Patricia S. Goldman-Rakic, a professor of neuroscience, neurology and psychiatry, compares her work to the challenge of climbing Mount Everest.
“Many people say that it can’t be done,” she said. “But it can. It’s a progression from base camp onwards.”
Time magazine recently featured Goldman-Rakic in part of its series titled “America’s Best” for her achievements in frontal lobe brain research and for multidisciplinary approach to science. The article ran Aug. 20.
The 63-year-old Goldman-Rakic, who has studied the brain for 30 years, focuses her research on the frontal lobe, which is a gray, furrowed mass of tissue taking up about a third of the brain’s total mass. Part of the nervous system, the frontal lobe is largely responsible for humans’ thinking, planning, intellect and will.
She is one of the first scientists in her family, and her mentors include Haldor Rosvold, a graduate of the Yale School of Medicine, and Professor Walla Nutaf of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of the pioneer women in the National Institute of Mental Health, she became the first scientist to draw a thoroughgoing biological map of the frontal lobe.
But Goldman-Rakic is possibly best known for her research on working memory, Time said. Working memory is the place humans store things to recall over the short term, similar to a computer’s RAM. Goldman-Rakic described this as the “mental paste of cognition.”
At the moment, she is working on functional magnetic resonance imaging. She said she wants to move past laboratory work into to clinical trials of drugs that may improve mental functions and offer relief to people afflicted with schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and other disorders, Goldman-Rakic said.
Pre-clinical findings are looking “very promising,” she added.
According to Time, through her work, Goldman-Rakic has opened the door to a whole new world for others to explore, and she has drawn much respect for her efforts to reconcile biology and psychology.
But professional success comes at a price — her life outside the lab is virtually nonexistent, Time said.
“My life is devoted to science,” she told Time.
Goldman-Rakic said she felt honored about the recognition.
“There are many, many people who are eligible for this kind of recognition,” she said. “I feel lucky to have been selected. Science is a collective enterprise and no single person achieves much without building on what others have done before them.”
She also acknowledged she received help from colleagues and students.
Besides being recognized by Time and CNN, Goldman-Rakic has won several prizes, including the prestigious John P. McGovern Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She lectures throughout the United States and Europe, and has written over 280 papers in distinguished journals such as Science and Nature.