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Virtual Writing Workshop

Let's make obstacles opportunities! In early June, nine participants of the 2019/2020 cohort joined in the first virtual writing workshop. The new format allowed for spreading the workshop over several days without the need of traveling back and forth. This way, the participants had the opportunity to apply the strategies from each day on their current manuscripts and get feedback again in the follow-up sessions.

Thanks to everybody for your engagement!

virtual writing workshop

Alumni Workshop 2020 cancelled

Due to the current situation regarding COVID-19, the Alumni Workshop 2020 had to be cancelled. We are looking for alternatives and keep you updated.

MidsummerBrains is fully virtual!

The second edition of SMARTSTART MidsummerBrains will be held as webinar series, starting in June 2020. Mark your calenders for the lectures!

To join the event, create an account here:

The password will be sent out shortly before the first event. Participation is free and open to all interested students and researchers.



SMARTSTART activities

Davide Crombie visited the Gordon Research Conference "Thalamocortical Interactions". Here is what he experienced:

"The GRC Thalamocortical Interactions Conference was an excellent experience for an early career researcher like myself. Due to the small number of highly-specialized attendees, I was in constant interaction with experts in my research sub-field. Such interactions yielded insightful feedback on the research that I've completed during the first half of my SmartStart year, which I presented in the form of a poster. I discovered that my SmartStart project fits nicely into an emerging stream of research, and is set to lead me into a PhD project rich with collaboration and interaction between experimental and theoretical research groups."

Text: Davide Crombie

New online lectures available

  There are new online lectures available in the course catalogue:

  • Full lecture series Theoretical Neuroscience I & II, held by Jochen Braun at the University of Magdeburg. The first two units are online already, all further units (30+) will be uploaded consectutively
  • Full lecture series Network Neuroscience, kindly provided by the SFB 936 "Multi-Site Communications in the Brain" at the UKE Hamburg.
  • Martin Nawrot and Sonja Grün have provided lecture recordings from the ANDA workshop 2019.

You can find the full online course material, including recordings of the MidsummerBrain series, by filtering the course catalogue by "Type: Online".


SMARTSTART MidsummerBrains 2


We are happy to announce a second round of the SMARTSTART MidsummerBrains Workshop!

Again, five experts give insights from different fields of computational neuroscience - followed by the Meet-The-Scientist BBQ.

Speakers are:

If you want to join, please send a note to

 Find out more about the event here.


SMARTSTART Alumni Workshop 2020


After four amazing years, we invite all alumni to gather in Berlin for the big SMARTSTART Alumni Workshop.

Meet-up with almost 100 SMARTSTART fellows and get insights in their research and career paths. Additionally to oral contributions, poster sessions and expert keynotes, we have some surprises or you in the program.

Participation is free of charge, non-alumni can register for the talks after July 01, 2020.

Find the full program here!

Publications in 2019

Throughout the year, the SMARTSTART fellows of the cohort 2018/2019 published several manuscripts, pre-prints and conference papers. Check out their research!

  • Fakhar, K., Gonschorek, D., Schmors, L., Bielczyk, N., 2019. Neuronal Causes and Behavioural Effects: a Review on Logical, Methodological, and Technical Issues With Respect to Causal Explanations of Behaviour in Neuroscience.
  • Liu, T., 2019. Harnessing Slow Dynamics in Neuromorphic Computation. arXiv:1905.12116 [cs, stat].
  • Román Rosón, M., Bauer, Y., Kotkat, A.H., Berens, P., Euler, T., Busse, L., 2019. Mouse dLGN Receives Functional Input from a Diverse Population of Retinal Ganglion Cells with Limited Convergence. Neuron 102, 462-476.e8.
  • State, L., Vilimelis Aceituno, P., 2019. Training Delays in Spiking Neural Networks, in: Tetko, I.V., Kůrková, V., Karpov, P., Theis, F. (Eds.), Artificial Neural Networks and Machine Learning – ICANN 2019: Theoretical Neural Computation, Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp. 713–717.
  • Wilting, J., Dehning, J., Pinheiro Neto, J., Rudelt, L., Wibral, M., Zierenberg, J., Priesemann, V., 2018. Operating in a Reverberating Regime Enables Rapid Tuning of Network States to Task Requirements. Front. Syst. Neurosci. 12.


Online lectures now available in the course catalogue

The recordings of the MidsummerBrains Colloquium are now available here. These recordings are the first online lectures available in the SMARTSTART program. You can find them in the course catalogue by filtering for course type "online". More online content will be provided in the coming months.

Kickoff for the cohort 2019/2020

The fourth SMARTSTART year started with the Kickoff on Monday, Sep 16th 2019. With 26 young scientists, this is the largest cohort since the beginning of the program!

