NeNa came alive again this October, embracing evolution, artificial neural networks, and brain scaling. Eighteen years in the making, the conference organized for junior scientists by junior scientists celebrated its birthday with many friendly companions: 45+ bright, young neuroscientists, Prof. Günther Palm, and brain soup master, Prof. Suzana Herculano-Houzel.

It’s amazing what can happen when you send dozens of neuroscientists into Schwabia’s enchanting Black Forest on a quest for knowledge and networking. This is the kind of rare collaborative atmosphere you can experience when you venture outside of the lab. Just bring all things necessary for an adventure: poster, presentation slides, a change of clothes, and some shisha. Prism goggles? Sure, why not!

It’s important to make learning fun, or at least learn in a fun way.  

The NeNa conference lasted only about 2.5 days, a timespan affording two nights and three days. So, really when you break it down like that, imagine how little time you have to discuss science, drink coffee, and engage in short-to-long-term memory consolidation (aka sleep).  

There was undoubtedly plenty to learn across the breadth of neuroscience presented at the conference. The talks and posters proved integrative and touched upon topics, such as connectomics, cellular functions, monkey EEG, and many others.

On the first night, Suzana Herculano gave the keynote lecture (Neuromag brought the lecture video to you: check here) on brain scaling in evolution. Her talk, reminiscent of her recently published book, The Human Advantage, also incorporated new data built upon the research established from the original ‘brain soup’ work. Overall, it was great to have her with us in the Black Forest and we definitely appreciated her flying all the way from Tennessee!


Our second keynote lecturer, Günther Palm, traveled a slightly shorter distance to reach the Schwarzwald (Black Forest). Visiting from Ulm, where he works as a Professor in the Department of Neuroinformatics, Günther partook in all of the activities, including the evening parties and a game of Cards Against Humanity. During his talk there was less tomfoolery and more emphasis on the evolution of neural networks. The talk was informative, and all of us junior neuroscientists definitely appreciated the historic view of some crucial scientific papers.

On the second day, one of Tuebingen’s alumni, Hamed Bahmani, stopped back in at NeNa to lead a discussion on entrepreneurialism and developments in digital health and neurotechnology. The discussion was a nice break away from the constant stream of academia, shifting the focus to industry and company employment after the Ph.D.

NeNa also offered workshops on Adobe Illustrator and Giving Presentations. The Illustrator workshop was led by two of the NeNa organizers, Gizem Altan and Florian Sandhäger. Polina Krivykh, a NeNa participant from Moscow State University, led the presentation workshop. An interesting suggestion made during Polina’s talk was to enter any room as if you are wearing a wet coat and when speaking in front of a large group, leave on that wet coat. If you cannot imagine the effect already, think about your posture and confidence.

For this year’s NeNa, we had quite a few junior neuroscientists coming in from Russia, even one from Belarus. We were happy to have them and hope they come again. I personally enjoyed discovering and savoring some of the most raved about chocolates from these regions.

On the last morning, we took advantage of the beautiful fall weather and combined the two final workshops into one event. It started out with a meandering hike led by our friend Mike Paolillo, and eventually this path brought us to a prism adaptation experiment. This activity, organized by Gizem Altan and Katrina Quinn, proved to be quite interesting. We worked on our underhand shots while wearing the most fashionable of goggles. It was great that we were able to model the stylish eyewear and experience the prism vision effect first-hand.

As NeNa turned 18 this year, we celebrated with good spirits and embraced a new coming of age. At the end of the conference, participants had the chance to vote for the best poster and talk. This year there was a tie for best talk. Florian Sandhäger for his talk on LFP, EEG and MEG and John Dorsch for his talk on the Ganzfeld Effect. Gizem Altan received the poster award for her work on real and implied motion.

Overall, NeNa is no stranger to change and neither am I. After helping to organize NeNa for 4 years in a row, I can already tell she will have a bright future. Certainly, I look forward to what next year’s organizing committee has in store for us all!


Renée Hartig graduated from the Neural and Behavioral Neuroscience Masters Program ’15. She is currently a GTC doctoral student in the Laboratory of Functional and Comparative Neuroanatomy in the lab of Dr. Henry Evrard.


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