Kenneth Johnson, director of the
Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain
Institute at Johns Hopkins, died May 12 of colon
cancer. He was 66.
"Ken was one of the country's leading systems
neuroscientists," said Solomon Snyder, Distinguished
Service Professor and director of the
of Neuroscience. "He revolutionized our understanding
of how the brain integrates information about touch and
related sensations. He was also a wonderful citizen of
Johns Hopkins. He will be sorely missed."
Born May 18, 1938, in Canada, Johnson was the
descendant of Icelandic immigrants. He grew up in Seattle
and did his undergraduate work at the University of
Washington. At the age of 30, after working at General
Electric for a number of years, Johnson came to Johns
Hopkins as one of the university's first graduate students
in the Biomedical Engineering program.
He completed his doctoral work in the laboratory of
Vernon Mountcastle, who last week described Johnson as "the
finest graduate student I ever had, bar none." Immediately
upon completing his doctorate in 1972, Johnson was named an
assistant professor at Johns Hopkins.
He left Baltimore to work at the University of
Melbourne with famed neuroscientist Ian Darian-Smith, who
had been in the Physiology Department at Johns Hopkins from
1969 until 1972. Johnson returned to Johns Hopkins in 1980
as an associate professor of neuroscience.
Johnson's research focused on the neural mechanisms of
tactile perception in the hand. To a great extent, he and
his colleagues were able to solve the lab's original
question of how sensory function in the human hand is
organized. The receptors and nerves responsible for form
and texture perception, motion perception and transmitted
vibration perception were defined by their studies.
In recent years, the lab's focus has been on how
tactile perception in the hand is reflected in the brain;
that is, the details of how form, texture, vibration and
motion are organized in the somatosensory cortex. To answer
these questions, his lab studied the behavior of individual
and populations of neurons.
In addition to his research, Johnson was active in
teaching and in administration as director of the
Mind/Brain Institute. He co-directed the Neurosciences
Graduate Program for a decade, greatly enhancing an already
superb program and bringing it to a position of national
leadership, according to Snyder.
"His direction of the Mind/Brain Institute was
insightful and farsighted," Snyder said. "He recruited
faculty in diverse areas and inaugurated a major
undergraduate degree-granting program in neuroscience on
the Homewood campus. Despite his many accomplishments, Ken
was at all times a modest, self-effacing individual who let
his deeds speak for themselves."
Johnson is survived by his second wife, Jennifer, and
two children from a previous marriage. His son, Myron, and
daughter, Lissa, both live in Australia.
A memorial service is being planned.