Sheila Nirenberg

Sheila Nirenberg

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Dr. Sheila Nirenberg obtained her B.A. from the State University of New York, Albany, and received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1993. She is currently working as a professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University within the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and also as a member of the Institute for Computational Biomedicine. Dr. Nirenberg's research has been published in journals such as Nature, PNAS, Neuron, and PLoS One. Nirenberg has developed a method for bypassing the damaged photoreceptor cells entirely and interacting directly with the ganglion cells, instead of trying to replace lost photoreceptor cells—an approach which is usually quite invasive and has shown limited benefit for advanced stage diseases. She crystallized the complex relationship between visual stimuli and corresponding ganglion cell activity and also deciphered the specific neural “codes” generated in response to dynamic temporal and spatial visual patterns. Dr. Nirenberg invented a computerized eyeglass prosthetic which transmits these codes to the ganglion cells, which then send the codes to the brain. Although this prosthetic is still in the early phases of clinical testing, this novel, less invasive strategy obtained very promising results in mice. In another line of research, Nirenberg is adapting and applying her neural coding discoveries to machine vision algorithms with the goal of advancing current robotic “vision” efforts and brain-machine interfaces. By addressing such fundamental questions about sensory signal processing in both machines and mammals, Nirenberg is poised to catalyze a major jump in the science of visual perception.

Awards & Recognitions

Honors & Awards

  • Bressler Prize, Lighthouse Guild (2022)
  • Barbara McClintock Women Innovator Award, Cornell University (2022)
  • Crain's Notable Women in Tech, Crain's New York Business (2019)
  • MacArthur 'Genius' Award, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (2013)
  • Klingenstein Fellowship, Klingenstein Philanthropies (1998)