Gerald Westheimer

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Gerald Westheimer
Gerald Westheimer (1924 - ).jpg
Gerald Westheimer about 1970
Born(1924-05-13)13 May 1924
Berlin, Germany
NationalityAustralian and American
OrganizationUniversity of California, Berkeley

Gerald Westheimer AM FRS (born 13 May 1924) is an Australian scientist at University of California, Berkeley researching the eye, its optics, and how we see details in space and in three dimensions.

Life and career[edit]

Westheimer was born on 13 May 1924 in Berlin into an observant Jewish family—long settled in Germany and traced back at least Joseph Aaron Westheimer who had been born in 1768 in Menzingen, Baden (Joseph was granted special residential status as a "protected Jew".) Westheimer is the younger of two sons. In 1938, state-sanctioned attacks against Jews in Nazi Germany prompted the family to emigrate to Australia, settling in Sydney.

Shortly after arriving in Sydney, Westheimer completed high-school by self-study and enrolled in the professional Optometry program at the Sydney Technical College,[1] from which he graduated with honours and the College Medal in 1943. While practising optometry he pursued further study, leading to a BSc in mathematics and physiology from Sydney University and submission of a thesis for the Fellowship of the Sydney Technical College.

In 1951, Westheimer went to the US, first as a graduate student at Ohio State University (PhD, Physics-Physiological Optics) with Glenn A. Fry, influenced by Paul Fitts,[1] and then in various professorial ranks in optometry schools of the University of Houston, Ohio State and University of California, Berkeley, interrupted by post-doctoral studies at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole and at the Physiological Laboratory of the University of Cambridge. In 1960, he was appointed as an associate professor at the School of Optometry at Berkeley, becoming professor in 1963. In 1967, he joined Berkeley's Department of Physiology-Anatomy, later merged into the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, in which he established and headed the Division of Neurobiology until becoming professor in the Graduate School in 1994. Since 1994 he has also been a member of the adjunct faculty of the Laboratory of Neurobiology of Rockefeller University in New York.

Westheimer never relinquished the Australian citizenship gained by naturalisation. Appointment to membership in the Order of Australia in 2009 recognised his continued identification with the country that provided refuge from the holocaust.

Appreciations of Gerald Westheimer's scientific and academic contributions have appeared at various stages of his career.[2] [3] [4] [5] [6] In addition there is an autobiographical sketch.[7]


Even as a boy, Westheimer was interested in astronomy, optics, and the eye.[1] He pursued these interests, mainly in human vision, in his long research career.

As of May 2014, Westheimer has published over 200 scientific papers. He has an h-index, based on Web of Science, of 39. Publications include:

  • Westheimer, G. (1957). Kinematics of the eye. Journal of the Optical Society of America, 47, 967–974.
  • Westheimer, G. (1960), Modulation thresholds for sinusoidal light distribution on the retina. Journal of Physiology, 152, 67–74.
  • Westheimer, G., & Campbell, F. W. (1962). Light distribution in the image formed by the living human eye. Journal of the Optical Society of America, 52, 1040–1045.
  • Westheimer, G. (1965). Spatial interaction in the human retina during scotopic vision. Journal of Physiology, 181, 881–894.
  • Westheimer, G. (1966). The Maxwellian view. Vision Research, 6, 669–682.
  • Westheimer, G. (1967). Spatial interaction in human cone vision. Journal of Physiology, 190, 139–154.
  • Westheimer, G. (1975). Visual acuity and hyperacuity. Investigative Ophthalmology, 14, 570–572.
  • Gilbert, C., Ito, M., Kapadia, M., & Westheimer, G. (2000 ). Interactions between attention, context and learning in primary visual cortex. Vision Research, 40, 1217–1226.
  • Westheimer, G. (2005). The resolving power of the eye. Vision Research, 45, 945–947.

Music and Philanthropy[edit]

Gerald Westheimer is an accomplished recreational violinist [8] and has donated a number of fine 19th-century violins to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, along with an endowment for their upkeep. According to Westheimer, the purpose of this collection is to “enable talented young Australian artists studying at the Conservatorium to perfect their performance skills on high quality instruments”.[9]


1978 Tillyer Medal, Optical Society of America
1979 Proctor Medal, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO)
1984 Fellow, Royal Society of London
1986 von Sallman International Prize in Vision and Ophthalmology, Columbia University
1986 C.F. Prentice Medal, American Academy of Optometry
1988 Bicentennial Medal, Australian Optometric Association
1992 Ferrier Lecture, Royal Society of London
1994 Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2010 Barry Collin Research Medal, Optometrists Association of Australia

2021 Ken Nakayama Medal for Excellence in Vision Science
Honorary Doctorates in Science and Medicine
Order of Australia, member of General Division


  1. ^ a b c University of California Berkeley Emeriti Association’s Legacy Project. (2021). Gerald Westheimer [Video]. YouTube.
  2. ^ Alpern M. 1978 Presentation of the Proctor Medal For Research in Vision and Ophthalmology to Gerald Westheimer. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 18(9):883-92
  3. ^ McKee SP, 1989 Introduction to "Optics, Physiology and Vision. A Festschrift honoring Professor Gerald Westheimer on his 65th birthday". Vision Research 30:1529–1537
  4. ^ Mitchell DE.2001 Professor Gerald Westheimer FRS Australian optometry's pre-eminent vision scientist. Clin Exp Optom. 84(5):296–300
  5. ^ Polse KA. 2007 Gerald Westheimer: a paradigm for excellence in vision science research. Interview by Kenneth A. Polse. Optom Vis Sci. 84(9):829-38.
  6. ^ Cole BL. 2010 H Barry Collin Research Medal awarded to Gerald Westheimer FRS Clin Exp Optom 93:207–208.
  7. ^ Westheimer G. 2006 Autobiographical sketch in Squire, L. (ed) History of Neuroscience in Autobiography Vol. 5 pp. 696–729 [1]
  8. ^ Polse KA. 2007 Gerald Westheimer: a paradigm for excellence in vision science research. Interview by Kenneth A. Polse. Optom Vis Sci. 84(9):829-38.
  9. ^ Let there be music, Bright minds inspired by generosity. Sydney Annual: the 2010 report on achievement and philanthropy, University of Sydney pp6-7.

External links[edit]