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Dr. Robert Schmidt identifies neural mechanisms of cognitive functions using computer models and advanced data analysis methods

Since September 2022, Robert Schmidt holds the professorship of Neural Data Science at the Faculty of Computer Science and the Institut für Neuroinformatik. His research is dedicated to the neural mechanisms of cognitive functions. In his work, he employs analysis and computational modeling techniques such as machine learning.

Due to rapid technological developments in recent years, huge amounts of data and new types of data are available in neuroscience. For example, it will soon be possible to measure the activity of not just a handful of neurons, but thousands of neurons simultaneously. In addition, new types of neural signals are available that can, for example, track the concentration of particular neurotransmitters such as dopamine spatially and temporally with great precision. With these insights into the activity of different networks in the brain, the neuronal mechanisms of cognitive functions can now be better understood.

The catch: there is a lack of mathematical models with which to process these new and huge amounts of data in a meaningful way and relate them to cognitive functions. Classical analysis methods reach their limits and do not gain any benefit from the available data. “My goal is to develop and apply modern methods for analyzing neural data and compare them with computer simulations of neural activity in order to understand the neurobiological mechanisms of motivation, memory and decision-making processes,” explains Robert Schmidt. The focus is on neuronal mechanisms in prefrontal and basal ganglia circuits and how the neuromodulator dopamine contributes. “We are developing advanced analysis methods to apply to neural and behavioral data, and combine them with computational models. In close collaboration with experimental research groups, we analyse and model large data sets of electrophysiological recordings,” Schmidt elaborates.

Schmidt studied Cognitive Science – with a semester abroad in Australia – at the University of Osnabrück, continued his studies with a Postgraduate Diploma and a Master in Neuroscience at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and received his PhD summa cum laude in 2010 at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Prior to his appointment at RUB, Schmidt also recorded research stations at the University of Michigan (USA), the Cluster of Excellence BrainLinks-BrainTools at the University of Freiburg and at the University of Sheffield (UK).