The Nencki Award 2008

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It is my very great pleasure to introduce the laureate of the First Edition of the Nencki Award. The Award was established by The Scientific Council of the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology to honour distinguished scientists who were also friends of our Institute, who helped us in ours scientific efforts, with whom we shared our research passions and collaborated. An institute is not a lonely island, it exists within a network of colleagues joined by common scientific interests. The Nencki Institute had its own extensive support network of friends and in hard times – and we have had hard times – the help from our friends was invaluable.

The first laureate of The Nencki Award is Professor George Gerstein.

George was born in Berlin, and with his parents came to US before the war. He graduated from Harvard where he also obtained his PhD in nuclear physics there. During his postdoctoral research at MIT he became interested in hoe the brains works and started work on applying mathematical methods to physiological data.

George worked on analysis of the neuronal code and designed several methods for handling neuronal spike train data. Histogram averaging of single neurons activity, cross correlograms, joint post stimulus time scatter diagrams are now the basic research tools of electrophysiology. His classic papers – Science 1960 and 1967, J. Biophysics 1967 – are a bible for neurophysiologists. The analytical tools he designed are for the field of neurophysiology what SDS electrophoresis and Western blot are for biochemistry.

George pursued his career in neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is now Professor Emeritus. He continued his theoretical interests, especially developing theoretical background for studying simultaneous activity of functional neuronal networks and also did experimental work, recording from brains of both mammals and invertebrates. He has published over 130 papers in neuroinformatics and sensory neurophysiology with several milestones in both areas.

His interactions with Nencki Institute started in the sixties, when Professor Remigiusz Tarnecki was on sabbatical at the University of Pennsylvania. In the seventies several researchers from Department of Neurophysiology of Nencki Institute worked as postdocs in Georges’ laboratory. Then he spent a sabbatical year in the Nencki Institute, bringing over 2 laboratory mini-computers, which he integrated with laboratory equipment and taught our colleagues to use and program them to control and analyze neurophysiological experiments. He regularly has remained in touch with the Nencki Institute since then, coming to scientific meetings at the Institute and being on the editorial board of Acta Neurobiologiale Experimentalis. For all of this we are very grateful. I am happy to present Professor George Gerstein with the Nencki Award.