[visionlist] William (Bill) Russell Levick, 1931 - 2022

Thibos, Larry thibos at indiana.edu
Tue May 10 11:27:11 -04 2022

I was one of those fortunate people who had an opportunity to experience life as a visual neurophysiologist with Bill Levick for 8 wonderful years at the Australian National University in Canberra (1975-83).  Bill was a master of extracellular recordings of individual retinal ganglion cells and optic nerve fibers.  It was painstaking work to methodically characterize the visual behavior, axonal conduction velocity, and central projection of large populations of individual cells necessary to develop the modern concept of parallel visual pathways.  Yet that was how it was accomplished, one cell at a time, by dedicated scientists like Bill Levick and his contemporaries.

In those days, Principal Investigators at the John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU were expected to devote themselves full-time to experimental work, with generous institutional support eliminating the need to teach or apply for external grants.  As a young post-doc, I benefitted greatly from that extraordinary environment because it meant that I had Bill’s full attention as a mentor and senior teammate for all of our laboratory experiments. Bill taught me the empirical methodology of mammalian neuroscience, how to think about the link between structure & function, and how to envision neural processing of the retinal image by intermingled populations of retinal neurons with specialized features needed for the visual tasks they support.  That experience shaped my entire career.

Bill’s professional life was a long, joyful immersion in a fascinating, scientific sea of empirical facts, compelling ideas, and lasting insights. May we all be so lucky!

Larry Thibos, Professor Emeritus
Indiana University School of Optometry
email: thibos at indiana.edu<mailto:thibos at indiana.edu>

On May 9, 2022, at 1:49 PM, Rowland Taylor <wrtaylor at berkeley.edu<mailto:wrtaylor at berkeley.edu>> wrote:

It is with great sadness that I pass on the news that Bill Levick passed away peacefully last Thursday.

Bill was a preeminent visual neuroscientist and Fellow of the Royal Society, the Australian Academy of Science, and the Optical Society of America. His analysis of the functional properties of retinal ganglion cells in the mammalian retina was highly influential and revealed the presence of complex processing at the earliest stages of visual processing. Particularly dear to my heart was his seminal work with the late Horace Barlow, carried out at the University of Cambridge and UC Berkeley, on the mechanisms of direction-selectivity in the rabbit retina.

Bill was a kind and generous spirit, a wonderful mentor, and a dear friend. He will be sorely missed by all of us who were fortunate enough to have shared part of his life journey.

Rest in peace Bill.

Rowland Taylor, Ph.D.
Herbert Wertheim School of Optometry and Vision Science & Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute,
University of California, Berkeley

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