Skip to main content

Thompson to Join National Science Board

The USC neuroscientist is poised to become a member of the elite body shaping the nation’s science policies.

Thompson to Join National Science Board
President George W. Bush has nominated prominent USC neuroscientist Richard Thompson to the National Science Board.

The 24-member board may be the most influential science policy group in the country, directing the National Science Foundation and advising the president and Congress on scientific and policy matters.

Thompson would be one of only five members from west of the Rockies.

The U.S. Senate is expected to confirm Thompson, holder of the William M. Keck Chair in Biological Sciences and professor of psychology and biological sciences.

Thompson, who underwent an exhaustive, six-month security screening process in advance of the nomination, was traveling when the White House announced his selection earlier this month.

“It’s a very great honor to have been appointed to the National Science Board,” Thompson wrote in an e-mail. “It is an extremely important job because it plays a key role in establishing science policy in the United States.”

Thompson, a behavioral neuroscientist, has spent nearly a half-century studying the physical basis of memory, specifically the memory involved in classical conditioning.

Made famous by Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov with his salivating dog experiments, classical conditioning theory showed that animals can be taught to anticipate a reward.

In 2002, Thompson became the first to identify and map the neural circuits involved in classical conditioning.

More generally, Thompson and others have shown that the brain saves a memory by strengthening the synapses, or connections between neurons. Neurons also create new synapses during the learning process, which Thompson defines as the creation of memory.

Last year, he published “Memory: The Key to Consciousness” (Joseph Henry Press, 2005) with longtime colleague Stephen Madigan of USC College.

“The USC community was immensely proud to have learned of Richard Thompson’s nomination to the National Science Board,” said C.L. Max Nikias, USC’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “As an exemplar of USC’s approach to aggressively exploring new scientific frontiers, professor Thompson will make invaluable contributions. He brings the perspective of a top neuroscientist who understands how cutting-edge science can best serve our nation’s immediate and long-term interests.”

Thompson also is a member of three elite scientific societies: the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.