Wood was a founding member of neuroscience department

David C. Wood, emeritus associate professor of neuroscience — a founding member of the department and creator of the Neuroscience Learning Lab Fund — died March 10, 2023, at 86.

Wood joined the Pitt faculty in 1969 and was among four professors recruited from psychology to form what was then the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience.

“He was one of the key members of the department,” said Stephen D. Meriney, professor and department chair.

Wood taught an important introductory course in neuroscience for undergraduates, Meriney noted: “He was a really great teacher. He was someone who was very passionate about the mechanisms behind what occurs in the nervous system. That is very technically challenging. He took a very hands-on approach. He did a lot of demonstrations and worked with the students more one on one and I think that was appreciated.”

Wood’s research focused on learning in simple pond-dwelling organisms called stentors. He studied their behavior at the molecular level of habituation (adaptation after repeated exposure to stimuli) as a foundation for understanding that process in higher animals.

Wood remained very active in teaching in later years, well past his official retirement in 2007. “His legacy was solidified when, after his retirement, he decided to donate a large sum of money to the department for the purpose of developing a teaching laboratory,” Meriney said. The department had never had a lab for teaching the basics of neuron function, and Wood also also wanted to create an opportunity for a new teaching faculty member, concentrating on the neurobiology of learning, centering around invertebrate animals.

Meriney joined the faculty in 1993 and counts Wood as a mentor: “He was a very supportive senior faculty member. He was always helping faculty get started and solve problems,” including loaning them his equipment and supplies. “He was a very interactive, friendly and supportive colleague.”

Born May 21, 1936, in Buffalo, N.Y., Wood attended Nichols School in Buffalo, Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the University of Michigan, where he earned his doctorate in psychology in 1968.

His first faculty position was at Yale, but shortly afterward he joined the psychobiology faculty at Pitt. 

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Diana Marston Wood; son Sargent Wood (Bonnie Chen), daughter Cynthia Henshaw (John Henshaw) and three grandchildren, Annemarie Wood and Gabriella and Nathaniel Henshaw.

A memorial service is being planned for the summer.

Marty Levine