Adam Gazzaley is a neuroscientist, neurologist, inventor, author, photographer, entrepreneur and investor.
He is the founder and executive director of Neuroscape, and the David Dolby Distinguished Professor of Neurology, Physiology, and Psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
Adam is co-Founder and Chief Science Advisor of Akili Interactive, JAZZ Venture Partners, and Sensync. He is a member of the Board of Trustees and Science Council of the California Academy of Sciences. Adam has authored over 150 scientific articles and delivered over 700 talks.
Early Life and Education
Adam Gazzaley was born in New York City on December 29, 1968. He moved from Brooklyn to Queens at the age of 4, where he lived with his parents (Jack & Barbara) and two sisters (Michelle & Heather) until starting college.
By the age of seven—inspired by watching Cosmos, voracious consumption of science fiction, and frequent trips to the Museum of Natural History—he knew that he wanted to be a scientist.
At thirteen, he began daily four-hour, round-trip treks on the NYC subway between his home in southern Queens and the Bronx High School of Science. It was at sixteen when he had his first formal exposure to scientific research, while volunteering in a biophysical chemistry laboratory at Columbia Medical School.
He went on to attain a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry at Binghamton University. There he engaged in research on magnetic resonance imaging and cryopreservation, while spending summers studying spinal cord regeneration at NYU Medical School.
MD, PhD Training
From 1990 to 1998, Adam lived in Manhattan and obtained an M.D. and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. His doctoral studies focused on neurotransmitter receptor plasticity in the brain in response to aging and injury. This research earned him the prestigious 1997 Cortical Scholar Award.
Fall 1997, Adam spent an entire day during a family gathering deeply immersed in Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light, which he randomly pulled off one of the book shelves in his aunt and uncle’s home. Galen’s presentation of stunning nature photographs, coupled with enthralling descriptions of the technology, cognition, nature, and outdoor adventure that resulted in their capture, captivated him and inspired his uncle to gift him a 1968 Nikkormat to start him on his own path in nature photography.
Adam dove head first into this new found passion, which led to the creation of his first website, a photography book, gallery shows and a small business – Wanderings – to sell fine art prints of his nature images. He focused on selling prints to hospitals. In 2006, when he started his own lab at UCSF he shut down the company, but he still actively engages in nature photography and regularly posts his work on ComeWander.com.
Neurology and Postdoctoral Training
In 1998, Adam moved to Philadelphia for Medical internship and Neurology residency at the University of Pennsylvania. Following Medical Board certification in 2002, he packed up a Jeep and drove across the country to San Francisco. There he conducted postdoctoral research training in cognitive neuroscience at University of California, Berkeley, and a concurrent clinical fellowship in cognitive neurology at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
Professorship & Neuroscape
In 2005, Adam joined the faculty at UCSF as an Assistant Professor in Neurology & Physiology and launched his own cognitive neuroscience laboratory – Gazzaley Lab – as well as a functional brain imaging center, which focused on the neural mechanisms of attention and their changes in the aging brain.
In 2017, after demonstrating positive effects of a custom-designed, closed-loop video game (Neuroracer) in improving attention in older adults (cover story of Nature, Sept 2013), he evolved his lab into Neuroscape – a translational neuroscience center that designs, develops and validates novel brain assessment and enhancement technologies.
Neuroscape continues to push into new frontiers, now advancing real-time state recording via multimodal biosensing, non-invasive brain stimulation during closed-loop video game play, multi-sensory virtual reality, and most recently psychedelic research.
He is currently the David Dolby Distinguished Professor in Neurology, Physiology and Psychiatry at UCSF and the Executive Director of Neuroscape.
Sharing his research and perspectives with the public has been a major priority for Adam throughout his career.
He has filed multiple patents for his inventions, authored over 150 scientific articles, and delivered over 675 invited presentations around the world.
Adam has been consistently profiled in high-impact media, such as The New York Times, New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, TIME, Discover, Wired, PBS, NPR, CNN and Today Show.
He wrote and hosted the nationally-televised PBS special “The Distracted Mind with Dr. Adam Gazzaley”, and co-authored the 2016 MIT Press book “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World”, winner of the 2017 PROSE Award in the category of Biomedicine and Neuroscience.
He has received many awards and honors, including the 2015 Society for Neuroscience – Science Educator Award for his contributions to the public education of science.
Over the last decade, Adam has extended his scientific efforts beyond academics by engaging with industry as an entrepreneur, investor and advisor. Notably, he is the co-founder and chief science advisor of Akili Interactive, JAZZ Venture Partners and Sensync. He has also been a scientific advisor for over a dozen companies including Apple, GE, Nielsen, Deloitte, Janssen and PepsiCo.
Beyond industry, he has served as Science Board member on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, and is currently on the Science Advisory Board of AIM – Youth Mental Health and on the Board and Science Council of the California Academy of Sciences.
In May 2010, Adam stood on a stage in Boston sharing a first peek at new data showing signs of attention improvement in older adults who played his first video game creation, Neuroracer. After the talk, he met Eddie Martucci, from PureTech Ventures, who was exploring a company idea to use video game technologies as therapeutics. Over the coming months, Matt Omernick, a close friend, and creative lead at Lucas Arts, entered the mix. In 2011, they founded Akili Interactive with PureTech as lead investor.
After a decade of effort, in 2020, Akili’s EndeavorRx, a therapeutic game based on Neuroracer technology, was FDA-cleared as a prescription treatment for children with ADHD, making it the first FDA-cleared digital treatment for ADHD. This also established Adam as the inventor of the first video game ever approved by the FDA to treat any medical condition.
JAZZ Venture Partners
In March 2015, Adam entered discussions with four friends (Andrew Firlick, Zack Lynch, John Spinale, John Harris) about the promise of a newly emerging field that they envisioned would be a major part of the future. This group had recently connected to support the growth of Akili Interactive, each in their own way, but quickly saw the opportunity to foster the development of a powerful portfolio of companies using technology to enhance the human condition.
This led to the formation of JAZZ Venture Partners in late 2015, with the goal of “unlocking human potential in health, mind-body wellness, accelerated learning and training, sports, entertainment, and enterprise.”
For many years Adam envisioned creating a new type of treatment, like a massage, but one directly targeting restoration of the mind from stress and cognitive fatigue; he conceptualized this as a “deep brain massage”. With advances in virtual reality technology, he saw an opportunity to accomplish this goal by developing a unique immersive, multi-sensory, closed-loop nature experience.
In 2017, after reconnecting with long-time friend Alex Theory, and assembling a team including Jo Gazzaley, Jeff Stone and James Jensen, they launched Sensync and created the first-of-its-kind “Sensory Immersion Vessel”. Until COVID struck in 2020, this prototype was delivering Deep Brain Massages at the Four Seasons in Oahu Hawaii.
Love and Life
In 2016, after a seven year romance, Adam married Jo. Jo Gazzaley has been an close partner across the full breadth of his activities: she works at Neuroscape as a developer and project lead, is co-creator of Synapse – their Pinot Noir project, a fellow Wanderer on hundreds of nature adventurers, and an investment partner in Beehive, Supra and Flour+Water Pizzeria.
They currently live with their baby daughter in San Francisco’s Mission District.