Prof. Dr. Moritz Helmstaedter - Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prizewinner 2024

Prof. Dr. Moritz Helmstaedter

Prof. Dr. Moritz Helmstaedter

© DFG / Jenny Otto

Neurosciences, Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt am Main

Moritz Helmstaedter is awarded the Leibniz Prize for his pioneering work in the field of neuroscience, which has led to a fundamentally new understanding of the three-dimensional organisation and function of circuits in the mammalian brain. Helmstaedter has been able to develop instruments and technologies that allow systematic and at the same time high-resolution access to the densely packed neuronal networks that are found in the brain. As such, he is one of the founders of the field of connectomics, which seeks to shed light on the basic principles of brain organisation based on the reconstruction of thousands of neurons and their synaptic connections. His analyses of a dense local connectome of more than 200,000 synapses disproved decades-old assumptions about how neuronal connectivity works; as a result of his work, the research community  now assumes that the individual synapses are connected with a high degree of precision. In order to achieve this, Helmstaedter had to solve a number of methodological problems, not least that of how to prepare large tissue samples, including entire brains, in order to precisely record the neuron population contained within them. In this way he was also able to answer questions about the fundamental differences between the human brain and the brains of other mammalian species. 

Moritz Helmstaedter has been Director at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt am Main since 2014. Since 2016 he has also held the position of Associate Professor for Neuronal Networks at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. He previously declined calls to Janelia Research Campus in Virginia (USA) and ETH Zurich. Having originally gained a degree in physics and qualifying as a medical doctor, Helmstaedter completed his doctorate at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg. He was awarded the Max Planck Society’s Otto Hahn Medal in 2009 and in 2013 gave the Bernhard Katz Lecture, which promotes relations between Israel and German in the field of the neurosciences.


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