CORDIS - EU research results

Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation (ICNC)

Final Report Summary - NEURALCOMP (Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation (ICNC))

Computational neuroscience is a new research discipline that is emerging using a multi-disciplinary approach for unravelling the principles that underlie computation and information processing in the brain, and for advancing the construction of intelligent artificial devices.

The Hebrew University Interdisciplinary Centre for Neural Computation (ICNC) is the home of a world-renowned group of scientists focusing on the central questions as to 'how the brain computes'. The centre supports cutting-edge research projects on brain research and leads interactions with industry in the discussion of the implementation of research findings to real-life applications.

ICNC provides an inter-face for interactive research in neurobiology, physics and applied physics, computer science and psychophysics with the objective of increasing the understanding of how the brain works with specific focus on computational aspects of the nervous system. ICNC has 'state of the art' facilities for studying and modelling the nervous system at its different levels, from single neuron computation to signal processing in small and large cortical networks, to the system and the behavioural level.

The objectives of NEURALCOMP were:
1. to provide European visitors with opportunities to carry out research projects, which will contribute to the development of their personal research capacities;
2. to provide specialist training on NEURALCOMP facilities that are either unique in themselves or in combination or are specially adapted for work in the context of neural computation; and
3. to enhance the research and development (R&D) capacities of new and emerging groups through project work of mutual interest.

The project was very pleased to have 104 visitors (13 nationalities) from Europe visiting the ICNC at the Hebrew University during the 36 months of the project. These visitors, mostly young researchers at their PhD level or young faculty, have created tight and interactive links with their host lab at the Hebrew University. Their involvement with the Israeli PhD colleagues at the ICNC (about 100 PhD students presently), their participation in the weekly 'brain storming seminar' at the ICNC, and their contribution to the overall ICNC activities were critical indeed.

The group of European researchers worked at the ICNC labs for periods between a few days (typically for an introductory visit) to three months. Their research ranged from Parkinson (multi-unit recordings in Parkinsonian monkeys) to single cell modelling, from brain imaging (fMRI technology) to models of artificial networks and learning, from psychophysics to dyslexia to computer vision. Indeed, most of the range of research carried-out by the 24 ICNC groups was exposed to our European visitors. This is what we had hoped for, being the largest interdisciplinary centre for neural computation world-wide, where the emphasis is on a broad-range, experimental and theoretical, approach to brain research. Many of the European researchers that visited the ICNC continue to interact with their host laboratory either electronically or by actually coming for second and third visits. This is indeed a sign of a productive and lasting interaction.

The presence of the European visitors also added, in addition to direct effect on the research at the different labs, an important psychological flavour. The fact that we were so attractive to the young Europeans at these rather hard times in Israel, served as an optimistic boost to the ICNC members (faculty and students). It clearly demonstrated that deep and creative work can be performed albeit the political situation here and that the ICNC is perhaps the most attractive working environment for European researchers in the field of brain research, and in particular in the theoretical aspects of it.

There is a general consensus among the ICNC faculty that this European initiative, the Major Research Infrastructure project, is very fruitful to both sides and that we should therefore attempt to apply for an extension for the Sixth European framework (FP6).

We strongly believe that the scientific links between the ICNC and our old visitors as well as with the group of new European visitors should continue. Indeed, due to this European initiative, the ICNC has become a model (and a consultant) for several new European centres in computational neuroscience (e.g. the Gatsby Unit in London, the new centre at the Max Planck in Frankfurt, the Unit for Neurophysics at the CNRS, Paris and the several new initiative in computational neuroscience in Germany). This is an appropriate opportunity to thank the European Union for supporting this initiative.