School of Medicine

Neuroscientist Ponce named a 2020 Packard fellow

Carlos Ponce, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has been named a 2020 Packard Fellow. Ponce studies how visual recognition occurs in the brain.

Carlos Ponce, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has received a 2020 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering. Each of the 20 Packard fellows — among the nation’s top early-career scientists — will receive a five-year, $875,000 grant to pursue research.

Ponce studies how visual recognition works in the brain. His work could lead to improvements in artificial visual-recognition systems used in security, medicine, transportation and other fields.

“Our goal is to understand how we’re able to recognize objects in the world,” Ponce said. “To us it feels very natural — it’s instinctive, almost magically fast. But really, it happens because neurons are communicating with each other, sending patterns back and forth in a way that still remains to be understood. Solving the problem of visual recognition will yield applications that will improve automated visual processing in fields such as medical imaging and self-driving vehicles, for example. But just as importantly, it will illuminate how our inner experience of the visual world comes to be.”

Since 1988, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation’s fellowship program has supported the nation’s most promising early-career scientists and engineers with flexible funding so they can take risks and explore new frontiers in their fields of study. By encouraging creative young researchers to think big and follow new ideas wherever they lead, the Packard Foundation aims to catalyze new discoveries that improve people’s lives and enhance our understanding of the universe.

Ponce is the 12th Washington University faculty member — second at the School of Medicine — to receive the Packard Fellowship.

“Carlos is an outstanding neuroscientist who seeks to determine which specific features of the visual world are encoded by primate visual neurons,” said Paul Taghert, PhD, a professor and the interim head of the Department of Neuroscience. “His approach is very innovative, especially by incorporating modern artificial intelligence approaches. This prestigious award is really well-deserved because Carlos’ work is fundamentally transforming our understanding of how we process visual information.”

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