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Raoul-Martin Memmesheimer

Bernstein Award for Computational Neuroscience 2014

Timing is everything

How do groups of nerve cells process information? What is the role of signals that are timed on the precise millisecond? And how can a network of nerve cells learn to produce a specific rhythm of signals? "I am interested in the temporal characteristics of electrical signals, which neurons in biological neural networks use to communicate with each other," Memmesheimer says. The physicist’s tools are theoretical models. On their basis he wants to reconstruct and understand the complex dynamics of medium-sized nerve cell networks. His research takes place in close relation to experimental science: "We incorporate biological data in our network models," he describes, "and our theoretical models make concrete predictions, which are then investigated in real neural populations by experimental neuroscientists."

In his previous work, Memmesheimer for instance assessed the situation when several signals that arrive at a nerve cell at the same time can lead to a strong signal enhancement. The impact of this effect on the dynamics of a network is difficult to examine in living systems. Using his models, the neuroscientist revealed that the effect leads to characteristic rhythmic oscillations in the network. Subsequently, he learned: these rhythms actually exist in the hippocampus, the "memory center" of the brain.

With the investigation of neural networks — comprising some hundreds to thousands of neurons —Memmesheimer wants to contribute to closing the knowledge gap between the relatively well examined level of individual nerve cells and whole brain areas. On the one hand, this will help to understand the link between individual neurons and the entire brain’s activity. On the other hand, Memmesheimer’s findings facilitate artificial intelligence research. In the long term, he wants to develop highly biologically inspired algorithms that can recognize and predict temporal patterns. "This could be used to design even more sophisticated robots," says the brain scientist. He plans to pursue the questions of the brain’s temporal network dynamics at Göttingen University, where he wants to collaborate with scientists at the Bernstein Center and the Bernstein Focus Neurotechnology.


Awardee:

Dr. Raoul-Martin Memmesheimer
Assistenzprofessor

Department for Neuroinformatics
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior
Radboud University Nijmegen
Heyendaalseweg 135
Nijmegen, Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0)24 365 2166
Email: r.memmesheimer@science.ru.nl