Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization -- Department for Nonlinear Dynamics and Network Dynamics Group
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Theoretical Neurophysics

Head of group:  Wolf, Fred 

The brains of humans and animals arguably are among the most complex systems in nature.  Understanding their operation crucially depends on the ability to analyze the cooperative dynamics of spatially distributed multi-component systems:  Even the most elementary sensory stimulus engages large ensembles of interacting nerve cells distributed throughout the brain.  The processing power of biological neuronal circuits exactly results from their collective dynamics.  In addition, complex nervous systems utilize processes of dynamical self-organization to generate and maintain their processing architecture.  The amount of information in a mammalian genome is by far insufficient to specify the wiring of biological neuronal networks in microscopic detail.  Functionally useful processing architectures are thus dynamically generated by self-organization on the level of neuronal circuits.  Ultimately, even an individual nerve cell is a complex dynamical system.  Virtually all single neuron computations critically depend on the dynamical interaction of a multitude of subcellular components such as ion channels and other interacting biological nano-structures.  It is due to this ubiquity of collective behaviors that neuroscience provides a rich source of attractive research questions for the theoretical physics of complex systems.


The Research Group Theoretical Neurophysics examines neurobiological and biophysical phenomena which require mathematical and theoretical treatment and can be approached in precise quantitative experiments.  Our work extends from the formulation of novel mathematical approaches for addressing dynamical phenomena in neuronal systems, over analysis methods for turning biological experimental observations into theoretically informative quantitative data, to the development of experimental paradigms designed to provide insight into cooperative and dynamical aspects of neuronal function.  To achieve a seamless interaction of theory and experiment, many projects are pursued in collaboration with experimental biological research groups around the world.  Three problems are at the core of our research agenda:  (1) The self-organization of neuronal circuits in the visual cortex.  In this system our analyses revealed that the architecture of biological neural networks precisely follows invariant quantitative laws.  Our mathematical theories of neuronal self-organization demonstrate that these laws are exactly predicted by a novel universality class of pattern forming dynamical systems.  (2) The dynamics of large networks of pulse-coupled neurons and its impact on the representation of sensory information.  Here the ergodic theory of network dynamical systems promises to provide a natural language that links details of the network dynamics to information preservation, decay and flux.  (3) The biophysical nature and dynamics of high-bandwidth action potential encoding.  Here we are integrating concepts from non-equilibrium statistical physics with the biophysics of membranes and ion channels.  The identification of dynamically realistic models of single neuron operations is essential for understanding collective computations in the brain.


People working in this Group:

Name Email Phone
Barbara Feulner send email   [ No phone specified
Jonas Franz send email   [+49-(0)551-5176-428
Matthias Häring send email   [+49-(0)551-5176-421
Deqing Kong send email   [ No phone specified
Nicolas Lenner send email   [+49-(0)551-5176-421
Ricardo Martins Merino send email   [+49-(0)551-3899-620
Alexander Schmidt send email   [+49-(0)551-5176-414
Julian Vogel send email   [+49-(0)551-5176-434
Fred Wolf send email   [+49-(0)551-39-26670
Wenqi Wu send email   [+49-(0)551-5176-420
Chenfei Zhang send email   [+49-(0)551-5176-415