Dr. Misha Mahowald

Dr. Misha Mahowald

Neuromorphic Engineer, Institute of Neuroinformatics

Inducted in 1996

Dr. Misha Mahowald was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1963. She received her professional training at the California Institute of Technology, graduating in biology in 1985 and obtaining her doctorate in computational neuroscience in 1992. During her doctoral research she, together with Carver Mead, made pioneering contributions to the emerging field of "neuromorphic" engineering, the application of analog CMOS VLSI technology to the fabrication of analog electronic circuits that emulate real neural systems. Her doctoral thesis won the Clauser Prize, awarded for work that demonstrates the potential of new avenues of human thought and endeavor.

The fruits of this period of her work include the "Silicon Retina" (published in Scientific American), a solution to the problem of communication between computational elements on different neuromorphic VLSI chips, a set of neuromorphic chips able to determine the depth of an object from a binocular image, four patents, and a book. In 1991, she developed a "Silicon Neuron" which had electrical properties very similar to biological neurons and which could be used for building large, biologically realistic neural networks. This work was featured in the prestigious science journal Nature and formed the basis of her continued research. She then moved to Oxford to work with Kevan Martin and Rodney Douglas on analog VLSI models of the microcircuits of the visual cortex. They moved to Zurich to establish the Institute fuer Neuroinformatick, intending to identify the computational principles that make the brain so formidably versatile and powerful and attempt to embody them in a new kind of computer architecture.

Dr. Mahowald's work has received considerable acclaim and has been featured in the popular scientific press and radio. She was the subject of one of WGBH-TV's documentaries on "Women in Science."

Dr. Misha Mahowald was 33 when she died in December 1996. PBS produced a series which included Dr. Mahowald titled Discovering Women produced by Judith Vecchione of WGBH Boston.