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Udo Ernst

Bernstein Award for Computational Neuroscience, 2010

"How do factors like knowledge and context influence image processing?"

Udo Ernst investigates how the brain processes visual information. To enable us to see, the brain represents its visual environment in the form of electrical activity of nerve cells. In this process the brain doesn't create an exact copy of its environment,but the representation is rather optimized to the respective context. E.g. if we search for something specific, we mask out other things. Also, our previous knowledge influences processing of the image - shapes, that we already know are recognized much faster and incomplete outlines are completed. But how do factors like knowledge and context actually influence image processing? Udo Ernst will address this question within the framework of his Bernstein Award project by combining experiments with theoretical models.

Ernst starts out from the hypothesis, that factors like intention or image context, influence the neuronal activity at all levels of image processing. What can this influence be like? Is it a continuous neuronal signal or is a short pulse enough to move the network from one state into another in order to choose a specific processing function? Which strategies and mechanisms does the brain use to quickly adapt visual information processing to a new situation in our environment or to another behaviour? Ernst will analyze these questions using computational models of neuronal networks. The theoretical work will be complemented by experiments that will be conducted in cooperation with various research groups at the Center for Cognitive Sciences Bremen: In psychophysical experiments on human subjects, Udo Ernst will analyze, how image processing differs in different tasks. Macaques will have to solve similar tasks, while the activity of their nerve cells in the brain is measured and analyzed. Results from these studies will be integrated into computational models. A better understanding of the image processing will be applied to the development of computer based image analysis and of visual neuro prostheses.

Portrait of Udo Ernst