Brain Power

An innate curiosity has fueled neuroscientist Christopher Walsh ’78’s career of discovery
by Nicole Gull McElroy ’00
Christopher Walsh ’78 found all the direction he needed when he arrived at Bucknell — and it came through two classes that appeared on his very first schedule: organic chemistry and psychology.

“Organic chemistry presented a beautiful logic,” he says. “Psychology revealed that everything uniquely human — from language to art to music to consciousness — emerges from a brain that follows chemical rules. My career has bridged those two courses from that first semester.”

Christopher Walsh '78
Photo: Katherine C. Cohen, Boston Children’s Hospital
Christopher Walsh ’78 is credited for identifying more than 40 neurological disease genes over the course of his career.
Today, Walsh is a celebrated neuroscientist who studies the genes that influence the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for functions such as memory, reasoning, personality traits and language. He serves as the chief of genetics and genomics and director of the Allen Discovery Center for Human Brain Evolution at Boston Children’s Hospital. Over the course of his career, he has identified 35 neurological disease genes. In 2022, he was awarded the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience for his work uncovering genetic mutations that can cause epilepsy and autism spectrum disorders.

Walsh is driven by an innate curiosity that compels him to continually dig deeper into his discipline. Studying the brain, he says, often feels so familiar, because he’s been doing it his entire adult life. Yet just when the work feels predictable, something miraculous emerges that he didn’t expect. “It’s endlessly fascinating,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like work.”

Walsh says every step of his academic and career journeys has been about solving a problem or exploring a curiosity. Research has always informed his path — even as a chemistry major at Bucknell. “I was co-author of two different papers at Bucknell,” he says. “That was unusual to get that kind of opportunity, but it’s what sets Bucknell apart — students having a chance to work in labs.”

Walsh says the most inspiring parts of his job are the children and families he meets. “I’m inspired by kids with all kinds of challenges, and especially by their parents,” he says. “Having a child with a cognitive disability defines their entire life and influences every decision the parents make. I’m so inspired by the people who take on that challenge in ways I’m not sure I could.”