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Psychology Prof. Jay McClelland wins $100,000 Rumelhart prize

L.A. Cicero Professor Jay McClelland

Psychology Prof. Jay McClelland is the founding director of Stanford's Center for the Mind, Brain and Computation.

Psychology Prof. Jay McClelland has been named the 10th winner of the prestigious David E. Rumelhart prize. The $100,000 prize is awarded annually to an individual or team making a significant contribution to the theoretical foundations of human cognition.

The selection was announced on July 30 at the Cognitive Science Society meeting in Amsterdam.

McClelland is the founding director of Stanford's Center for the Mind, Brain and Computation. His research focuses on cognitive neuroscience issues in learning, memory, language and cognitive development. His recent work has studied brain plasticity. He will take over as chair of the psychology department next month.

"The effort to understand the mind and brain presents one of the most exciting challenges in all of science,” he said in a 2007 Stanford interview. “To understand it, researchers from many different kinds of backgrounds need to work together."

He described his research as “understanding the computations the brain is actually carrying out, such as recognizing a face in the crowd, in spite of all the random noise and other stimuli."

"Those are hard problems—there are no machines that can look across and say, 'That's Bill Gates standing over there.' "

The award, established in 2001, is named for celebrated Stanford psychology professor David Rumelhart, who was on the Stanford faculty from 1987 to 1998 (he earned his Stanford PhD in mathematical psychology in 1967). Rumelhart made many contributions to the formal analysis of human cognition, working primarily within the frameworks of mathematical psychology, symbolic artificial intelligence, and parallel distributed processing. Now disabled by Pick's disease, a progressive neurodegenerative illness, he lives with his brother in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

McClelland worked with Rumelhart at the University of California, San Diego, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With Rumelhart, he received an American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in 1996.

“It is especially meaningful for me to receive the Rumelhart prize because I worked very closely with David for several years, and so much of what I've done since we collaborated has built on what I learned from David's outstanding example,” he said.