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The human brain is outstanding among mammalian brains, containing around 100 billion neurons (more than the number of stars in the Milky Way) and over 100 trillion connections between them. Yet, when it comes to making decisions, this impressive organ does not prevent us from making errors – even avoidable ones.
While on court, beach volleyball players need to act as a whole in order to prevent the ball from touching the sand: in a fraction of a second - just before the opponent's hand spikes the ball - the passer has to predict and adjust to the attacker's action as well as to their teammate's block position. Thanks to her Consolidator Grant, cognitive science professor Natalie Sebanz is studying the cognitive and psychological mechanisms underlying joint action expertise – in other words, how individuals learn skilled actions, such as those performed by professional athletes, together.
Through her work with the fruit fly Drosophila santomea, Dr Virginie Orgogozo aims to answer one of the most challenging questions of modern evolutionary biology: how do observable characteristics change between species and yet remain stable in a given species?
The Theory of Mind - the ability to understand that others may have thoughts, beliefs, desires, and intentions different from ours - develops in early childhood and is considered as a key process to explain our social interactions. How do children acquire this ability? What are the cognitive and brain mechanisms that allow human beings to learn from others, to predict their behaviour and to communicate with them? These are some of the questions Dr Agnes Melinda Kovacs addresses, thanks to an ERC grant, in her laboratory in Budapest.
With her degree in biology, Dr Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla left Mexico and embarked on an international career in epigenetics. She completed her PhD at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and then moved to Cambridge University. In 2006 she joined IGBMC in Strasbourg working as a group leader. She has just been appointed Director of the Institute of Epigenetics and Stem Cells of the Helmholtz Zentrum in Munich. Supported by an ERC grant, she studies the mechanisms controlling embryonic cellular plasticity with the aim of shedding new light on today's fertility issues. In this interview she shares her story as a non-European scientist in Europe.