Making learning visible

May 27, 2014

On May 28, 2014, the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research is celebrating its 100-year anniversary and the opening of its new building on campus Riedberg. The event will be inaugurated by the Managing Director at the Institute, Erin Schuman. Begin of the festive activities is 11:00 a.m.

Further speakers at the event will be the Vice President of the Max Planck Society, Herbert Jäckle, the Science Minister of Hesse, Boris Rhein, the architect of the building, Gunter Henn, and two former Institute Directors, Wolf Singer and Heinz Wässle. After the end of the official ceremony at 1:00 p.m., guests will have an opportunity to visit the building, as well as the exhibition and the Teaching Lab.

The exhibition “Minds in Motion”, which will be officially opened during the event and accessible to the public as of June 2, offers insights into the Institute’s history and provides information on women in science and Frankfurt's neuroscience research landscape around 1900. A multimedia part of the exhibit visualizes the research carried out at the Institute and shows video interviews with staff members.  

Alongside the exhibition, an anniversary book can be obtained, both in English and German, for 15 euros per copy, providing an even more detailed description of the Institute’s history.

The former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research has a varied history which is not that well known to the general public. It includes, amongst others, the Berlin founding years by the married couple Cécile and Oskar Vogt, the investigation of Lenin’s brain in the 1930s, the involvement in crimes committed by the Nazi regime, dispersal to various locations after World War II, and the structural new "rebirth" in Frankfurt-Niederrad (1963). Since 2013, the Institute has been at its new location in Frankfurt-Riedberg.

Research at the Institute - more than the sum of its part

The focus of research at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research lies in unlocking the secrets of circuits in the brain. Two scientific departments and two Independent Research Groups are currently working at the Institute.

Erin Schuman has been head of the Department of Synaptic Plasticity since 2009. She’d like to know how the junctions between neurons – the synapses – can act as autonomous units and how they are altered by experience. She is particularly interested in how cells control the quantity and distribution of proteins at the synapses.

Gilles Laurent, head of the Department of Neuronal Systems and Coding, also since 2009, focuses mainly on how the brain codes information, in other words what language it speaks. To this end, he is investigating the interconnectivity of neurons in the cerebral cortex of tortoises. The reptilian brain is thought to strongly resemble the primitive vertebrate brain before the subsequent triumphant rise of mammals. Using this relatively simply structured brain, he is able to decode important circuit patterns that also play a role in the human cerebral cortex.

Since 2013, two Research Groups have also been working alongside both of these departments at the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt. The Group led by Tatjana Tchumatchenko is reducing the bewildering complexity of the nervous system with the aid of abstract models. The enables the researchers to develop computer models that simulate and analyse specific characteristics of the systems they are studying. The Group led by Johannes Letzkus is investigating how the brain learns new things and controls its concentration. To this effect, the scientists insert genetic markers that enable them to visualise different circuit elements of the brain analogous to electronic circuits with their capacitors, resistors and diodes.


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