Complex - Intelligent - Interconnected
Fundamental brain research in practice
The Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Göttingen celebrates its 10-year anniversary with state Minister for Science Dr. Gabriele Heinen-Kljajić
On Wednesday, February 10th 2016, Lower Saxony’s Minister of Science and Culture, Dr. Gabriele Heinen-Kljajić, spoke at 10 years celebration of the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience (BCCN) Göttingen. To mark the anniversary Heinen-Kljajić said: “The BCCN is an important pillar of science in Lower Saxony. It has grown and become a leading center for the study of biological network dynamics in Germany."
During a press tour before the event (16:30), the Minister surveyed examples of the innovative fundamental research of the center as well novel medical and robotic technological applications generated in recent years. Among others, she met a patient demonstrating an adaptive control prosthetic hand and Amos - a six-legged walking robot that is able to autonomously overcome obstacles. Already for over 10 years, the Göttingen Bernstein Center unites research groups across academic disciplines with the aim of discovering how the brain works. Computational Neuroscience is a young field of research that examines the dynamics and adaptability of the nervous system using mathematical models and computer simulations in conjunction with cutting edge experiments. In the Göttingen Bernstein Center, researchers from three Göttingen Max Planck Institutes, MPI Dynamics and Self-Organization, MPI Experimental Medicine and MPI Biophysical Chemistry, the University faculties of physics, biology, medicine and mathematics, the German Primate Center and rehabilitation technology world leader Otto Bock HealthCare GmbH collaborate.
Understanding the brain - From the molecular level to complex actions
Our brain is extremely flexible. With each new experience, it changes and thus responds to the next situation a little different. Every perception and every action plan is encrypted in the brain in complex spatial and temporal patterns of neuronal activity. Each thought, each image and each memory involves a distributed network of brain regions.
How networked structures of the nervous system, such as brain regions, neurons or molecules, cooperate to generate the cognitive power of the brain? How does the adaptivity of the brain depend on the interactions among its parts?
These are the questions of the theoretical neuroscientists at the Bernstein Center Göttingen.
To decipher cooperative mechanisms in particular, they examine brain dynamics from the molecular level, to the interplay of the individual cells, and to the interactions of distinct brain regions during complex actions.
From research to application - Neuroprosthetics bring huge relief to patients
At the Göttingen Bernstein Center scientists also use new experimental methods which allow the activity of a large number of nerve cells to be measured simultaneously and very precisely. The resulting highly complex data sets, are then analyzed using nonlinear dynamics and statistical physics methods. "Applying methods of nonlinear dynamics and theoretical physics to question in of neuroscience is proving to be very productive." explains Prof. Dr. Fred Wolf, head of the Bernstein Center Göttingen and of the Research Group "Theoretical Neurophysics" at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization.
"Our research paves the way for applications in the medical field, for example in the development of prostheses with adaptive interfaces and normal, flexible type of robotics."
Some projects of Göttingen Bernstein researchers have, for instance, led to the development of robotic systems, such as the KUKA robot arm that mimics human handwriting, and the six-legged insect-like walking robot AMOS, which can autonomously perform a wide variety of behaviors. Another field of research of the Bernstein Center Göttingen has practical applications in Neuroprosthetics. Adaptive prostheses are promising to ease the everyday life of amputees. Currently, signals from remaining muscles are read out by electromyography (EMG), subsequently processed into controlled signals for the prosthesis. This method is reliable and widely used. Many patients, however, perceive the use of such prostheses as stressful because it is not very natural or intuitive. In addition, they cannot properly sense when their prosthetic hand touches an object. The aim of ongoing research approaches at BCCN is to improve exactly these points in order to enhance the quality of life of amputees and give them back sensation and intuitive control of their hands. The new possibilities provided by such devises in everyday life were demonstrated by a patient, user of the “Michelangelo” hand prior to the ceremony.
Excellent early career support and extensive network
The Göttingen Bernstein Center provides an excellent environment for professional development of young researchers. Already for the third time, since 2006, the recipient of the Bernstein Prize, awarded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), came from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization.
With 1.25 million euros, the Bernstein Prize is one of the best endowed young investigator research prizes in the world. The Bernstein Center Göttingen was founded in 2005 by Prof. Dr. Theo Geisel, Director of the Department of Nonlinear Dynamics at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and director of the Institute for Nonlinear Dynamics of the University of Göttingen. It is a key structural element of the nationwide Bernstein Network for Computational Neuroscience. The Bernstein initiative was launched by the BMBF in 2004 and now includes more than 200 research groups. The aim of the new initiative is to establish the new research discipline in Germany. Meanwhile, the network has evolved into the largest research network in the field of computational neuroscience serves as a worldwide role model.