The Department of Neuroscience began in the late 1800s as the Department of Anatomy, one of the first departments at the School of Medicine. The emergence of neuroscience as a discipline in the middle part of the twentieth century brought an evolution to the department. In 1975, under the leadership of W. Maxwell Cowan, MD, PhD, the department was renamed the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, reflecting its reach into the neural sciences. 

Then, under the direction of Gerald Fischbach, PhD, and later, David Van Essen, PhD, the department further expanded its focus in the neurosciences, paralleling a broad interest in the discipline across Washington University and other top universities throughout the country.

In 2015 the department was renamed the Department of Neuroscience to more accurately reflect this focus.

Department heads

Robert J. Terry, MD (1871-1966). Photo: Bernard Becker Medical Library

Currently led by department head, Linda Richards, PhD, previous heads of the department have included:

  • Azad Bonni, PhD, elected to the National Academy of Medicine
  • David Van Essen, PhD, past president of the Society for Neuroscience
  • Gerald D. Fischbach, MD, who later became director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes
  • W. Maxwell Cowan, MD, DPhil, who later became vice president and chief scientific officer of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • Edward W. Dempsey, PhD, who went on to serve as dean of the School of Medicine
  • Robert J. Terry, MD, founding head