John Templeton Foundation

"And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom..."

W. H. Auden
from In Memory of W. B. Yeats
Home Approach Program Commitee Other Participants

Christof Koch is a neuroscientist who holds the Lois and Victor Troendle Professorship of Cognitive and Behavioral Biology at the California Institute of Technology. With the late Nobel laureate Francis Crick, he helped make consciousness a legitimate topic of scientific inquiry nearly two decades ago, and he continues to investigate its neurobiological mechanisms. Born in Missouri, he grew up a citizen of the world as his German parents’ diplomatic assignments took the family to The Netherlands, Germany, Canada, and Morocco. He earned a baccalaureate degree at the Lycée Descartes in Rabat, a master’s degree in physics magna cum laude at the University of Tübingen, and a Ph.D. in physics magna cum laude at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetcics in Tübingen in 1982. Awarded a postdoctoral fellowship by the Franz Thyssen Foundation, Dr. Koch worked in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the psychology department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined the Caltech faculty as an assistant professor of computation in 1986. Promoted to full professor eight years later, he was named to his present chair in 2000. For nine years, he served as executive officer of Caltech’s Computation and Neural Systems Program. He is currently the director of its Broad Fellows Program in Brain Circuitry. An adjunct professor at the Salk Institute, he has been a visiting professor at the ETH in Zurich. Dr. Koch’s research focuses on the biophysics of single neurons, visual attention, object recognition, and awareness as a means of studying the footprints of consciousness in the brain and on designing neuromorphic machine vision algorithms. He uses electrophysiological recordings in patients and brain imaging, as well as perception experiments in volunteers, to explore the neuronal operations underlying vision. He conceived and guided the development of a suite of vision algorithms for attentional selection via saliency, which are now used by several hundred laboratories throughout the world. Dr. Koch has held an Alfred Sloan Research Fellowship and been the recipient of an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, and the Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize. Named a Bernard Osher Fellow at the San Francisco Exploratorium, a museum of science, art, and human perception, in 2004, he delivered the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Lecture at Los Alamos in 2005 and the Foerster Lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, last year. He holds five patents related to analog VLSI circuits for vision as well as for attentional selection processes. After publishing his doctoral thesis on nonlinear information processing in Nature, he has gone on to publish more than 175 papers to date in leading scientific journals and some sixty-five chapters in volumes of collected works. He is the co-editor of six books and the author of two others: Biophysics of Computation: Information Processing in Single Neurons (1999), the first textbook on the computational potential of sub-cellular mechanisms, and The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach, an empirically-grounded introduction to the modern biology of consciousness and an argument for its neural basis, which was published by Roberts and Company in 2004.