STEM GLAM GALLERY: Eric Kandel
Nobel-Prize Winning Neuroscientist Eric Kandel, who solved the mystery of memory through his work (1929- present)
Eric Richard Kandel was born on November 7, 1929, in Vienna, Austria, where his parents met and married. His mother was from an educated Jewish middle-class background. His father was from a low-income family background. His early life as a Jewish body wasn’t smooth as Nazi Hitler powered over Austria in 1938. He got bullied by boys in school. His family and other Jews’ property was stolen and attacked.The day after his 9th birthday was Kristallnacht, a discriminative violence against Jewish people. Kandel moved to Brooklyn, New York with his family in 1939.
Through his academic years, Kandel changed his major 3 times. After his high school in Brooklyn, he attended Harvard University, majoring in History and Literature. However, his interests changed to psychoanalysis when he met Anna Kris, whose parents knew Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. While he was attending New York University’s medical school after graduating from Harvard in 1952, he was intrigued by the science of human mind and memory. So, leaving New York University with no neural science department, he started to study at Columbia University. There, he met his future wife Denise Bystryn, a French student who was also studying at Columbia for her doctorate.
His big moments came when he took a risk to study sea slugs, an invertebrate, to understand the molecular basis of learning and memory in human, a vertebrate mammal. He was first trying to explore on the human hippocampus, a brain region central to storing memory and forming emotions. However, the mammalian hippocampus is too complicating to investigate. Therefore, having learned that humans and simple invertebrates can behave the same way in learning, Kandel chose to devote his study on 5-inch-long invertebrate sea slug, on which he got many disagreements from other neurobiologists and psychologist.
In that case, he took advantage of large nerve cells in sea slug that are easier for experimentation. Through his fantastic work with sea slugs, he was able to find how learning is possible in mammals and what happens to brain cells when we learn and make new memories. His continuous work also gave us valuable clues to treat Alzheimer’s disease and other memory dysfunctions. Eric Kandel is one of the revolutionary scientists in our academic world as he allowed us to better understand the mystical neural science of human brain and memory.