After a general introduction on what the participants can expect in the coming year, SMARTSTART alumni Stephan Goerttler and Marita Metzler reported on their experiences and had several good tips and tricks for the new cohort. In the evening, the students proved their profound knowledge on the many disciplines of computational neuroscience in the SMARTSTART Pubquiz. The two winning groups actually had gathered more points than some of the Faculty members, as one of them confessed later.

For scientific input, Prof. Dr. Sen Cheng gave the keynote on his latest research project "Constructing scenarios of the past: A new framework in episodic memory". Prof. Dr. Thomas Wachtler from the LMU Munich and Dr. Michael Denker from the FZ Jülich were then giving a workshop on research data management, introducing also the Bernstein facility G-Node and the associated data neuroscience data repository GIN. 

We wish all participants a great year!

Students' Retreat 2019

Students of the current cohort met for a retreat weekend in July 2019 in Oberursel, close to Frankfurt.

During that weekend, several students presented their current projects in talks and during the "science speed dating". Prof. Dr. Pascal Fries from the Ernst-Strüngemann-Institute in Frankfurt gave additional, inspiring scientific input with his keynote lecture.

Beyond research, the students were discussing how sustainability can be implemented in the daily research routine, starting from the own lab to travelling to conferences.

To tackle the students' brains even more, there was a Science or Fiction PubQuiz in the evenings - with quite surprising answers sometimes.

Overall, a productive and fun weekend with happy participants!

G-Node Advanced Neural Data Analysis Course 2019

David visited the Advanced Neural Data Analysis (ANDA) Course in Jülich-Barmen. Here is what he thinks about it:

"The 18 day ANDA course started with introductions to neural data analysis. The lectures were complemented with hands-on exercises.
After a week of learning analysis methods, we applied these techniques in a data challenge project. At the end of the course we had the opportunity to use this techniques to tackle our own scientific questions. 
I would recommend this course to anyone trying to improve their skills in neural data analysis in Python."
Text: David Hain

International Interdisciplinary Computational Cognitive Science Spring School

Several attended the first iteration of the International Interdisciplinary Computational Cognitive Science Spring School (IICCSSS) which took place from March 25th to 31st in Freiburg.
It comprised three major topics: Cognitive modelling, Neural Networks and Signal Processing which themselves were split into different talks by lecturers from Germany, the UK, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands. The talks covered for example topics as Bayesian Statistics, Deep Neural Networks and the analysis of electrophysiological and EEG data.
The IICCSSS was organized by four (former) Master students who put a lot of effort and energy in the planning and implementation of the Spring School which made it a unique event. One of the organizers (Jan Kirchner) is a former SMARTSTART student.
All in all, the event was a nice mix of interesting talks and inspiring conversations in a familiar atmosphere.

Text: Judith Schepers

Interdisciplinary college 2019

 Twelve current SMARTSTART students visited the Interdisciplinary College 2019. The motto of this year's one-week spring school was "Out of your Senses - From Data to Insight". In a variety of courses we learned about how to program robots, about altered states of consciousness, responsible AI, cybernetic models of mind-wandering, deep reinforcement learning and many other topics concerning the fields of Neuroscience, Neuroinformatics, Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence. The broad scientific offer was rounded off by amazing food and a whole bunch of social activities. All in all, it was an intense week full of new impressions and meeting inspiring people.

Text: Jens-Steffen Scherer

Photo: Tianlin Liu


Midsummer Brains - Computational Neuroscience from my point of view

When? June, 24 2019

Where? BCF Werkstatt,

Hansastr. 9a, Freiburg

 Computational neuroscience is a highly interdisciplinary field ranging from mathematics, physics and engineering to biology, medicine and psychology.

Interdisciplinary collaborations have resulted in many groundbreaking innovations both in the research and application.

The basis for successful collaborations is the ability to communicate across disciplines: What projects are the others working on? Which techniques and methods are they using? How is data collected, used and stored?

In this colloquium, five experts from the SMARTSTART faculty describe their view on computational neuroscience in theory and application, and share experiences they had with interdisciplinary projects.

 Speakers are:

  • Jan Benda (Biophysicist, Neuroethology)
  • Stefan Glasauer (Engineer, Sensorimotor research)
  • Petra Ritter (Medical doctor, Brain simulation)
  • Fabian Sinz (Computer Scientist, Neuronal building blocks of intelligence)
  • Tatjana Tchumatchenko (Physicist, Theory of neural dynamics)

Discussions will continue at the Meet-the-Scientist BBQ following the lectures.

This colloquium is open for all interested students and researchers. If you are interested to participate in the colloquium, please send a short message to

Please note, these lectures will be recorded for subsequent publishing as online lecture material. The audience will not be filmed.



