David H. Hubel

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Windsor, Canada
Birth Sign
Windsor, Canada

David Hunter Hubel was a Nobel laureate neurophysiologist whose work on the structure and function of the visual cortex earned him the award. He then became a naturalized American citizen and served in the US Army for around three years after being born in Canada to American parents. As part of his military duty, he was posted to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s Neurophysiology Division. He began his research on the primary visual brain of cats when they were asleep and awake, and devised the tungsten microelectrode. He joined Wilmer Institute following his military service and worked under Stephen Kuffler. There he collaborated with Torsten Wiesel on studies of the retina’s link to the visual cortex. The collaboration lasted more than two decades. Meanwhile, they relocated to Harvard University and continued their research, which earned them the prestigious Nobel Prize. They later used kittens to shed light on cataracts and misaligned eyes in toddlers. He was also a prominent academician who published numerous eminent books on the visual system.

Childhood & Adolescence

David Hunter Hubel was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada on February 27, 1926, into a prosperous family of Bavarian ancestors. However, both of his parents were born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, United States of America. Thus, David, their only child, was born in Canada and raised in America. David’s paternal grandfather immigrated to the United States from Bavaria and made a fortune by creating the first mass-production technique for gelatin pill capsules. His father, Jesse Hunter Hubel, was a chemical engineer who worked for the Windsor Salt Company at the time of David’s birth.

Elsie M. Hunter Hubel, David’s mother, was an electronics enthusiast. She never studied the subject, though, and lived with regret. She made up for this by allowing David to follow his interests. The family relocated to Montreal when David was three years old. He was admitted to Strathcona Academy in Outremont at the age of six. When the time came, he added Latin as a subject because it was deemed appropriate for future medical studies, but those who took biology were deemed stupid.

David received an interest in chemistry from his father, and from an early age, he frequently conducted experiments in the basement of his home. One of them made such a loud bang that the city police were summoned to his home. Another of his favorite subjects was electronics. He also had a strong ability to play the piano. David dropped out of school in 1943 and enrolled at McGill University, where he earned a B.S. degree in Mathematics and Physics in 1947. He enjoyed his time there since it required him to solve problems; there was little to memorize.

He then enrolled at McGill University’s Medical School. Because he was not taught biology at school, he struggled there; nonetheless, he enjoyed biochemistry. By the second year, he had developed an interest in the brain as well.
From then on, he spent his summer vacations at the Montreal Neurological Institute, where he worked in neurologist Herbert Jasper’s laboratory. Here he developed an interest in the nerve system. Later in life, he developed an interest in clinical medicine.

David H. Hubel obtained his M.D. in 1951 and then interned at McGill for one year. Following that, he completed a year of neurology residency at the Montreal Neurological Institute and then spent a year as a fellow working with Jasper on clinical electroencephalography (EEG).

Career of David

Hubel immigrated to the United States of America in 1954 and began his career as an assistant resident in neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He was enlisted into the United States army in 1955, before he could establish himself. Fortunately, as part of his military service, he was sent to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s Neurophysiology Division. Here he was mentored by Michelangelo Fuortes and also had his first opportunity to conduct independent research.

He began his career by studying the spinal cord, which prepared him for his subsequent work on neurophysiology. His primary objective, however, was to compare the spontaneous firing of individual cortical cells in sleeping and awake cats. To record the nerve cells’ electrical impulses, he first constructed a tungsten microelectrode, which took him a year to perfect. He then implanted it into the visual cortex region of the brain and began recording both sleeping and freely moving cats. He later discovered that neural activity was dependent on the level of arousal.

Hubel also recognized that it was feasible to investigate how the brain functioned during the visual process based on his participants’ reactions during awake hours. However, his military service ended before he could advance any farther, and he returned to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1958. Huber began his career at Vernon Mountcastle’s laboratory. However, because the laboratory was being renovated at the time, he was invited to join Stephen Kuffler at the Wilmer Institute, also at Johns Hopkins.

Huber met Torsten Wiesel at Kuffler’s laboratory. The two scientists began their research on the link between the retina and the visual brain under Kuffler’s leadership. They quickly created a collaboration that lasted twenty-two years. Kuffler remained a lifetime friend as well as their harshest critic. In 1959, Kuffler enrolled at Harvard Medical School, where he joined Otto Krayer’s Department of Pharmacology. Huber and Wiesel accompanied him, and the following year, they began an innovative experiment that contributed significantly to our understanding of sensory processing.

They implanted a microelectrode into an anesthetized cat’s primary visual cortex and then displayed patterns made of light and darkness onto a screen in front of it. Finally, they established how the visual system constructs complicated representations from simple data. They published the results of the aforementioned experiment in 1962. They described numerous visual neuron classes and their columnar organization in it. Additionally, they demonstrated that neurons within a column exhibited a preference for comparable orientations and that cortical neurons possessed ocular dominance and received information from both eyes.

When Harvard University’s Department of Neurobiology was officially created in 1964, Kuffler was appointed Chairman, and Hubel was appointed Professor of Physiology the following year. Huber succeeded Kuffler as department chairman in 1967 and was named the George Packer Berry Professor of Neurobiology in 1968. Throughout, he and Wiesel conducted studies with cats and eventually with monkeys. Meanwhile, they began research on ocular dominance columns, which are neural stripes in the visual cortex.

They initially identified it in cats; later, they performed trials on kittens and observed that when one eye was kept shut for two months, these columns were significantly disturbed.Additionally, they discovered that the majority of neural connections were present prior to the eyes opening and that their arrangement deteriorated when the subject was denied visual input at a critical period following birth. These discoveries had a significant impact on the treatment of cataracts and alignment disorders in youngsters.

Significant Works of David

Hubel is best renowned for his research on the nerve impulses that travel from the retina to the brain’s sensory and motor regions. Together with Wiesel, he established that specific nerve cells are responsible for distinct types of visual comprehension by implanting tiny electrodes into the brains of anesthetized cats. Additionally, Hubel authored a number of books. Among these are ‘The Visual Cortex of the Brain’ (1963) and ‘Eye, Brain, and Vision’ (1964). (1988). Additionally, he co-authored ‘Brain Mechanisms of Vision’ (1979), ‘Brain and Visual Perception: A 25-Year Collaboration’ (2004), and ‘The Brain’ (1984) with Francis Crick.

Awards and Accomplishments

Hubel and Wiesel shared the 1969 Dickson Prize, presented by Carnegie Mellon University, for their work on visual neurophysiology. In 1978, Columbia University awarded the Hubel-Weisel team the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize for Biology or Biochemistry for their excellent contribution to basic research in the domains of biology or biochemistry.

David Hunter Hubel, Torsten Nils Wiesel, and Roger Wolcott Sperry shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Hubel and Wiesel earned the award “for their contributions to our understanding of how information is processed in the visual system.” While they split the prize money equally, the remaining half went to Sperry.
He was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society in 1982. He was then elected president of the Society for Neuroscience from 1988 to 1989.

Personal History and Legacies

Hubel married Shirley Ruth Izzard in 1953. Hubel was unemployed for the first two years of their marriage, and it was Ruth who stood by her struggling husband and gave all essential support. Carl, Eric, and Paul were the couple’s three children. Ruth and David remained married until Ruth’s death in 2013. Hubel’s health also deteriorated shortly after the incident. He died of kidney failure on September 22, 2013 in Lincoln, Massachusetts, at the age of 87.

Estimated Net Worth

David H Hubel’s net worth or net income is estimated to be between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000. He amassed such money through his principal career as a physiologist.