Recognition for outstanding publications by young scientists

Young Scientist Award 2020 goes to Nikolai Hörmann and Nate Nejc Dolensek

August 04, 2021

Never before has the debate about science communication been as lively as it was over the past year. The Corona pandemic showed how valuable well-established science is, and how often it is confused with misinformation and unsubstantiated opinions for example on the internet.

Scientific research is published in peer-reviewed journals. Prior to publication in these journals, independent experts review the research results, which are thus considered scientifically sound when published. Afterwards, the results are available to the scientific community for further discussion, review and use.

Such publications are also of importance for young scientists, who can use them to build a career in research. Once a year, the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology honors the most outstanding publications by young researchers at the institute with the "Young Scientist Award". For 2020, the award, endowed with 1,000 Euros, goes to Nikolai Hörmann and Nate Nejc Dolensek.

The awarded authors and their publications 

Nikolai Hörmann

Nikolai Hörmann investigates the development of the neurons that are the first to perceive motion in the fly's visual system. These neurons come in four subtypes, each of which responds to motion in one of the basic directions: to the right, left, up or down. To achieve this task, each subtype points its cell extensions in a specific direction, which is already determined when the neurons are born. Yet, how do they know where to grow? 

To get to the bottom of this question, Nikolai Hörmann used so-called single-cell RNA sequencing to study the cells at each developmental stage. He found out that the different subtypes could be well classified early on. By analyzing the complex dataset, Nikolai Hörmann has since found a number of downstream effector genes that are expressed specifically in the different subtypes. Further experiments on these genes will help identify the receptors that ultimately lead to the directed growth of the cell extensions. 

Nikolai Hörmann studied biochemistry at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich. He conducted the research for his master's thesis in Alexander Borst's department "Circuits - Information - Models" at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology. Subsequently, he started his research there in 2017 for his PhD thesis, which he is currently working on.

Nate Nejc Dolensek

How do emotions actually arise? Nate Nejc Dolensek devoted his doctoral thesis to these fascinating and scarcely investigated brain processes. To this day, there is a controversy in the field of affective neuroscience about how best to approach the study of these "hidden" inner states. In his doctoral thesis, Nate Nejc Dolensek developed a machine vision and machine learning approach to classify and measure facial expressions in mice. He thus discovered that facial expressions in mice are an innate and sensitive reflection of their internal and subjective emotional state. 

The facial expressions of mice
The face of a mouse reveals its emotions. Similar to humans, the face of a mouse looks completely different when it tastes something sweet or bitter, or when it becomes anxious. With this new possibility to render the emotions of mice measurable, neurobiologists can now investigate the basic mechanisms of how emotions are generated and processed in the brain.

Further information on the award-winning publication more

Nate Nejc Dolensek studied psychology at the University of Groningen and social neuroscience at the University Utrecht. Since 2016, he is working on his PhD in Nadine Gogolla's Max Planck Research Group "Circuits of Emotion" at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology. 


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