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11th Bernstein Sparks Workshop: Naturalistic integration of information from external stimulation into the ongoing neuronal activities of the brain

October 20 - 23, 2016, Delmenhorst (near Bremen)

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Oct 20, 2016 12:00 AM to
Oct 23, 2016 12:00 AM

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In recent years, the development of functional neural prostheses has made substantial progress. In everyday medical practice, cochlear implants are used to partially restore the hearing in a large number of patients. Furthermore, the first types of retinal implants have gained medical approvals. However, in order to address an even greater number of patients, a step away from the sensory organs into the direction of the brain is necessary: the 'golden goal' is to directly stimulate visual, auditory or sensorimotor cortex; and to integrate meaningful content into the ongoing neural processing of information through this artificial interface. Succeeding with this approach would allow to develop, for example, better visual and auditory prostheses, and to provide direct haptic feedback for prosthetic arms.

11. Bernstein Sparks Workshop: Naturalistic integration of information from external stimulation into the ongoing neuronal activities of the brain

However, animal experiments showed that simple electrical microstimulation is not suitable for establishing such an interface. Cortical networks react to this kind of stimulation with an unnatural and long-lasting suppression (inhibition), which counteracts a 'natural' processing of the induced signals. As a result, electrical microstimulation is only capable of inducing spatially coarse-grained percepts without temporal structure. For example, in visual cortex such stimulation leads to perception of simple, spatially extended and blurry blobs of light (phosphenes). Despite all efforts, it was not possible to induce more natural, or even just localized and oriented edge percepts.

During this workshop we want to discuss putative solutions to this problem as well as other technologies for constructing stimulation interfaces to the brain (e.g. by optogenetic methods). Since the brute-force approach of enforcing the desired information content by electrically imprinting time-varying patterns onto a cortical layer will not work, more sophisticated paradigms will also have to take into account the intrinsic dynamics ('ongoing activity') in cortical networks: working with the brain will always be easier than working against it. Consequently, any successful attempt at building a cortical prosthesis needs a deep understanding of the networks, dynamics, and information processing in the targeted brain area. Accepting these challenges requires a multidisciplinary approach comprising experiment, simulation, and theory.

Besides these fundamental problems in the fields of neurobiology and computational neuroscience, there are also technical challenges in realizing efficient brain stimulation and in building robust, long-lasting brain implants. The constraints which need to be obeyed by engineering solutions are hereby strongly connected to the stimulation paradigms and regimes defined by neuroscientists. Thus fostering the dialogue between scientists and engineers is an important goal of this workshop.

In summary, the aim of this workshop is to identify and to discuss important steps in the fields of neurobiology, computational neuroscience and engineering, which have to be taken in order to achieve a more naturalistic integration of 'artificial' information into ongoing neural information processing, hereby focusing on the development of cortical prostheses for animal research and, ultimately, for human patients.



  • Sliman Bensmaia (Dept. of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, University of Chicago, USA)
  • Anthony Burkitt (Dept. Electrical & Electronic Engineering, School of Engineering, Melbourne, Australia)
  • Udo Ernst (Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Bremen, Germany)
  • Eduardo Fernandez Jover (Institute of Bioengineering, Universitas Miguel Hernandez, Alicante, Spain)
  • Jannis Hildebrandt (Dept. of Neuroscience, University of Oldenburg, Germany)
  • Andreas Kreiter (Brain Research Institute, University of Bremen, Germany)
  • Kristine Krug (Oxford Neuroscience, University of Oxford, GB)
  • Walter Lang (Institute for Microsensors, -actuators and -systems, University of Bremen)
  • Mikhail A. Lebedev (Duke University Medical Center, Durham, USA)
  • Thomas Lenarz (MHH, Hannover Medical School, Germany)
  • Hubert H. Lim (Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, University of Minnesota, USA)
  • Tobias Moser (Institute for Auditory Neuroscience & InnerEarLab, University Medical Center Göttingen, Germany)
  • Klaus Obermayer (Institute of Software Engineering and Theoretical Computer Science, TU Berlin)
  • Dmitry Osipov (ITEM – Institute of Electrodynamics and Microelectronics, University of Bremen)
  • Rajan Ramesh (School of Biomedical Sciences, Monash University, Australia)
  • Christopher Rozell (School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA)
  • Mohamad Sawan (Institute for Electrial Engineering, University Polytechnique, Montreal, Canada)
  • Alessandro Vato (Center for Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems, Istituto Italiano die Tecnologia, Rovereto, Italy)
  • Günther Zeck (NMI, Research group Neurochip, Tübingen, Germany)
  • Eberhart Zrenner (Institute for Ophthalmic Research, University of Tübingen, Germany)

Local Organizers

  • Udo Ernst (Bernstein Award for Computational Neuroscience 2010, Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Bremen)
  • David Rotermund (Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Bremen)


  • Andrea Huber Brösamle, Kerstin Schwarzwälder, Bernstein Coordination Site (BCOS)
  • Dorothe Poggel, Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (HWK)
  • Agnes Janßen, Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Bremen

    Institute for Advanced Study
    Lecture Hall
    Lehmkuhlenweg 4
    D-27753 Delmenhorst

    Workshop fees per person

    • For members of the Bernstein Association for Computational Neuroscience:
      • PhD students: 40 €
      • Postdocs and Professors: 80 €
    • For non-members:
      • PhD students: 60 €
      • Postdocs and Professors: 120 €

    For registration please contact Agnes Janssen (e-mail: ). Attendance of the workshop is limited. Seats will be allocated on first-come-first-served basis. Please find information on the Bernstein Association membership here.

    David Rotermund