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Thomas Brandt

Bernstein Center Munich,
Ludwig Maximilians University Munich

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To preserve creative minds in the field of neurosciences after the age of retirement, the Hertie-Foundation has established the “Senior-Forschungsprofessur” (Senior Research Professorship). Thomas Brandt, 63, Director of the Neurological Department at the University Hospital Großhadern in Munich and member of the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, is the first laureate. The award was presented by Annette Schavan, Federal Minister of Education and Research, at the award ceremony at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich on July 15, 2006.

The “Hertie-Senior-Forschungsprofessur” is an unprecedented funding measure which will serve as a model and trigger a debate which is long overdue, regarding the demographic structure of our society. How do we handle the capacity and experience of scientists above the age of 65 in Germany? Is a civil service law, which impedes research activity above this age, still appropriate? Composers, poets, painters – effectively all people in creative professions continue to be inventive and productive until high age. But this privilege is refused to scientists, who need to be affiliated to a university to continue their career. They will take all their experience with them into retirement or emigrate to foreign countries, where thy can continue their research.

The goal of the Hertie-Senior-Forschungsprofessur is to preserve the potential of researchers approaching retirement for a longer period of time. The laureate is obliged to retract from all non-honorary responsibilities to fully concentrate on research tasks. Thereby, the former professor position is liberated for young scientific staff.

The research professorship is not only a model in funding policies; it is an honor in the very first place. Brandt belongs to the leading scientists worldwide in the field of balance disorders. He has investigated the causes of the Benign Paroxysomal Positional Vertigo, the most prevalent balance disorder, and developed therapeutic measures. In addition, Brandt was the first to describe the Phobic Postural Vertigo, the second most prevalent balance disorder.

Using imaging techniques to visualize brain activity, Brandt investigated how the vestibular and the visual system are adjusted to each other. In order to keep a clear vision even if our head is moving, our brain compensates every movement of the head with an eye movement in the opposite direction – if the head turns right, the eyes automatically move left. How this works, why a disturbance of this interplay on a swaying boat leads to motion sickness, or why one has the illusion to move when observing a moving train are also questions addressed by Brandt‘s research.

Investigating the mechanisms of eye movement also brought Brandt to the idea of developing, together with a team of engineers, a head mounted camera which is controlled by the eye movements of its carrier, so that it records from his perspective. Compensatory eye movements prevent image blurring and shaking, even if the carrier moves his head.

For the Hertie-Senior-Forschungsprofessur, Brandt will resign from his position as director of the Neurological Department at the University Hospital, giving up the extra income through payments of privately insured patients. To him, this tradeoff is worthwhile. “I can achieve more in research,” says Brandt, “my research group is not destined to break up. In contrast, we will continue in 2007 with new drive.” Brandt can now rid the bonds of administrative work and can fully concentrate on his creative potential.


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Prof. Dr. med. Dr. h.c. Thomas Brandt

Gemeinnützige Hertie-Stiftung

Neurologische Klinik, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Klinikum Großhadern
Marchioninistr. 15
81377 München
Telefon: ++ 49 89 7095 2571

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