David H. Hubel is Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard University. His research led to the discovery of the method by which visual information is processed by the brain, and greater understanding of how that processing system develops in very early childhood. His findings have resulted in the realization that a condition called strabismus (also known as cross-eye) is best treated before the age of two, before the visual system is no longer able to adapt to the corrected eye position.
Dr. Hubel grew up in Canada, fascinated by both chemistry and electronics. He credits his parents for encouraging his interest in science and patiently answering all of his questions on the subject when he was a boy. After constructing several malfunctioning electronic experiments, Hubel devoted more of his attention to chemistry. He discovered that combustible mixtures or the successful launch of a hydrogen balloon were more exciting and less frustrating.
After completing study at McGill College in Canada, Dr. Hubel applied to medical school despite his lack of study in biology. His work there and at the Montreal Neurological Institute stimulated his interest in the nervous system. Dr. Hubel's research career began in the United States in 1954 when he was assigned to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. His main project there was to compare the activity of sensory cells in sleeping and waking animals.
In his own research and that of other scientists, Dr. Hubel says the use of animals "is absolutely vital, enormously important. Although not every discovery has depended on it (animal experimentation), a large proportion has. To understand ourselves, we have to use what tools we have. Since we can't usually experiment on ourselves, we must use animals. In addition, today we can perform many experiments (on animals) without inflicting pain."
Dr. Hubel advises that students read a lot about their area of interest and get to know scientists in their area. "If you hear about a scientist who appeals to your interests, look him or her up. Don't be shy, get some direct contact with people, including teachers, who are doing experiments," he says.
Adapted from Curiosity is the Key to Discovery: The Story of How Nobel Laureates Entered the World of Science, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1992
Some links may be under construction