New course catalogue is online

The new SMARTSTART course catalogue module is online. Find your courses now!


Cosyne 2019

The annual Cosyne meeting provides an inclusive forum for the exchange of experimental and theoretical/computational approaches to problems in systems neuroscience.

In 2019, the meeting took place in Lisbon/Portugal and several SMARTSTART students took the chance to listen to inspiring talks and present their own work.

Cosyne Roxana Zeraati

Picture: Roxana Zeraati

Student activities in January

Stephan Goerttler, Steffen Scherer and Kayson Fakhar jointly visited the block course "Introduction to Computational Neuroscience".

Stephan summarized the course: In this block course we learned how to analyze and model spike trains in the retina, we looked at different single neuron models in detail and we had a first glimpse on network dynamics. The course itself was quite varied: the lectures were complemented by programming tasks, and a few seminars put the lectures into context.

New faculty members

With Peter Dayan and Li Zhaoping SMARTSTART welcomes two new high profile researchers in the faculty. Their expertise in artificial intelligence, sensory systems and decision making will be a great asset to the project.

Left: Li Zhaoping, Source: Cora Kürner / Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen, Germany Right: Peter Dayan, Source: Private

Left: Li Zhaoping, Source: Cora Kürner / Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen, Germany

Right: Peter Dayan, Source: Private

Student activities in December

  • Tianlin Liu and Lucas Rudelt attended the Cognitive Computing Conference on 18th - 20th Dec 2018 in the Herrenhausen Castle/Hannover. The conference brought together researchers from neuroscience, mathematics, machine learning, and material sciences in a single-track. The overall goal was to foster communication and collaboration between disciplines to boost the development of alternative computing theories and physical, neuromorphic computing devices.
  • Tianlin Liu co-authored a publication that has recently been accepted by NER. You can access the publication here. In this work, the researchers have sought to transfer the dynamic properties of a well-performing recurrent neural network (optimized using a digital computer) onto neuromorphic hardware that has built-in integrate-and-fire neurons.

By Tianlin Liu

Picture: Tianlin Liu

New faculty members

In 2018, these researches joint the SMARTSTART program as associated faculty members:

Welcome on board!


Kickoff for the cohort 2018/2019

The kick-off meeting on Monday, September 24, marked the beginning of the new SMARTSTART year 2018/ 2019. The one-year program offers the 22 young scientists individual training opportunities and supports them with personal travel grants to facilitate the start of their careers in computational neuroscience. The kick-off meeting was the first opportunity for the new students to get to know each other and to network with the alumni and the faculty.

In addition to a workshop on scientific writing, the meeting offered introductions to computational neuroscience. The keynote lecture "Optimal state for computations in the brain" was given by Dr. Anna Levina (Tübingen). Another highlight was the lecture "Experience-Dependent Plasticity and Cortical Network Remodeling" by Professor Stefan Rotter, head of the Bernstein Center Freiburg. Both lecturers are committed members of the SMARTSTART faculty. As the meeting took place in Berlin, most students also took the opportunity to participate in the subsequent Bernstein Conference.

We wish all students a great year!

Kick-Off Meeting 2018 in Berlin with new students and the coordinator


SMARTSTART students’ success at Interdisciplinary College 2018

SMARTSTART students participated successfully at the Spring School IC 18 "Me, myself, and I". For the past 20 years, the internationally well-established one-week spring school focuses on artificial intelligence. It attracts young scientists, who are working in cross-disciplinary fields. SMARTSTART students‘ participation rose up to a record 40 % of the current year.

Three SMARTSTART students, Steffen Schneider, Jan Kirchner and Nicolas Berberich presented posters of their research. Nicolas Berberich won the Best Poster Award with his poster on „VirtuousAI: An apprenticeship learning approach for building moral machines” (

In addition, Kirchner and Schneider offered so-called "/ik/hacks", program points in their own right, which are offered aside of the summer school’s program. Their topics were

  • Exponential First Passage Time Approximations of Neuron Model with Conductance-Based Dynamics (Jan Kirchner)
  • Introduction to Unsupervised Machine Learning (Steffen Schneider)

The SMARTSTART Faculty also participated actively. Julijana Gjorgjieva (Max-Planck Institute for Brain Science, Frankfurt und Technical University Munich TUM) gave a course „Computation in Neural Circuits” and Jutta Kretzberg (University of Oldenburg) offered another ik/hack on careers in science. Both are active mentors of the program and their courses were met with great enthusiasm and well attended by SMARTSTART  students,  naturally.

Jan Kirchner and Dominic Gonschorek were so-called “sunshines” of the spring school, i.e. they were active volunteers, who assisted lecturers by preparing the room and technical equipment.