The Attempto Prize 2013 goes to Dr....

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The Attempto Prize 2013 goes to Dr. Thomas Baden

The Attempto Prize 2013 goes to Dr. Thomas Baden (Institute for Ophthalmic Research and Centre for Integrative Neuroscience) and Dr. Larissa Wolkenstein from the Institute for Psychology

Dr. Tom Baden
Dr. Tom Baden and Dr. Larissa Wolkenstein
The awardees with Prof. Engler and Dr. Wicker

The retina is a beautiful neural circuit, and presents a powerful model system to study many general aspects of neuronal network computation, including sampling optimization, filtering as well as compression of the incoming stream of visual information into highly selective parallel streams towards transmission to the brain.

First, the retina operates almost exclusively as a feed-forward network, receiving little or no fast feedback from the brain. Accordingly, great control can be maintained over network input (the visual stimulus) while retinal output is readily recorded in single unit or population measurements of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the retina's output neurons.

Second, the anatomical basis of the retina, particularly in mouse, is amongst the most well-described 'complete' networks in vertebrates, with ready availability of specific transgenic mouse lines and molecular markers.

Third, individual retinal microcircuits tile the retinal surface, such that the same computations are effectively performed at every retinal position - this specific organizational motif greatly reduces the parameter space that needs to be explored when aiming to complement our understanding of retinal networks using computational models.

Indeed, it is often possible to derive comparatively simple models of computations performed by individual microcircuits that capture the vast majority of the variance observed even when presenting complex visual stimuli [3-5].

Taken together, I believe that the vertebrate retina may be one of the very few model systems in neuroscience today that promises to hold a complete functional understanding within arm's reach. In my research I therefore focus on two general questions: What information about the visual scene is encoded by different retinal output channels (RGCs) and how are these channels built from the limited computational building blocks represented in inner retinal synaptic interactions?