Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research

The Importance of Science Communication Research and of Science Studies for the Region – Opening of the RRC in Dortmund

PHILLIP H. ROTH

How can science communication be practiced under post-truth conditions? And what role do the humanities and social sciences play in this context? The Rhine Ruhr Center for Science Communication Research (RRC) is devoted to answering these and other pressing questions. The center is funded by a generous grant from the Volkswagen Foundation and headed by Julika Griem of the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI), David Kaldewey of the Forum Internationale Wissenschaft (FIW) at the University of Bonn, Holger Wormer of the TU Dortmund, Oliver Ruf of the University of Applied Sciences Bonn-Rhine-Sieg as well as Volker Stollorz of the Science Media Center in Cologne and Franco Zotta of the German Science Journalists’ Association.

The RRC is devoted to science communication with a special focus on the humanities and social sciences. As such, it addresses highly important questions about how insights from the reflexive social and cultural research on science might be communicated. Natural scientists usually attract attention via stimulating images of ground-breaking discoveries. Not so the reflexive sciences on science. Thus, there are elementary questions that need to be answered about the communicability of insights from social and cultural research on science. Next to this, RRC aims to, over the course of its initial five-year funding, bring its findings closer to practicing journalists as well as to students in interdisciplinary workshops and conferences. On June 2, 2022, the RRC officially opened with a celebratory inauguration at the Erich-Brost-Institute at TU Dortmund. Together with our director Stefan Böschen I ventured to Dortmund to attend the event, at which we met with many familiar faces from science studies and journalism.

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Phillip H. Roth

Phillip is postdoc and the events coordinator at c:o/re. Among other topics, his research is dedicated to questions of identity work in biomedical disciplines, to the meaning of medicine and the role of patient advocacy on the internet as well as to social and cultural conditions of scientific modeling. In a current project, he is trying to develop a sociology of pandemics for the digital age that draws on communication theories of virality and contagion.

After welcoming words by Holger Wormer, the inauguration consisted of a brief overview of the RRC’s three main research projects, given by Julika Griem, as well as three panel discussions, each moderated by one of the RRC’s heads. The panels were devoted to core problem areas of the RRC, making up most the of the formal part of the evening. In the first, moderated by Oliver Ruf, Julia Schubert (University of Speyer) discussed with local students about “Science Communication in Times of Multiple Facts”. One of the core take-aways of this insightful discussion was that the students desired the humanities and social sciences to be more present in public science communication. They stressed particularly that they promised themselves that these fields would be better equipped than natural or engineering sciences to deal with the problems of post-truth in current debates. The second panel, moderated by David Kaldewey, consisted of a dialogue between science journalist Birgit Herden (Die Welt) and the sociologist of science and technology Cornelius Schubert (TU Dortmund) about “Images and Imaginations of Science”. They reflected on how journalism and sociology address different audiences. Variety of audiences necessarily also leads to conflicts between the trajectories of the two professions. While journalism needs to “close” scientific debates to make the topic appealing to its readership, [1]Peter Conrad (1999). Use of Expertise: Sources, Quotes, and Voice in the Reporting of Genetic News. Public Understanding of Science 8 (4): 285–302. https://doi.org/10.1088/0963-6625/8/4/302 a key ambition of science studies, sociology of science or STS is to “open up” the infamous black box of science.[2]Trevor J. Pinch and Wiebe E. Bijker (1984). The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might benefit each other. In Social Studies … Continue reading This is aligned with our effort to “unbox science” here at c:o/re. This ultimately also thwarts any settlement on “the facts”, making science a volatile and (politically) malleable business in sociologists’ eyes, something that is particularly critical under post-truth conditions. However, Schubert also recalls the common heritage of journalism and sociology in the reportages that founded the early-twentieth century Chicago School,[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_school_(sociology) offering hope that each in their own way can contribute to successfully communicating the complexities of scientific research and its findings to the public. In a third session, panellists Eva Weber-Guskar (University of Bochum) and Samir Sellami asked about “A Quality Circle for the Humanities and Social Sciences?” Both are initiators of online platforms – PhilPublica and Soziopolis, respectively – that are devoted to bringing scholarly content to a wide readership. Together with the journalist Volker Stollorz, who moderated the panel, they reminisced whether and how these open formats might provide criteria for the successful communication of scientific content in the digital world. During the informal part of the event – drinks and snacks in the courtyard of the Erich-Brost-Institue while the sun was shining, and the temperatures were warm – we were able to catch up with friends and colleagues after an almost two-year hiatus from in-person events.

