David Hubel was a co-winner of the Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1981. His research, performed with colleague Torsten Wiesel, another Nobel co-winner in 1981, made the visual cortex the most mapped out section of the brain, and deepened understanding of how the visual system works.
Much of their work centered around a section of the visual cortex in the brain known as area 17. Using tiny electrodes, they tracked the electrical discharges that occur in individual nerve fibres and brain cells as the retina responds to light and the patterns of information are processed and passed along to the brain.
Hubel and Wiesel discovered that certain cells of area 17 in the brain respond to the stimulation of specific retinal cells in the eye. In particular, they found that cells in the cortex are specialized to respond to different types of stimulation, for example light spots or angles of a tilted line. The result was a greater understanding of how the visual system constructs complex representations of visual information from simple stimulus features.
Their work led to, among other uses, ophthalmological applications for the treatment of congenital cataracts, as well as a condition occurring in childhood known as strabismus, where one eye is unable to focus with the other because of a muscle imbalance. Their investigations were also important in the area of cortical plasticity, the ability of the brain and nervous system to change structurally and functionally as a result of input from the environment.