This year's Outstanding Achievement Awards from the Society of Neuroscience (SfN) will honor a group of leading researchers that includes Nicolas Brunel, Duke University professor of neurobiology and of physics. The Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience will be presented to Brunel during SfN’s annual meeting this November.
“The Society is honored to recognize this year’s awardees, whose groundbreaking research has revolutionized our understanding of the brain, from the level of the synapse to the structure and function of the cortex, shedding light on how vision, memory, perception of touch and pain, and drug addiction are organized in the brain,” SfN President Barry Everitt, said. “This exceptional group of neuroscientists has made fundamental discoveries, paved the way for new therapeutic approaches, and introduced new tools that will lay the foundation for decades of research to come.”
The Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience is given to an individual who has made a significant cumulative contribution to theoretical models or computational methods in neuroscience. Nicolas Brunel has made seminal contributions to theoretical neuroscience, ranging from synaptic plasticity and information processing at the single neuron level to the dynamics of neural networks and memory. He is a leading figure in the field, combining a rigorous mathematical approach with a wide understanding of neuroscience. Among many valuable discoveries, his research elucidated the mechanisms of persistent activity in cortical networks — thought to be the substrate of working memory — and the dynamics of networks of spiking neurons, demonstrating that inhibition dominates excitation. He also designed an innovative method to infer synaptic plasticity rules from distributions of neural responses to novel and familiar stimuli and modeled how neurons respond to noisy inputs, revealing how the firing rate depends on the statistics of the inputs. Brunel’s contributions accomplish one of the main deliverables of computational and theoretical approaches: using what is measurable (such as neural responses) to infer the organization and operation of the brain. The prize in recognition of his achievements is endowed by the Swartz Foundation and Brunel will receive a $30,000 prize.