Women in Technology Hall of Fame

Dr. Misha Mahowald

Dr. Misha Mahowald

Neuromorphic Engineer, Institute of Neuroinformatics

Inducted in 1996

Misha Mahowald was a computational neuroscientist who focused on neuromorphic engineering. She was a lead researcher on the development of the Silicon Eye—a device used to restore sight to the blind.

During her doctoral research at the California Institute of Technology, Misha, together with Carver Mead, made pioneering contributions to the emerging field of "neuromorphic" engineering—the application of analog CMOS VLSI technology to the fabrication of analog electronic circuits that emulate real, neural systems. Her doctoral thesis won the Clauser Prize, awarded for work that demonstrates the potential of new avenues of human thought and endeavor. Misha’s work received considerable acclaim, and popular scientific press and radio have featured it in several publications and broadcasts.

The fruits of this period of Misha’s work include the "Silicon Retina" (published in "Scientific American"), a solution to the problem of communication between computational elements on different neuromorphic VLSI chips—a set of neuromorphic chips able to determine the depth of an object from a binocular image. Misha also attained four patents and a book.

In 1991, she developed a "Silicon Neuron," which had electrical properties analogous to biological neurons, which scientists can use for building large, biologically realistic neural networks. This work was featured in the prestigious science journal "Nature" and formed the basis of Misha’s continued research.

She then moved to Oxford to work with Kevan Martin and Rodney Douglas on analog VLSI models of the microcircuits of the visual cortex. They moved to Zurich to establish the Institut für Neuroinformatik, intending to identify the computational principles that make the brain so formidably versatile and powerful, and attempting to embody them in a new kind of computer architecture. PBS produced a series including Misha, titled "Discovering Women," produced by Judith Vecchione of WGBH Boston.

Misha Mahowald was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1963. She graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a biology degree in 1985 and obtained her doctorate in computational neuroscience in 1992. Misha was 33 when she died in December 1996.

Mahowald Prize
Scientific American