Document Actions

You are here: Home / The Network / Network Partners / Bernstein Award / Tim Vogels

Tim Vogels

Bernstein Award for Computational Neuroscience, 2012

"What makes our brains so flexible"

How is it possible that, in the continuous stream of sensory information constantly bombarding us, we can flexibly direct our attention to one out of many information sources and neglect everything else? Just imagine a big orchestra, with almost a hundred musicians. In the middle of a piece, we can specifically focus our attention on the tuba, without letting ourselves be distracted by the first violinist’s virtuosic solo. And just a moment later, we can listen to the oboe.

This flexibility and the brain mechanisms on which it is based are the subjects of Tim Vogels' research. His tools are theoretical models. With their help, he is able to simulate neural networks in a computer and use them as virtual "guinea pigs" to formulate new hypotheses, which, in turn, can provide testable predictions for neurobiological experiments. He is interested both in slow changes that are typically associated with learning processes as well as in very short-term changes that allow us to quickly change our focus of attention.

Vogels’ previous research has already provided a basis for exploring these questions. Thanks to Vogels’ and others’ models, we know today that the neural networks in the brain maintain their sensitive balance by a well-tuned combination of excitatory and inhibitory stimuli. Vogels believes that this is the key to the flexible switching mechanisms in the brain. "I imagine that excitatory stimuli and their inhibitory counterparts interact with each other like guest and doorman," said Vogels. "The qualities of both will determine the decision of which guest – which environmental stimulus – is allowed to pass and which not. But also additional external factors may play a role, such as, metaphorically speaking, whether the establishment is full already, or how many friends the guest is bringing along."

Tim Vogel has pursued a career opportunity outside Germany after receiving the Bernstein Award. Since he cannot use the BMBF funding abroad, the Bernstein Award 2012 was subsequently awarded to Ilka Diester.