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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 29, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 9
Obituary: Neuroscientist Gian F. Poggio, 80, Expert in Depth Perception

Gian F. Poggio, a Johns Hopkins neuroscientist and physiologist who discovered how the brain perceives three-dimensional nerve impulses that it receives from the eyes, died Oct. 19 of Parkinson's disease in his hometown of Genoa, Italy. He was 80.

In a series of classic scientific papers from the 1960s, '70s and '80s, Poggio described the brain mechanisms that underlie visual perception of depth based on image differences between the two eyes. Due to the slightly different vantage points of the two eyes, object images are shifted in a way that depends on their relative distance. The brain takes advantage of this cue to judge depth. This kind of depth vision, known as stereopsis, is the basis for 3D movies and similar depth illusions.

Poggio's seminal work initiated an entire field of research on computational mechanisms of depth vision that is more active today than ever, and his classic papers are cited as widely now as they were 30 years ago. His work was recognized with the Lashley Prize in Neurobiology in 1989 and the Minerva Foundation's Golden Brain Award in 1996.

Charles Edward Connor, of the Department of Neuroscience, also remembers his former professor and longtime colleague for his wide-ranging interests outside of science. "His apartment was packed with books, and he was one of the best-read persons I have ever known," Connor told The Baltimore Sun. "He had a broad knowledge of history and literature. He was also an incredibly witty individual with a dry sense of humor. His medical school lectures were remarkably entertaining as well as informative." An aficionado of good wine and food, he was a longtime patron of Mastellone's Deli and Wine on Harford Road.

A 1951 graduate of the University of Genoa's medical school, Poggio pursued postdoctoral studies in neurosurgery and physiology at Johns Hopkins from 1954 to 1960, when he was appointed an assistant professor of physiology. He became a professor of physiology in 1975 and of neuroscience in 1980. He was named professor emeritus in 1993 but remained active in his laboratory for several more years. He continued his association with the Neuroscience Department until returning to Italy a few years ago.

His survivors include his brother, Alberto; a sister, Maria V.P. Rocca; four nephews; and one niece.


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