Staff Profiles

David C. Van Essen, Ph.D.

Washington University School of Medicine

David Van Essen is currently Alumni Endowed Professor in the Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology at Washington University in St. Louis. He has served as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Neuroscience, founding chair of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping, and President of the Society for Neuroscience. He is a fellow of the AAAS and has received the Peter Raven Lifetime Achievement Award from the St. Louis Academy of Science and the Krieg Cortical Discoverer Award from the Cajal Club. Dr. Van Essen received his undergraduate degree in Chemistry in 1967 from Caltech and his graduate degree in neurobiology in 1971 from Harvard. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard under Drs. David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel and did additional postdoctoral work in Norway and England before returning to Caltech in 1976. For two decades (1992-2013) he served as Head of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Washington University. Dr. Van Essen is internationally known for his research on the structure, function, connectivity, and development of cerebral cortex in humans and nonhuman primates. He and his colleagues have developed powerful methods of computerized brain mapping, with a particular emphasis on surface-based visualization and analysis of cerebral cortex.  He has been a pioneer in neuroinformatics and data sharing efforts for nearly two decades. His tension-based theory of morphogenesis accounts for how and why the cortex gets its folds. He has also contributed to our understanding of the functional and hierarchical organization of primate visual cortex. He is currently Principal Investigator for the Human Connectome Project (HCP), an ambitious endeavor to map brain function and connectivity in healthy adults.  The HCP is setting new standards for sharing rich and complex neuroimaging datasets with the scientific community.