Last week Martel Zeldin, visiting professor of chemistry and editor of Journal of Inorganic & Organometallic Polymers and Materials at HWS, took students in his first-year seminar course “The Souls of Scientists: Scientists as Writers, Artists, Musicians, and Politicians” to Cornell University to meet with Dr. Oliver Sacks, neurologist and noted author of “Awakenings” and “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.”
HWS students in the first-year seminar are studying several scientists who have made significant contributions to society in areas other than science such as Sacks.
Sacks was born in London and received his medical degree at Oxford University. In the early 1960s, he moved to the United States, where he completed an internship at the University of California-San Francisco and a residency in neurology at UCLA. Since 1965, he has lived in New York, where he is clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, adjunct professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine and a consultant neurologist to the Little Sisters of the Poor and at Beth Abraham Hospital.
When Sacks began working in 1966 as a consulting neurologist, he encountered an extraordinary group of patients, many of whom had spent decades in strange, frozen states, like human statues, unable to initiate movement. They became the subjects of his book Awakenings (1973), which later inspired a play by Harold Pinter, “A Kind of Alaska,” and the Oscar-nominated Hollywood movie “Awakenings.” Sacks gained international acclaim for his 1985 collection of intriguing neurological case histories titled “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.”
In 1989 he received a Guggenheim fellowship for his work on what he calls the “neuroanthropology” of Tourette's syndrome, a condition marked by involuntary tics and utterances. He has received numerous awards and prizes, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and his seven books have been translated into 22 languages.
Zeldin said having such a noted scientist so close to campus was an opportunity he wouldn't let his students miss.