WUSTL visiting psychology scholar Endel Tulving wins Gairdner Award

Endel Tulving, Ph.D., the Clark Way Harrison Distinguished Visiting Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience in Arts & Sciences, is one of six scientists to be awarded the 2005 Gairdner International Award for groundbreaking work in medical research.

Tulving, an emeritus professor at the University of Toronto, has been a visiting scholar at Washington University since 1996, normally spending two or three months on campus each year. Now 77 years old, he remains active in research at Washington University and in Toronto, where he holds the Tanenbaum Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Rotman Research Institute.

Endel Tulving
Endel Tulving

Among the most prestigious awards in all of science, “The Gairdners” recognize outstanding contributions by medical scientists worldwide whose work will significantly improve the quality of life. Of the 274 Gairdner winners, 64 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. Now in their 46th year, the awards were founded by the late Toronto businessman, James Gairdner (www.gairdner.org).

“The 2005 awards honor outstanding achievements in three very different but important areas of inquiry and discovery: obesity, human memory and gene splicing,” said John Dirks, president of the Gairdner Foundation. “Each of the awardees has done groundbreaking work that is transforming our understanding of how the body functions and how its malfunctions can be overcome.”

Although the Gairdners are usually awarded to medical scientists, Tulving is one of two cognitive psychologists selected to receive the honor in 2005. The awards committee cited his “pioneering research in the understanding of human memory, and providing the necessary framework within which findings in neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neuropharmacology can be integrated.”

Born in Estonia in 1927, Tulving moved to Canada in his late teens and attended the University of Toronto, where he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology in the mid-1950s. He earned a doctoral degree in experimental psychology from Harvard University in 1957. He spent most of his career at the University of Toronto, but also has taught at Yale and other leading universities. Other honors include the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association (1983); Guggenheim Fellowship (1987); National Academy of Sciences (1988); Fellow, Royal Society of London (1992); Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in Psychological Science from the American Psychological Foundation (1994); and the McGovern Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1996).

Tulving is perhaps best known for his research on episodic memory, much of it summarized in his 1983 book, Elements of Episodic Memory (Oxford University Press). During the 1960s, while most research focused on how memories are acquired and stored, Tulving was the first to argue that researchers should be paying more attention to the equally important, but often-neglected memory retrieval processes, or how stored information is accessed. Tulving argued that the key problem in human memory is retrieval of information, and he spent much of his career in studying factors that affect retrieval of information.

Henry L. Roediger, III, a former student of Tulving’s and now James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and Dean of Academic Planning at Washington University, noted that “Endel Tulving’s work over the past 50 years has greatly influenced the field of cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. His novel theoretical proposals and brilliant experimental work have had wide impact, and his papers have been cited well over 20,000 times in the scientific literature. He is richly deserving of this great award.”

The Gairdner awards, which include a cash prize of $30,000 (Canadian), will be presented at a dinner held in October at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto. Since 2003, the lead national sponsor of the Gairdner awards has been the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR (www.cihr.ca) provides leadership and support to more than 9,000 researchers and research teams in every province of Canada.

“The Gairdner awards are synonymous with exceptional, internationally-recognized, cutting-edge research,” said Alan Bernstein, CIHR president. “Their work will have a direct impact on Canadians and people around the world.”

The other 2005 Gairdner awardees are:

Brenda Milner, the Dorothy J. Killam Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at McGill University, Montreal, for research on the understanding of human memory.

Jeffrey Friedman, a genetics professor at Rockefeller University in New York, for contributions to the understanding of obesity, and particularly for the discovery of the adipose (fat) tissue hormone leptin.

Douglas Coleman, senior scientist, emeritus, at the Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Me., for contributions to the understanding of obesity and for the discovery of leptin.

Craig Mello, chair of molecular medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, for the discovery of RNA interference and the use of RNA in gene slicing.

Andrew Fire, professor of pathology and genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine, also for the discovery of RNA interference and the use of RNA in gene slicing.