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Altman discovered adult neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons in the adult brain, in the 1960s. As an independent investigator at MIT, his results were largely ignored in favor Pasko Rakic's findings that neurogenesis is limited to pre-natal development. In the late 1990s, the fact that the brain can create new neurons even into adulthood was rediscovered by Elizabeth Gould in 1999, leading it to be one of the hottest fields in neuroscience. Adult neurogenesis has recently been proven to occur in the dentate gyrus, olfactory bulb and striatum through the measurement of Carbon-14--the levels of which changed during nuclear bomb testing throughout the 20th century--in postmortem human brains.
Joseph Altman continued his career at Purdue University, where he wrote several articles and books on cerebellar development. He is now retired.