Nobel Laureate, Physiology or Medicine, 2000
Dr. Eric Richard Kandel is a psychiatrist, a neuroscientist and professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with fellow recipients Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard. His other honors include the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize, the Gairdner International Award, the Charles A. Dana Award and the Lasker Award. Kandel has been at Columbia University since 1974, and lives in New York City. Kandel has recently authored In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind (WW Norton), which chronicles his life and research. The book was awarded the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Award for Science and Technology.
He was born in 1929 in Vienna, Austria, in a middle-class Jewish family. His mother had come from Kolomyya in Eastern Poland (he used to joke “as with all bright people, my roots are in Poland”) and his father from Olesko in Western Ukraine. His parents met in Vienna and married in 1923, shortly after Hermann Kandel, Eric’s father, had established a toy store. They were a thoroughly assimilated family, which had to leave Austria after the country had been invaded/annexed by Germany in March 1938, Aryanization (Arisierung) started and attacks on Jews and Jewish property escalated. Eventually Eric and his brother Ludwig, and later their parents, succeeded in moving to the U.S.
After arriving in the United States, and settling in Brooklyn, he was tutored by his grandfather in Judaic studies, and was accepted at the Yeshivah of Flatbush, graduating in 1944. He attended Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School, a Public high school.
Dr. Kandel’s initial intellectual interests lay in the area of history, and that was his undergraduate major at Harvard University. He wrote an honors dissertation on “The Attitude Toward National Socialism of Three German Writers: Carl Zuckmayer, Hans Carossa, and Ernst Jünger.” While at Harvard, a place dominated by the work of B. F. Skinner, Kandel became interested in learning and memory. (It should be noted, however, that while Skinner championed a strict separation of psychology, as its own level of discourse, from biological considerations such as neurology, Kandel's work is essentially centered on an explication of the relationships between psychology and neurology.)
The world of neuroscience was first opened up to Dr. Kandel through his interactions with a college girlfriend, Anna Kris, whose parents were Freudian psychoanalysts. Freud, a pioneer in revealing the importance of unconscious neural processes, was at the root of Kandel's interest in the biology of motivation and unconscious and conscious memory.