Dr. Morris Smithberg grew up in New York and received his doctoral degree in zoology from the University of Rochester. After working in a research position at Cold Springs Harbor Laboratories in Maine and as a faculty member at the University of Florida, Dr. Smithberg joined the University of Minnesota faculty in 1960. He was a faculty member in the Department of Anatomy (later Cell Biology and Neuroanatomy) until his retirement in 1987. He was the Interim Head of the Department from 1975-1977 and the Director of Graduate Studies for a number of years. During Dr. Smithberg's term of leadership the Graduate Program flourished. He was an intelligent, enthusiastic and generous leader. He taught and directed the Neuroanatomy class for medical students throughout much of his career. Dr. Smithberg was an excellent teacher. He was known for his ability to make complex anatomical concepts clear and easy to grasp, devising a number of unique props and teaching aids that graphically represented the material and delighted students. His ability to teach, coupled with his kindness and wit, made him a favorite of medical, dental, and graduate students. He received the Teacher of the Year Award on several occasions. He loved teaching and continued to teach part time in Human Neuroscience and Gross Anatomy even after his retirement in 1987. Dr. Smithberg's primary research interest was in chemically induced teratogenesis. His work helped establish the effects of methyl mercury on the development of the nervous system. For many years, Dr. Smithberg was the Editor of the journal Teratology. As a graduate advisor and mentor, Dr. Smithberg trained a number of outstanding scientists, including Drs. Robert Elde and Al Beitz who are current faculty members at the University of Minnesota.
The Morris Smithberg Memorial Prize is presented annually to the outstanding first year student in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience. The Prize is awarded to the student who has the best performance in the first year core courses and on the comprehensive written exam given at the end of the first year. The Prize is presented to the recipient before a large group of neuroscientists at a Neuroscience Colloquium each fall. The Prize includes a plaque for the student, the addition of the recipient's name to the permanent plaque on display in the lobby of the Basic Science/ Biomedical Engineering Building and $2000. The funds can be used by the recipient for any item of equipment, training or travel that will improve the recipient's graduate career.
The Graduate Program of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota expresses their profound gratitude to Dr. Jacques and Mrs. Rose Wachtel for their on-going generous support of the Morris Smithberg Prize.