Using experimental and theoretical approaches, his laboratory studies developmental plasticity and the dynamic changes in mature cortical networks during information processing, learning and memory. His laboratory has discovered fundamental principles by which neurons of the cerebral cortex are wired during development and change dynamically in adulthood. In one series of experiments, he “rewired” the brain to explore how the environment influences the development of cortical circuits. The retina, which normally projects to the visual cortex, was induced to project to structures that normally process hearing. Visual input altered the development of neuronal connections in the auditory cortex, thus enabling animals to use their "hearing" cortex to "see."
These findings have implications for restoring function after brain damage and for constructing neural prostheses for recovery from stroke or trauma. The Sur laboratory also studies genes involved in constructing the cerebral cortex, and the ways in which gene networks are influenced by brain activity. These studies may lead to better understanding of childhood disorders such as autism.
The Sur laboratory has also shown how neurons of the mature visual cortex alter their responses dynamically based on the configuration of visual stimuli in space and time. The laboratory studies the mechanisms by which visual neurons at the earliest stages of cortical processing are influenced not only by “bottom up” visual inputs but also in “top down” manner by mental state, including attention and expectation. These studies provide fundamental information about higher brain mechanisms, including those involved in vision, cognition, and learning.
Sur did his early schooling in Allahabad, India. He received the Bachelor of Technology degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur (IIT Kanpur) in 1974, and the Master of Science and PhD degrees in electrical engineering in 1975 and 1978, respectively, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville. After postdoctoral research at SUNY Stony Brook, he was appointed to the faculty of Yale University School of Medicine in 1983. He joined the faculty of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT in 1986. He was named full Professor in 1993, and department head in 1997.
Sur has received the Charles Judson Herrick Award from the American Association of Anatomists (1983), the A.P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship (1985), the McKnight Neuroscience Development Award (1988), the School of Science Prize for Excellence in Graduate Teaching (2000), the Distinguished Overseas Lectureship of the Australian Neuroscience Society (2000), the Sigma Xi Distinguished Lectureship (2001), and the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (2002). He has been honored at MIT with the Hans-Lukas Teuber Scholar Award in the Brain Sciences (1997) and the Sherman Fairchild Chair (1998). He has been elected to the membership of the Indian National Science Academy (1998); the Rodin Academy, Sweden (2002); the Neurosciences Research Program, USA (2003); the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2003), and the Royal Society of London (2006).