Holger Wormer speaking to guests at the opening of the RRC (photo credits: RRC/Andreas Siess)

A crucial feature of the RRC is that it considers science communication not only from a communication research perspective, but also from a cultural studies (KWI Essen) as well science studies & STS perspective (FIW Bonn). For this reason, we at c:o/re look forward to partnering with the RRC on questions at the intersection of science studies and science communication research. We hope that this partnership will help to unravel what science communication entails in the current mediascape and, also, what we can learn from it practically for communication at c:o/re and elsewhere. Given the grand challenges we face today,[4]David Kaldewey (2018). The Grand Challenges Discourse: Transforming Identiy Wlrk in Science and Science Policy. In Minerva 56: 161-182. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11024-017-9332-2. such as climate change, the digitalization of research practices, energy and mobility transformations, resource scarcity, war and poverty, we also wish that it will strengthen the role of science studies scholarship in the Aachen-Rhine-Ruhr region and in Germany more generally, providing a clearer picture of the role that science can play in facing these challenges.

A first joint conference between the RRC and c:o/re is already in the making and is set to take place in 2023. We will keep you posted as things develop and also about further collaborations between the partners at the RRC and c:o/re. Please also see our events section for infos on further upcoming workshops, lectures and conferences. For now, all that remains is for us to wish our friends at the RRC all the best for their projects. We look forward to the friendly and frequent exchanges about science studies and communication research – cheers!


Proposed citation: Phillip Roth. 2022. The Importance of Science Communication Research and of Science Studies for the Region – Opening of the RRC in Dortmund. https://khk.rwth-aachen.de/2022/06/17/3613/3613/.

References

References
1Peter Conrad (1999). Use of Expertise: Sources, Quotes, and Voice in the Reporting of Genetic News. Public Understanding of Science 8 (4): 285–302. https://doi.org/10.1088/0963-6625/8/4/302
2Trevor J. Pinch and Wiebe E. Bijker (1984). The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might benefit each other. In Social Studies of Science 14 (3): 399-441. You can read the paper here.
3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_school_(sociology)
4David Kaldewey (2018). The Grand Challenges Discourse: Transforming Identiy Wlrk in Science and Science Policy. In Minerva 56: 161-182. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11024-017-9332-2.

(Re)Discover “Objects of Research”

Being in the third year of our Fellowship Program, c:o/re is accumulating a remarkable variety of perspectives revolving around its main focus, research on research.

Questions tackled in this lively research environment are highly interesting and exciting and, as such, complex. The meeting of distinct research cultures may stir curiosity but may also leave one wondering what is the other even talking about… What are they studying?

To offer an insightful glimpse into the lively dialogues here, bridging and reflecting on diverse academic cultures, we have started the blog series “Objects of Research”.
We asked current and former c:o/re fellows and academic staff to show us an object that is most relevant to their research in order to understand how they think about their work.

In 12 contributions, we were able to witness the personal connections researchers have to objects that shape their work. We now invite you to visit the individual contributions and explore the world of research once again.


“For the past two decades, I have had a leading role in developing the neuronal network simulator NEST. This high-quality research software can improve research culture by providing a foundation for reliable, reproducible and FAIRly sharable research in computational neuroscience. Together with colleagues, I work hard to establish “nest::simulated()” as a mark of quality for research results in the field. Collaboration in the NEST community is essential to this effort, and many great ideas have come up while sharing a cup of coffee.“


“This is a notebook my Mom gave me. She had it as a kind of leftover from a shopping tour and she thought that it might be of use for my work. And of course, she was right. And as you know, research always starts with a good question that attracts attention.”


