Gould honored by Royal Society for brain research

April 30, 2009, 10:11 a.m.

Elizabeth Gould, a Princeton professor of psychology, has been awarded the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Medal by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce for her groundbreaking brain research.

The society, founded in Britain in 1754, recognizes global "big thinkers," meaning those who have shifted public debate in an innovative way and contributed to furthering public discourse about human progress, according to Matthew Taylor, the organization's chief executive.

Gould, who is also a professor in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and co-director of the University's Program in Neuroscience, has been a trailblazer in the field of adult neurogenesis, the process by which the brain forms new neurons or brain cells. Since the early 1990s, Gould has been studying the production of new neurons in the mammalian brain. Until this time, conventional wisdom held that the mammalian brain only produces new neurons during early development, not throughout life. Her work on adult neurogenesis in rodents and primates, and its regulation by experience, helped to overturn that view.     

Gould came to Princeton in 1997 from Rockefeller University, where she was a faculty member. She earned her Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles, and served as a postdoctoral fellow and an assistant professor at Rockefeller. She has received the Troland Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences and a Distinguished Investigator Award from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression.

In her current work, she has extended her investigations into adult neurogenesis by exploring how rewarding social experiences can protect the brain from the negative consequences of stress. 

The Royal Society established the Franklin medal in 1956 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Franklin's birth and to promote Anglo-American relations in the inventor's name. The society's choice of Gould reflects its current interest in encouraging insights from neuroscience, behavioral science and social science to further the needs of society. "Professor Gould's pioneering work on neurogenesis points to the interaction of individual development and social context," Taylor said. 

Previous winners have included former U.S. Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, philanthropist Sir John Templeton and architects Robert Venturi, who is a Princeton alumnus, and Denise Scott Brown.