Emanuel Donchin (1935-2018)

Emanuel Donchin

Distinguished University Professor



Emanuel Donchin, Ph.D. (born 1935) passed away October 10, 2018. Dr. Donchin received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1965. Between 1965 and 1968 he was a research associate at Stanford's Department of Neurology and at the Neurobiology Branch at NASA-Ames Research Center. In 1968 he joined the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign as an Associate Professor. He remained at the UIUC till 2001, serving as head of the department between 1980 and 1994. He is currently a Professor Emeritus at the UIUC and a Professor at the University of South Florida's Department of Psychology, serving as Chair from July 2001 till August 2008. His field of professional interest is cognitive psychophysiology.


Key Words: Cognitive neuroscience, P300, dense electrode array, memory, brain computer interface

Emanuel Donchin employs Electrophysiological Neuroimaging as a tool for developing an understanding of the manner in which the Mind is implemented by the Brain. It has been known since the early years of the 20th Century that it is possible to record the electrical activity of the human brain from electrodes placed on the surface of the scalp. Research over the past five decades, involving many investigators in a widely distributed scholarly network, has shown that these potentials manifest a variety of interesting cognitive processes, including those related to attention, preparation, memory, and so on. Donchin has been particularly interested in such "event related potentials" (ERP) that are elicited by deviant events. It turns out that such events elicit a large array of specific ERP components whose exact nature depends on the nature of the deviance and its significance to the subject. The study of these deviance related events, such as the P300, the Novelty P3 or the ERN provide useful information about the operations of the brain's Executive Control System. The research program involves both explicating the functional significance of the brain activities that are manifested by the ERP components and the elucidation of their neural substrates. The problem of localizing the neural source of these potentials presented extraordinary difficulties. These difficulties are being surmounted by applying computational approaches that allow one to estimate the location, orientation, and magnitude of "equivalent" dipoles whose activity could result in the electrical activity one observes at the scalp.

The laboratory utilizes a system that allows recording EEG from 128 electrodes which we began using in 1995. The use of Dense Electrode Arrays represents a substantial increase in the resolution with which electrical brain activity can be recorded from the human scalp. Donchin and his colleagues developed methods for quantitative analysis of such Dense Array Data that utilize Principal Component Analysis for a linear decomposition of the massive data base recorded with the dense array. Research using this system is examining in detail the nature of the brain's response to novel and to rare events. With this tool, the group is also planning to return to their examination of the relationship between the distinctiveness of events and their recall. More recently the lab has examined in detail various aspects of the Error Related Negativity, and related components.

The laboratory is also continuing to develop a Brain Computer Interface, an ERP-based tool that makes it possible for severely disabled individuals to communicate with computers using the P300 as a channel of communication. A report by Farwell and Donchin (1988) demonstrated that such communication is possible. In the last few years, using a portable system developed at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, NY, we tested this BCI with numerous individuals who suffer from ALS and are therefore completely paralyzed, yet with intact cognitive and affective system. In the last couple of years we launched, in collaboration with colleagues in the College of Engineering, that is adapting the P300 based BCI to the control of robotics systems.

Over the years Donchin's work has been supported by DARPA, ONR, ARI and NIH.


CNS (Cognitive Neuroscience)


Elected member of the Society of Experimental Psychology, (1993); Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, Society for Psychophysiological Research (1994); William James Fellow, American Psychological Society (APS) (1991); Fellow, AAAS; Fellow, APA, Divisions of Experimental Psychology and of Physiological Psychology; Lady Davis Professor, the Technion, Israel (1987); Vice President, Federation of Behavioral, sychological, and Cognitive Sciences (1980-85); President, Society for Psychophysiological Research (1980).