“I guess many academics would share some varient of this image: a careful arrangement of computer equipment, coffee, notepads, pens, and the other detritus that lives on (my) desk.

For me it’s important that the technical equipment is shown in conjunction with the paper notebook and pens. I’m fussy about all of these things – it’s distracting when my computer set-up isn’t what I’m used to, and I need to use very specific pens from a particular store – but ultimately my thinking lives in the interactions between them.

My colleagues and I are working on an autoethnographic study of knowledge production, and notice that (our) creative research work often emerges as we move notes and ideas from paper to computer (and back again).”


“I use mechanical pencils (like the one in the photo) to highlight, annotate, question, clarify, or reference things I read in books. This helps me digest the arguments, ideas, and discourses I deal with in my historical and sociological research. I also have software for annotating and organizing PDFs on my iPad as well as a proper notebook for excerpting and writing down ideas. However, I’ve found that the best way for me to connect my reading practices with my thoughts is through the corporeal employment of a pencil on the physical pages of a book.”


“As part of the work I do at KHK c:/ore, as well as extending beyond that, I collect empirical data. In my case, that data consists of records of interviews with scientists and others. Those records can be notes, but they can also be integral recordings of the conversations.

Relying on technology for the production of data is what scientists do on a daily basis. With that comes a healthy level of paranoia around that technology. Calibrating measurement instruments, measurement triangulation, and comparisons to earlier and future records all help us to alleviate that paranoia. I am not immune and my coping mechanism has been, for many years, to take a spare recording device with me.

This is that spare, my backup, and thereby the materialisation of how to deal with moderate levels of technological paranoia. It is not actually a formal voice recorder, but an old digital music player I have had for 15 years, the Creative Zen Vision M. It has an excellent microphone, abundant storage capacity (30 gigabytes) and, quite importantly, no remote access options. That last part is quite important to me, because it ensures that the recording cannot enter the ‘cloud’ and be accessed by anyone but me. Technologically, it is outdated. It no longer serves its original purpose: I never listen to music on it. Instead, it has donned a new mantle as a research tool.”


“When asked about the fundamental object for my research practice, I immediately thought of my computer, which seemed the obvious answer given that I read, study, and write on it most of the time.

Upon further reflection, however, I realized that on my computer, I just manage the initial and final phases of my research, namely gathering information and studying on the one hand, and writing papers on the other.

Yet, between these two phases, there is a crucial intermediate step that truly embodied the essence of research, for me: the reworking, systematization, organization, and re-elaboration of what I have read and studied, as well as the formulation of new ideas and hypothesis. These processes never occur on the computer but always on paper.

Therefore, the essential objects for my research are notebooks, sticky notes, notepads, pens, and pencils.”


“As I research Hegel’s logic and how he understands life as a logical category necessary to make nature intelligible, I work closely with his texts. On the other hand, the stickers on my laptop remind me of the need to look at reality and regularly question the relevance of my research for understanding current social phenomena. In this sense, I think I remain a Hegelian, because for Hegel one can only fully understand an object of research by looking at both its logical concept and how it appears in reality. However, I think that in order to look at current political and social phenomena, we need to go beyond Hegel’s racist and sexist ideas, which are all around his ideas on social organization. And none of this would be possible without a good cup of coffee and/or a club mate!”


“The 3D replica of my teeth that stands on my desk reminds me of two important things. First, a model is what we make of it. The epistemic value of modelling lies in interpretation, which depends on but is not defined by representation. I make something very different of (a replica of) teeth than a dentist and an archaeologist do.

Secondly, and not any less important, this replica reminds me to smile, and I hope that it might inspire colleagues to smile, too, when they see it on my desk.
To tell a smile from a veil, as Pink Floyd ask us to, we need to know that a smile is infinitely more important than scientific modelling. If scientific modelling does not lead to smiling, it is of no value. A smile is a good metonymy to be reminded by.”


