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Press release of


4th Bernstein Sparks Workshop:

Beyond Mean-Field Theory in the Neurosciences

June 3 - 5, 2015, Göttingen

A theoretical understanding of neural activity in the brain requires powerful mathematical techniques capable of handling a, nonlinear and noisy behavior. Throughout the past decades, many approaches originally developed for theoretical physics were adapted for problems in the neurosciences. Perhaps one of the most successful techniques to be refitted is the so-called mean-field theory for population dynamics pioneered by Wilson and Cowan in 1972.  The Wilson‐Cowan approach was instrumental to many key findings and predictions in computational neuroscience. Later on, the theory was extended with the inclusion of second-order statistics by van Vreeswijik and Sompolinski (1996) describing the observed irregular activity of excitatory and inhibitory neurons in cortex, so-called the balanced state.

Although adapted mean‐field approaches are successful in providing a good base for many experimental and theoretical observations, their limited “averaging” scope fails to capture many important features of populations dynamics. For instance, phenomena that include spike dependent learning rules or network dynamics driven by external stimulations remain elusive. Moreover, it is unclear what mathematical techniques are needed to address these shortcomings.

This workshop will focus on the inherent difficulties of neural population dynamics problems and newly arising research topics. The meeting aims to serve as a forum for key researchers working with mean-field approaches and/or their emerging alternatives to exchange their tools and views.

Confirmed speakers:

  • Yonatan Aljadeff (UCSD, USA)
  • Carson C. Chow (NIH, USA)
  • John Hertz (Niels Bohr Institute, Denmark)
  • Brigit Kriener (U of Texas, USA)
  • Benjamin Lindner (BCCN und HU Berlin, Germany)
  • Duane Nykamp (U of Minnesota, USA)
  • Kanaka Rajan (Princeton U, USA)
  • Alfonso Renart (Champalimaud, Portugal)
  • Yasser Roudi (Kavli Institute, Norway)
  • Wilhelm Stannat (BCCN und TU Berlin, Germany)
  • Merav Stern (Columbia U, USA)
  • Mark Timme (BCCN und MPI-DS Göttingen, Germany)
  • Jonathan Touboul (INRIA, France)
  • Carl van Vreeswijk (CNRS, France)
  • Fred Wolf (BCCN und MPI-DS Göttingen, Germany)


Attendance of the workshop is free but limited. Seats will be allocated on first-come-first-served basis. Please note that members of the Bernstein Network and the Bernstein Association will be given preference. Please register here.

Poster submissions are highly encouraged. Please submit your abstracts before April 15, 2015 here. You will be informed about your registration at the end of April 2015.

Due to the limited time and a schedule that promotes exchanges of advanced research ideas, talks are by invitation only. However, the organizers will try to allocate a few short talk slots for selected submitted abstracts.

Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization


  • Farzad Farkhooi (Institut  für  Mathematik,  Technische  Universität  Berlin  and BCCN Berlin, Germany)
  • Guillaume Lajoie (University of Washington Institute for Neuroengineering, Seattle, US and  MPI-DS & BCCN Göttingen, Göttingen,  Germany)


  • Andrea Huber Brösamle (Bernstein Coordination Site)
  • Viktoria Novak (MPI for Dynamics and Self-Organization)
  • Regina Wunderlich (MPI for Dynamics and Self-Organization)
  • Kerstin Schwarzwälder (Bernstein Coordination Site)