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European Union awards Erasmus Mundus grant for Joint Doctorate Programme to the Bernstein Center Freiburg

Freiburg, 08.10.2009

The Bernstein Center Freiburg will receive funding from the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate Programme of the European Union to support its efforts in educating PhD students in the interdisciplinary field of neuroinformatics. The so-called EuroSPIN (European Study Programme in Neuroinformatics) will be carried out in collaboration with Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan in Stockholm, Sweden, the University of Edinburgh, UK, and the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, in Bangalore, India. The programme will start in 2010.

These four partners stand at the frontline in the field of neuroinformatics. Having complementary strengths, their joint doctorate programme will provide young scientists with a much more comprehensive education than any of the universities alone could offer. Each PhD candidate will pursue an interdisciplinary research project leading to a joint or double PhD degree from two of the participating universities. The time spent at partner universities – the so-called mobility periods, as well as the courses a student will take, are planned on an individual basis, depending on the particular constellation of universities involved in the PhD project. During the entire PhD period, spanning maximally four years, the student will have visited all partners during an annual workshop, where all students and most supervisors participate. Each PhD student will have one main supervisor from each of the two universities that grant the PhD degree. In addition to providing for the training within the field of neuroinformatics, all students are also offered training in secondary skills. The instruction language within the programme is English, and English scientific writing courses are offered, as are language courses in the local language of the host countries.

The objectives of EuroSPIN are twofold: Firstly, to perform top class neuroinformatics research at the interface between neuroscience and informatics, and secondly, to provide the best available training for PhD students in this field. EuroSPIN combines a unique group of neuroinformatics institutions from Europe and abroad, with worldleading researchers and highly innovative PhD programmes.

1) Top-class research:
EuroSPIN will focus its research programme on computational neuroscience, systems biology of neurons and networks of neurons, and their combination. Computational neuroscience aims to identify the computational problems that need to be solved by the brain, and to understand computational strategies and processes used by the brain. It unites experiment and theory, applying an array of advanced analysis and modelling approaches from multiple disciplines: physics, mathematics, biology, medicine, information sciences, technology, and cognitive science. Systems biology combines experiments and theory across different spatial scales (molecular, sub-cellular, cellular, and network level), utilising different computational approaches (Monte Carlo single molecule modelling, mass-action and reaction-diffusion modelling) to understand neurons as biological systems. The Stockholm group brings expertise in large-scale neural modelling; the Freiburg group has world-leading expertise in computational neuroscience and neurotechnology; the Edinburgh group specializes in neural plasticity and development; the Bangalore group performs world leading research on neural systems biology. The associated members (Nordita and Honda Research Institute Europe) enable us to extend the scope towards theoretical and applied directions, respectively. This unique constellation of strengths makes it possible to carry out research projects that span from sub-cellular mechanisms to large-scale brain theory, and from basic science to technological applications.

2) High quality multidisciplinary PhD training:
To enable PhD students to perform top-class research, PhD training in this young and dynamic discipline should take into account that neuroinformatics is inherently interdisciplinary, as it combines approaches from multiple fields, including physics, mathematics, biology, medicine, information sciences, technology, and cognitive sciences. The INCF report on Training Needs in Neuroinformatics stresses an interdisciplinary approach by giving students experience from a wide range of methodologies and lab environments. In EuroSPIN, this is implemented through the mobility periods. Researchers will be trained in such a way that that interdisciplinary collaboration is the norm, rather than the exception.

Interdisciplinary training is also highly relevant to a wide variety of careers, and is in line with current EU policy and philosophy, which stresses that researchers should be trained and prepared to enter not only the endogenous academic market, but also broader exogenous markets. Thus, we envisage that EuroSPIN students will be trained to become future leaders in research, the public sector, and industry.


Webseite des EuroSPIN-Programms:

Dr. Janina Kirsch
Bernstein Center Freiburg
Tel: (0761) 203-9575