Doris Tsao

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Doris Tsao
Alma materCalifornia Institute of Technology
Harvard University
Known forvisual perception
Scientific career
Visual perception
ThesisStereopsis (2002)
Doctoral advisorMargaret Livingstone

Doris Ying Tsao is an American systems neuroscientist and professor of biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She was formerly on the faculty at the California Institute of Technology. She is recognized for pioneering the use of fMRI with single-unit electrophysiological recordings and for discovering the macaque face patch system for face perception. She is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the director of the T&C Chen Center for Systems Neuroscience.[2] She won a MacArthur "Genius" fellowship in 2018.[3] Tsao was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2020.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Tsao was born in Changzhou, China before her family immigrated to the United States when she was four.[5] She grew up in College Park, Maryland and attended Springbrook High School.[6] Her interest in science and in visual neuroscience in particular was inspired by her father, a machine vision researcher.[7] She completed her B.S. in biology and mathematics in just three years at Caltech in 1996.[8] She then worked with Margaret Livingstone at the Harvard Medical School, where she received her PhD in 2002 and continued to work as a postdoctoral fellow.[8] In 2004 she received the Sofia Kovalevskaya Award from the Humboldt Foundation, which allowed her to start her own independent research group at the University of Bremen in Germany in 2006.[9] In 2009 she joined the faculty at Caltech.[10]

Career and research[edit]

As a PhD student working with Margaret Livingstone, Tsao began by studying stereopsis in macaques using single-unit electrophysiological recordings. She then became interested in using fMRI, a technique usually used to visualize the activity of brain areas in humans, to image brain regions in macaques. She collaborated with Roger Tootell to use fMRI to image brain regions involved in depth perception, and then collaborated with Winrich Freiwald, a postdoctoral fellow working with Nancy Kanwisher at MIT, to combine single-unit electrophysiology with fMRI to study face perception in macaques.[9] Similar to the fusiform face area identified in humans with, they discovered a series of small brain areas, referred to as the macaque face patch system,[11] that contain neurons which are selectively activated by faces.[12][13][14] Tsao and her lab have continued to make significant advances in understanding the specific facial features that cause neurons in these face patches to be activated.[15] In 2017, her lab "cracked the code" of how our brains recognize faces,[16] identifying the feature dimensions that cause face-selective neurons in different face patches of the IT cortex to respond to faces. Thus, the images of faces presented to the monkeys could be precisely reconstructed from face-selective neurons' activity.[17]

Tsao was named in MIT Technology Review's TR35 list in 2007.[18] She is serving on the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (BRAIN Initiative Working Group 2.0) established in 2018, the group that advises on allocation of $1.511 billion toward neuroscience research.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Global Award - Eppendorf Corporate".
  2. ^ Svitil, Kathy (6 December 2016). "Caltech and the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute Launch Major Neuroscience Initiative". California Institute of Technology.
  3. ^ Healy, Melissa (October 4, 2018). "How does the brain see? MacArthur fellow Doris Tsao says the answer will reveal how the brain works". Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ "2020 NAS Election".
  5. ^ "Doris Tsao – tsaolab". Retrieved 2019-09-07.
  6. ^ "National Merit Semifinalists". Washington Post. 24 September 1992.
  7. ^ "Doris Tsao, a Caltech Neuroscientist, Aims to Decode the Whole Brain". Caltech Campaign. Retrieved 2019-09-07.
  8. ^ a b Tsao, Doris (2006-10-06). "Eppendorf 2006 Grand Prize Winner". Science. 314 (5796): 72–73. doi:10.1126/science.314.5796.73. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 17023645.
  9. ^ a b "Doris Tsao: A real visionary". The Scientist Magazine®. Retrieved 2019-09-07.
  10. ^ "Doris Tsao - Simons Foundation". Simons Foundation. 14 October 2014. Retrieved 15 February 2018.
  11. ^ TEDx Talks (2013-02-01), You Look Familiar: Unearthing the Face Within: Doris Tsao at TEDxCaltech, retrieved 2017-06-06
  12. ^ "2014: Tsao". The Golden Brains. Minerva Foundation. November 2014. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  13. ^ Tsao, Doris Y.; Freiwald, Winrich A.; Knutsen, Tamara A.; Mandeville, Joseph B.; Tootell, Roger B. H. (September 2003). "Faces and objects in macaque cerebral cortex". Nature Neuroscience. 6 (9): 989–995. doi:10.1038/nn1111. ISSN 1097-6256. PMC 8117179. PMID 12925854. S2CID 549696.
  14. ^ Tsao, Doris Y.; Freiwald, Winrich A.; Tootell, Roger B. H.; Livingstone, Margaret S. (2006-02-03). "A Cortical Region Consisting Entirely of Face-Selective Cells". Science. 311 (5761): 670–674. Bibcode:2006Sci...311..670T. doi:10.1126/science.1119983. ISSN 0036-8075. PMC 2678572. PMID 16456083.
  15. ^ "Doris Tsao - MacArthur Foundation". Retrieved 2019-09-07.
  16. ^ Sheikh, Knvul. "How We Save Face--Researchers Crack the Brain's Facial-Recognition Code". Scientific American. Retrieved 2019-09-07.
  17. ^ Chang, Le; Tsao, Doris Y. (2017-06-01). "The Code for Facial Identity in the Primate Brain". Cell. 169 (6): 1013–1028.e14. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2017.05.011. ISSN 0092-8674. PMC 8088389. PMID 28575666.
  18. ^ Singer, Emily (2007). "Innovator Under 35: Doris Tsao, 31". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  19. ^ "Advisory Committee to the NIH Director - Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) - National Institutes of Health (NIH)". Retrieved 2018-04-27.

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