“There is a joke about which faculty is cheaper for the university. Mathematics is very cheap because all they need is just pencils and erasers. But philosophy is even cheaper because they don’t even need erasers.

My favorite and indispensable object is the rOtring 600 mechanical pencil. It shows that social science is closer to mathematics than to philosophy. Of course, social scientists often need more than pencil and eraser: they have to collect and process data from the real world. But this processing is greatly facilitated by the ability to write and erase your observations.

In my work, I deal with the transcripts of human-machine communication, and I use the rOtring 600, which has a built-in eraser, a lot. It’s useful not only because of the eraser, but also because it’s designed to stay on the table and not break, even in very demanding circumstances like the train journey. And it gives me the feeling that I am making something tangible with it, because it reminds me of engineers or designers producing blueprints for objects and machines.”


“A pen and a notebook are essential for my research. They help me think. It’s not at all about the words I write. I rarely read them again. Scribbling is just an act that helps me stack ideas on top of each other and do all the complicated thinking and connection-building.

I also turn to scribbling in my notebook when I am stuck in the writing process. There is often a time after the first rough draft of the paper when some ideas stop flowing smoothly or don’t fit very well with the main argument. I turn to the notebook and start writing the main ideas, deliberating how they support each other.

This is all especially interesting since a lot of my research is about extended cognition, which is the idea that we sometimes employ external resources such that part of our thinking happens outside our body (in these resources).”


“Spending a few weeks in Argentina, in front of my desk, a Post Office building. A nice futuristic architectural concept, degraded by its construction materials, support of a communication antenna, appropriated by pigeons as a dovecote: a hybrid object.”


“By saying that I study ‘artful intelligence’, which I mean only as a half joke, I take seriously the propositions to my career as a media scholar that…

1. As the first image suggests, human artfulness can be found all around, such as this snapshot of a wall on a side street not far from the Cultures of Research at the RWTH.

2. Sometimes architectural masterpieces that represent more than the sharp angles of twentieth-century modernism are all about us, such as this bus stop on the way to Cultures of Research in Aachen. Any study of science and technology has to ask, what does it mean? Sources do not speak for themselves.

3. Sometimes artificial intelligence is best found in letting people be people, such as a doodle here in a sketchbook. Straight lines do not always precipitate straightness.

4. I study how science, technology, and artificial intelligence has been understood in different times and places, such as this remote-controlled robot that failed in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 in Soviet Ukraine, which helps unstiffen, enliven, and sober our imagination of what may already be the case today and could be the case tomorrow.”


Thank you for joining us on this journey. We look forward to share more insights and stories with you!

“Humans haven’t necessarily made the best choices for our world.” – Interview with Peter Mantello on Emotionalized Artificial Intelligence

In February 2024, a collaboration with colleagues from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University on the topic of Emotionalized Artificial Intelligence (EAI) started. Professor Peter Mantello (Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University) leads a 3-year project funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, on which c:o/re is a partner, that will compare attitudes in Japan and in Germany on EAI in the workspace. This explorative pathway contributes to the c:o/re outlook on Varieties of Science. You can find the whole project description on our website here.

In the interview below, Peter Mantello explains what EAI is, how the project will consider AI ethics and why the comparison of German and Japanese workplaces is particularly insightful. We thank him for this interview and look forward to working together.

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Peter Mantello

c:o/re short-term
Senior Fellow (11-17/2/2024)

Peter Mantello is an artist, filmmaker and Professor of Media Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan. Since 2010, he has been a principal investigator on various research projects examining the intersection between emerging media technologies, social media artifacts, artificially intelligent agents, hyperconsumerism and conflict.

What is Emotionalized Artificial Intelligence (EAI)? What does this formulation entail differently than ‘Emotional’ AI?

