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Semir Zeki is Professor of Neurobiology at University College London. His main interest is the organization of the primate visual brain. He published his first scientific paper in 1967. Since then he has written over 150 papers and three books: A Vision of the Brain (1993), Inner Vision: an exploration of art and the brain (1999) [which has been translated into six languages] and La Quête de l’essentiel, which he co-authored with the late French painter Balthus (Count Klossowski de Rola). In 1994, he began to study the neural basis of creativity and the aesthetic appreciation of art. In 2001, he founded the Institute of Neuroesthetics[1], based mainly in Berkeley, California.

Formative influences[edit | edit source]

When at school, Zeki got acquainted with work on the brain, especially from JZ Young and vowed to work with him, which he did, at University College London. He initially studied anthropology, then switched to medicine, finally taking a PhD in anatomy.

Zeki then worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and at St. Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, DC before returning to University College London as Henry Head Research Fellow of the Royal Society.

Time at University College London[edit | edit source]

Since 1970 Zeki has been based at University College, being appointed the Professor of Neurobiology in 1980. He was Co-Head of the Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London from 1994 to 2001.

Zeki has conducted anatomical and physiological studies of the primate visual brain. Since 1987, he has used positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the human visual brain.

Zeki has lectured on the subject the world over. Among the more than 50 named lectures he has given are The Ferrier Lecture (Royal Society), the Sir Humphry Davy Lecture (Académie des Sciences, Paris), the Philip Bard Lecture (Johns Hopkins University), the Paul Broca Lecture (Lyon), the Getty Public Lecture (Los Angeles), the David Marr Lecture (Cambridge), the Koetser Lecture (Zurich), the Burda Lecture (Munich), Sigma Tau Lecture (Milan), the Donders Lecture (Netherlands), and the Hayaishi Lecture (Osaka) and Carl Bernhard Lecture (Stockholm).

He has also lectured specifically on art and the brain at various institutions around the world, including the Tate Gallery (London), the Musée d’Orsay (Paris), Gemäldegalerie (Berlin), the Getty Museum (Los Angeles), Akademie der Bildenden Kunst (Vienna) and the Mondriaanhuis, Amersfoort, the Netherlands. In 2003 he curated the exhibition Colore e Cervello at the Casa Rusca in Locarno, Switzerland, to coincide with the Retrospective Exhibition of the works of the Italian painter, Pierro Dorazio.

He has served as a Trustee of Fight for Sight, London and of the Minerva Foundation, Berkeley, California. He was a member of the National Society Council of France from 1998 to 2002 and is a member of the Board of Scientific Governors of The Scripps Research Institute, California. He was Editor of The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences and has served on the editorial boards of several other journals specialized in neurobiology.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a foreign member of the American Philosophical Society, Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (London), a member of the Academia Europeae and of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts.

His Prizes include the Minerva Foundation Prize, The LVMH Science pour l’art Prize, the Rank Prize in opto-electronics, The Electronic Imaging Award, the Koetser Prize and the King Faisal International Prize in Biology.

Scientific achievements[edit | edit source]

Zeki's scientific achievements include:

  • Co-discovery of the motion area in the brain, area V5 (also called area MT), in parallel with American scientists John Allman and Jon Kaas.
  • Ardent defender of functional specialization of brain regions.
  • finding neurons in a part of the monkey visual system that would respond only when a particular colour, rather than a particular wavelength, was in their receptive fields. For example, he showed that a red-sensitive neuron would continue to respond to a red stimulus, even when it was illuminated mainly by green light.
  • Use of imaging techniques to identify the location of a region of the human brain that shows color-biased response properties.
  • Studying the neural correlates of subjective mental states, such as love the aesthetic experience.

Life outside of science[edit | edit source]

Semir Zeki lists his hobbies as visual arts, reading (especially about the darker side of man), music (especially opera) and deep sleep.

External links[edit | edit source]

Acknowledgement[edit | edit source]

Parts of this article are based closely on information supplied by Anton Burdakov.

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