April 8, 2016

Three further ERC Advanced Grants for IST Austria Professors

Neuroscientists Peter Jonas and Ryuichi Shigemoto as well as physicist Robert Seiringer receive grants | Already 23 ERC-funded projects at IST Austria

Three scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology (IST Austria) are to receive the prestigious Advanced Grants from the European Research Council (ERC). Neuroscientists Peter Jonas and Ryuichi Shigemoto as well as physicist Robert Seiringer secured an award each with a total value of EUR 6.65 million. IST Austria’s President Thomas Henzinger is delighted and congratulates the awardees: “ERC Advanced Grants are signs of recognition for excellent research, and I compliment Peter Jonas, Ryuichi Shigemoto, and Robert Seiringer. Jonas’ achievement is especially noteworthy as this is his second consecutive Advanced Grant. Overall, the share of ERC awardees in our faculty has now risen to over 50% with 23 ERC-funded projects.”

Second Advanced Grant for Jonas

In his project, neuroscientist Peter Jonas will address the question of how the biophysical properties of synapses shape higher brain functions up to the level of behavior. The so-called mossy fiber synapse in the hippocampus is the ideal model for his research because of its large size and experimental accessibility. The synapse is a key communication element as it is located in the center of a memory circuit. However, even its basic properties remain unknown. With his project, Jonas pursues the ambitious goal to understand the hippocampal mossy fiber synapse at all levels of complexity. To achieve this, the project will combine cutting-edge electrophysiology, imaging, optogenetics, and structural techniques. Thus, the mossy fiber synapse may become the first synapse in the history of neuroscience where we have a detailed understanding of the relation between synaptic biophysics and higher network computations.

This is already the second ERC Advanced Grant for Peter Jonas, who has been Professor at IST Austria since 2010. The first ERC Advanced Grant, awarded in 2010, was focused on the nanophysiology of fast-spiking, GABAergic interneurons. The multiple award-winning scientist is an elected member of the Academia Europaea and the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, as well as editorial board member of the influential journals Science and Neuron.

Shigemoto’s research on synaptic plasticity

In the nervous system, ligand-gated and voltage-gated channels are responsible for transforming chemical signals into electrical ones, and vice versa. These channels are composed of distinct subunits whose compositions not only affect channel properties, but also create a large diversity of synaptic functions. In his project, neuroscientist Ryuichi Shigemoto will investigate the structure of single channel subunit composition in situ. Until now, lack of high resolution methods has prevented the analysis of protein complex in intact tissue. Shigemoto will develop novel technologies to visualize subunit composition at the single channel level in individual synapses by electron microscopy, freeze-fracture replica labelling, and electron tomography; synaptic plasticity will be induced by optogenetic stimulation of identified neurons to examine subunit reorganization. His work will demonstrate unprecedented views of the subunit composition in intact tissue and provide new insights into how regulation of subunit composition contributes to synaptic plasticity and animal behavior.

Ryuichi Shigemoto has been Professor at IST Austria since 2013. He has been awarded with the ISI Citation Laureate Award and is a member of the editorial board of the renowned magazine Neuroscience.

Seiringer analyzes quantum many-body systems

Physicist Robert Seiringer will delve into the mathematical analysis of many-body quantum systems in his ERC project. The many-body theory explores properties of quantum systems that consist of a large number of interacting particles. Specifically, Seiringer will investigate ultra-cold atomic gases which currently receive a lot of attention in the research community. These gases display a rich variety of quantum phenomena, such as the aggregate condition of a system of indistinguishable particles known as Bose-Einstein condensation, or superfluidity, i.e. the total lack of internal friction in fluids. In this highly complex field, Seiringer will develop new mathematical tools in order to analyze the influence of interparticle interactions on the collective behavior of large quantum systems. Most relevant for the description of actual physical systems is the case of short-range interactions, which is mathematically much more challenging compared to mean-field type models with very long-range forces.

Robert Seiringer has been a Professor at IST Austria since 2013, and has received a large number of awards in the past, i. a. the Henri Poincaré Prize and an NSERC E.W.R. Steacie memorial Fellowship.

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