Dr. Leif Finkel, professor of bioengineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, passed away October 7 at the age of 54, following a long illness.
With expertise in neuroscience and neuroengineering, Dr. Finkel focused his attention on the computational mechanisms underlying visual perception, trying to understand how visual processes can be integrated based on cortical connectivity. He also worked on the applications of neuroengineering to disease, starting from the cellular and molecular levels to develop models of the hippocampus, striatrum and prefrontal cortex with applications to epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia.
Dr. Finkel majored in physics at the University of Maryland, graduating summa cum laude in 1976. His two graduate degrees were from Penn: an MD in 1981 and a PhD in biophysics in 1985. His advisor was Nobel Laureate and Penn graduate Dr. Gerald Edelman, who was then at the Rockefeller University and later became the founding director of the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla.
Dr. Finkel joined Rockefeller University as an assistant professor in 1985, was recruited back to Penn in 1989, tenured in 1995 and promoted to professor in 1998. At Penn, he became a strong link between engineering and numerous neuroscience researchers in the School of Medicine, with whom he collaborated widely. He built a world-class laboratory in neuroengineering, published more than 90 papers, proceedings and book chapters, gave countless lectures, mentored 17 doctoral students, 5 masters students and 6 post-doctoral fellows, and raised a large amount of grant support. SEAS Dean Eduardo Glandt said, “we have lost an extraordinary scientist, teacher and friend.”
Among Dr. Finkel’s many honors was the 1996 Faculty Recognition Award of the Institute of Neurological Sciences, which was only presented several times in the 40-year history of the Institute. It was given to him in recognition of “Contributions to developing computational neuroscience at Penn, talent and contagious enthusiasm for science, extraordinary efforts and skills as a teacher, generosity in the services of the Institute and the neuroscience community at Penn and for the overall high regard in which he is held by his colleagues.”
In 2006, he was awarded SEAS’s highest teaching honor, the S. Reid Warren, Jr. Award. Last spring, he was their recipient of the Award for Faculty Advising.
Dr. Finkel is survived by his wife, Gloria; and three sons, Jacob, Daniel and Benjamin.
A campus memorial service is being planned.