114
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

David Hubel, neuroscientist, and co-winner of 1981 Nobel prize

As a neuroscientist, David Hubel saw himself as an explorer. When he and his research partner, Torsten Wiesel, began investigating the visual processes of the brain in the late 1950s, they lacked hypotheses. In Hubel’s own words, the work was “done in the spirit of Columbus crossing the Atlantic to see what he would find.” The work was also done in the spirit of fun. “Research is largely fun,” Hubel said in 2009, reflecting on his life and his work. “If it’s not fun, I wouldn’t do it.” Indeed, Hubel and Wiesel sometimes were so excited after making one of their many discoveries that they would “run down the hall screaming with joy to tell and show (their colleagues).”

In 1981 Hubel and Wiesel, who first worked together at Johns Hopkins University and then at Harvard Medical School, were awarded one half of the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for “their discoveries concerning information processing in the visual system.”1 Michael Greenberg, chair of the department of neurobiology at Harvard, describes Hubel’s visual perception work as revolutionary, adding, “David was one …

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