BGSU reserves the title of Distinguished Research Professor for select faculty members who already hold the rank of professor and have received outstanding national or international recognition through research and publication.
By those standards, the conferral of the honor Friday (May 2) upon Dr. Verner Bingman, a BGSU professor of psychology, was obviously merited, according to one of his international colleagues in neuroscience.
“I think it is fair to say that when someone is responsible for an entire field of research, they have earned the right to be recognized as a ‘Distinguished Research Professor,’” wrote Michael Colombo of the University of Otago, New Zealand, in support of Bingman’s new designation by the BGSU Board of Trustees. “Such is the case for Vern, who is responsible for launching not only the entire field of avian hippocampal research, but also the ethological/comparative approach to brain function.”
A BGSU faculty member since 1989, Bingman has studied the relationship between the brain structure called the hippocampus and spatial cognition and memory in birds. More specifically, he has addressed the importance of the hippocampus in the natural behavior of homing pigeons, which are able to return to their loft after traveling a great distance with a brain of maps and compasses to guide them.
“Before my investigations in birds began, research into hippocampal function was carried out primarily in standard laboratory animals (rats, rabbits and monkeys), and was generally intended to complement neuropsychological work in humans to better understand the relationship between human memory and the hippocampus,” Bingman explains.
His work “has offered a different perspective into the role of the hippocampus in naturally occurring spatial navigation,” he points out. It has also revealed adaptive specializations; for example, “the left and the right hippocampus appear to have evolved to process different types of information that are critical for finding one’s way about the world,” he notes.
As a result of his work, Bingman adds, “research into the cognitive neuroscience of the hippocampus expanded from a purely traditional psychological research area into the budding of a new subdiscipline” now practiced in many other laboratories worldwide.
His new title at BGSU is only the most recent of many honors for Bingman, the 10th Bowling Green faculty member to earn the Distinguished Research Professor designation since the first was named in 1986.
The Bronx, N.Y., native received an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship from then-West Germany in 1982 and, from the United Kingdom, a Leverhulme Fellowship that allowed him to serve as a visiting professor at the University of Cardiff, Wales, in 2004. In 1997, a Fulbright Fellowship took him to the University of Seville, Spain, where he was a senior lecturer and recruited a Spanish Fulbright Fellow, Juan Pedro Vargas, to come to BGSU.
His research has been funded by several agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NATO and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Those grants have approached a combined $1 million.
Bingman has given about 150 invited talks and presentations at scientific meetings, in addition to publishing more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He has also appeared in numerous media outlets—National Public Radio, BBC Radio and Italian National Television among them—discussing either his work or the work of others.
At BGSU, he was founding director of the J.P. Scott Center for Neuroscience, Mind and Behavior, in 1999, and winner of the Olscamp Research Award in 2001.
All three of Bingman’s academic degrees are in zoology, including a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1976 and master’s and doctoral degrees from the State University of New York-Albany in 1978 and 1981, respectively. He was an instructor at the University of Maryland-College Park for four years before coming to BGSU, and has taught in Austria, Italy and Costa Rica as well.