Robert E. Hampson was born in 1959 in Centre County, Pennsylvania, USA. He has one sibling. His father was a metallurgist who worked in the jet engine repair industry, which resulted in the relocation of his family to San Antonio, Texas during his childhood. As a youth, he had an interest in science and science fiction, both of which informed his later career choices. Being surrounded by military families, and working summer internships on military bases in San Antonio would eventually contribute to his fiction writing. As an SF fan, he was intrigued by the science of “Bionics” as seen in “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Alas, the science and technology did not truly exist at the time, so it was up to Hampson and his professional colleagues to create it!
Graduating from high school at the age of 16, Robert attended then-new University of Texas in San Antonio from 1976-1979, earning a Bachelor's in Science with a majors in Biology and Chemistry at age 19. Intending to continue his education in Medical School, his young age impaired the chances of admission, so he turned to a career in research instead. A brief Master's degree study at Lehigh University (1979-1982) shaped his desire to study physiology, and he eventually entered the PhD program at Wake Forest University in 1982.
The Physiology and Pharmacology PhD program was taught in conjunction with the medical curriculum at the then-named Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest University. Thus, his graduate education mixed academic courses in Medical Science with the formal graduate Physiology classes and laboratory research. Dr. Hampson graduated in 1988 with a PhD in Physiology (Pharmacology minor) from Wake Forest.
Following graduation, Dr. Hampson stayed at Wake Forest Medical School, beginning a long career collaboration with his former mentor, Dr. Sam A. Deadwyler. For the next 28 years, their collaborative research would concentrate on understanding information encoding by neurons (brain cells) in the hippocampus when memories are stored and recalled. In the 1980's and 90's, the research focused on the effects of commonly-abused drugs on neural activity and memory encoding by the hippocampus. By the mid 1990's, they began to study the actual neural codes used to represent memory in the mammalian brain. In 1996, the Deadwyler laboratory became the first to publish a theory that memories were represented by combinations of neurons that encoded specific features of memory well before those memories were utilized, and that errors in behavioral recall of memory resulted from a failure to appropriately encode behaviorally-relevant events. In the 2000’s the focus shifted to primate memory, and the beginning of a collaboration with Dr. Theodore Berger at the University of Southern California to develop a “neural prosthetic for memory.” Notable achievements include the first demonstration of a prosthetic to restore and/or facilitate memory in rats (2011) and in primates (2012 and 2013). As an offshoot of their research, Deadwyler and Hampson were also the first to publish transfer of memory encoding between a fully trained and untrained laboratory rat (2013). In 2018, the team announced results of testing in humans. (See news release here.)
Dr. Hampson is currently a Professor in the departments of Physiology/Pharmacology and Neurology at Wake Forest School of Medicine. an Associate Editor with the Journal of Neuroscience Methods, and a frequent reviewer for scientific grants and manuscripts. In addition to the above, his research interests also include interactions of brain injury, therapeutic and space radiation and epilepsy with human memory.
Dr. Robert E. Hampson’s scientific bibliography is available here. A listing of Dr. Hampson’s past Public Outreach and Education talks is here. Links to outreach content are on the Science! Page. His laboratory website is http://hampsonlab.org.