Hopfield's research into the behaviour of neurons in the brain - based on the time evolution of various mathematical algorithms - led to his recent discovery of a new principle of olfaction, the way in which the brain processes smells. The well-known Hopfield model of neural processing highlighted the differences between computation in a computer and in the brain, and his early research into light-emitting diodes earned him the Buckley Prize for condensed matter physics in 1969.

The Dirac medal is awarded every year on Paul Dirac's birthday - 8 August - and is accompanied by a cash prize of $US 5000.