Back to the future

Back to the future

Memory of personal experiences shapes who we are and guides how we behave. As time elapses, we are able to capture individual moments, group and save them as an interconnected stream of events – a memory episode. In a sense, memory acts like a video recorder. Yet, the neuronal mechanisms that encode and store everyday experience into memory are still largely unknown. Yingxue Wang's privately supported Research Group tackles the question, how information is processed in the hippocampus, when our brain integrates the past with the future in the present.

Private endowments and donations enable the Max Planck Society to respond quickly and flexibly when competing for the best minds. One example of increased flexibility through private funding is the joint financing of Yingxue Wang's Free Floater Research Group established in 2018 at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in Jupiter.

Free Floater Research Groups, initially limited to five years, are integrated scientifically into an Institute and make use of its infrastructure, but have their own human and material resources. The call for proposal for these groups is open to all topics and announced centrally. After passing the rigorous selection process, the groups are assigned to the Max Planck Institute that suits best both thematically and structurally, and is able to offer the relevant capacities.

Electrical engineer Dr. Yingxue Wang applied successfully in 2017. In 2018, she started her research at the MPI in Florida on the question of how the brain manages to connect the past with the future. The integration of past and future into the present requires information processed in the hippocampus – something that is still not well understood.

Being equipped with state-of-the-art electrophysiological and imaging facilities, the Florida-based Institute is the ideal location for this research group. However, personnel costs in the US are higher than in Germany and additional equipment had to be purchased for this special research topic that exceeded the budget of a conventional research group. Max Planck Foundation covered the extra costs of approximately one and a half million US dollars for the duration of the research group’s five year duration.

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