Torsten N. Wiesel, M.D.
Vincent and Brooke Astor Professor Emeritus
Since retiring as president of The Rockefeller University in 1998, Wiesel has turned his attention to international science advocacy. From 2000 to 2009, Wiesel was secretary general of the Human Frontier Science Program, established in 1989 to support international, innovative, and interdisciplinary basic research in the life sciences. He was chairman of the board of governors of the New York Academy of Sciences from 2000 to 2006 and continues to serve as lifetime honorary chair. Wiesel served from 1994 to 2009 as chair of the scientific advisory committee of the Pew Scholars Program. He also assisted in the creation of the Pew Latin American Fellows Program in the Biomedical Sciences and served as a chair of its review committee from 1992 to 2018. He is a founding member of the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization, a nonprofit alliance established in 2004 to support collaborative research between scientists in Israel and Palestine to promote positive interactions between the two communities. Wiesel has done much work as a global human rights advocate. He is a founding member of the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies, and he also served for 10 years as chair of the committee on human rights of the National Academies of Sciences. He chaired the board of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology for 15 years and serves as a lifetime trustee on the Hospital for Special Surgery’s board, as well as on the president’s council of the accredited online University of the People.
Born in 1924 in Uppsala, Sweden, Wiesel received his M.D. from the Karolinska Institute in 1954, after which he taught in the institute’s department of physiology and worked in the child psychiatry unit of the Karolinska Hospital. He began a fellowship in ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University Medical School in 1955 and became an assistant professor there in 1958. The following year, he became an instructor in pharmacology at Harvard Medical School, and he became professor in the new department of neurobiology in 1968 and its chair in 1973. Wiesel moved to Rockefeller in 1983 as Vincent and Brooke Astor Professor and head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology. He was president of Rockefeller from 1991 to 1998, during which time he was instrumental in the recruitment of 16 new faculty members, the establishment of six interdisciplinary research centers, and the formation of a collaborative relationship with the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center. He is currently co-director of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Center for Mind, Brain and Behavior at Rockefeller.
Wiesel’s awards include the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which he won with David Hubel for studies of how visual information is transmitted to and processed in the brain’s visual cortex. Their investigations identified specialized functions and mapped the functional architecture of individual cells in the visual cortex. Hubel and Wiesel also studied the development of the visual cortex and the role of innate and experiential factors, research that has had important clinical implications, including more effective treatments for congenital cataracts. Wiesel was also a recipient of the National Medal of Science in 2005.