2014 Press Releases

Honorary Doctorate for Nobel Laureate Professor John O’Keefe

15 Dec 2014
Professor John O'Keefe reacts to jointly winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (Image courtesy of University College London Youtube channel - http://bit.ly/1CM0cZG)

Nobel Prize winner Professor John O’Keefe will visit UCC on 15 December as he returns from Nobel Week, where he will receive an Honorary Doctorate and deliver a lecture at a major neuroscience symposium.

Professor John O’Keefe, who is based out of University College London, was recently jointly awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Norwegian neuroscientists May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser, for discovering an ‘inner GPS’ that helps the brain to navigate. UCC is in turn recognising Professor O’Keefe with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science (DSc) on Monday 15 December, which UCC President Dr Michael Murphy commented is in recognition of his ground-breaking contributions to neuroscience. 

Professor O’Keefe is the third recipient of an honorary doctorate from UCC who is also a Nobel Laureate; the other recipients being DNA pioneer Dr James Watson in 2010 and Dr Robert Wilson in 2004.

Professor O’Keefe, whose father hailed from Newmarket (Scarteen Lower), Co. Cork, and whose mother from Co. Mayo (Breaffy) in Ireland, will deliver the main lecture at a UCC symposium that also features a number of other renowned Irish neuroscientists. ‘The Hippocampus in Health & Disease’ is organised by Science Foundation Ireland-funded Investigators Dr Yvonne Nolan and Professor John F. Cryan of UCC’s Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience.

“The symposium will highlight how recent discoveries informs us on how the hippocampus is critical for learning and memory, which has implications for Alzheimer’s disease, aging, epilepsy and stress-related psychiatric disorders," says Professor Cryan, who is also Professor O’Keefe’s introducer at the Honorary Conferring. Professor O’Keefe will deliver a lecture entitled ‘The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map: an update’ which will focus on his seminal contributions to cognitive neuroscience.

Dr Nolan comments: “We would like to acknowledge Science Foundation Ireland who support our current Investigator Award for research on the hippocampus. The importance of this research area is exemplified by the award of theNobel committee to Professor O’Keefe, who we are honoured to have here in Cork.”

The Honorary Conferring ceremony will be live-steamed via http://www.ucc.ie/en/live/

UCC's annual Honorary Conferring ceremony recognises individuals who have distinguished themselves nationally or internationally, through their scholarship, creativity, public service or contribution to social, cultural, academic, scientific, sporting or economic life.

For further information on the symposium, which takes place in UCC’s Western Gateway Building, including the full schedule, please see http://www.ucc.ie/en/hippocampus/

In 2015, University College Cork celebrates another genius besides Professor John O’Keefe, with the bicentenary of George Boole, 1815-64. Born in Lincoln, George Boole was the first Professor of Mathematics (1849-64) at UCC. His work laid the foundations of the information age. His pivotal advances in mathematics, logic and probability provided the essential groundwork for modern mathematics, microelectronic engineering and computer science. His influence is such that he has been called the father of the digital age. 

2015 is his 200th birthday and UCC will celebrate his life and legacy with a series of major events during the year. See more at georgeboole.com

More on Professor John O’Keefe

John O’Keefe is Director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits & Behaviour and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Cell & Developmental Biology, Division of Biosciences at University College London.

In 1971, he discovered place cells, neurons within the hippocampus that become active when one enters a particular place in the environment. He then proposed the hippocampus as a cognitive map for spatial memory function. His current work focuses on computational models to predict hippocampal function. Among other accolades he has recently received the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (2013) and was a co-recipient of the Kavli Prize (2014).

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