Emotional AI is the commercial moniker of a sub-branch in computer science known as affective computing. The technology is designed to read, monitor, and evaluate a person’s subjective state. It does this by measuring heart rate, respiration rate, skin perspiration levels, blood pressure, eye movement, facial micro-expressions, gait, and word choice. It involves a range of hardware and software. This includes cameras, biometric sensors and actuators, big data, large language models, natural language processing, voice tone analytics, machine learning, and neural networks. Emotionalized AI appears in two distinct forms: embodied (care/nursing robots, smart toys) and disembodied (chatbots, smartphone apps, wearables, and algorithmically coded spaces). 
I think the term ’emotionalized’ AI better encompasses the ability of AI not to just read, and recognize human emotion but also to simulate and respond in an empathic manner. Examples of this can be found in therapy robots, chatbots, smart toys, and holograms. EAI in allows these forms of AI to communicate in a human-like manner. 

What is emotionalized AI used for and for what is it further developed?

Currently, emotionalized AI can be found in automobiles, smart toys, healthcare (therapy robots/ doctor-patients conversational AI) automated management systems in the workplace, advertising billboards, kiosks and menus, home assistants, social media platforms, security systems, wellness apps and videogames. 

What forms of ethical work practices and governance do you have in mind? Are there concrete examples?

There are a range of moral and ethical issues that encompass AI. Many of these are similar to conventional usages of AI, such as concerns about data collection, data management, data ownership, algorithmic bias, privacy, agency, and autonomy. But what is specific about emotionalized AI is that the technology pierces through the corporeal exterior of a person into the private and intimate recesses of their subjective state. Moreover, because the technology targets non-conscious data extracted from a person’s body, they may not be aware or consent to the monitoring. 

Where do you see the importance of cultural diversity in AI ethics?

Well, it raises important issues confronting the technology’s legitimacy.  First, the emotionalized AI industry is predominantly based in the West, yet the products are exported to many world regions. Not only are the data sets used to train the algorithms limited to primarily Westerners, but they also rely largely on famed American sociologist Paul Eckman’s ‘universality of emotions theory’ that suggests there are six basic emotions and are expressed in the same manner by all cultures. This is untrue. But thanks to a growing number of critics who have challenged the reliability/credibility of face analytics, Eckman’s theory has been discredited. However, this has not stopped many companies from designing their technologies on Eckman’s debunked templates. Second, empathetic surveillance in certain institutional settings (school, office, factory) could lead to emotional policing, where to be ‘normal’ or ‘productive’ will require people to be always ‘authentic’, ‘positive’, and ‘happy’. I’m thinking of possible dystopian Black Mirror scenarios, like in the episode known as “Nosedive”. 
Third, exactly what kind of values do we want AI to have – Confucian, Buddhist, Western Liberal? 

Do you expect to find significant differences between the Japanese and German workplace?

Well, it’s important to understand the multiple definitions of the workplace. Workplaces include commercial vehicles, ridesharing, remote workspaces, hospitals, restaurants, and public spaces, not just brick-and-mortar white-collar offices. 
Japan and Germany share common work culture features, but each society also has historically different attitudes to human resource management relationships, what constitutes a ‘good’ worker, loyalty, corporate responsibility to workers, worker rights and unions, and precarity. The two cultures also differ in how they express their emotions,  raising questions about the imposition of US and European emotion analytics in the Japanese context.

Peter Mantello presenting the project “Emotional AI in the Japanese and German Workplace: Exploring Cultural Diversity in AI Ethics” during a talk at c:o/re.

How will the research proceed?

The first stage of the research will be to map the ecology of emotion analytics companies in the West and East. This includes visits to trade show exhibits, technology fairs, start-up meetings, etc. The second stage will be interviews. The third stage will include a series of design fiction workshops targeted to key stakeholders. Throughout all of these stages, we will be holding workshops in Germany and Tokyo, inviting a interdisciplinary mix of scholars, practitioners, civil liberties advocates and industry people. 

What do you think will be the most important impact of this project?

We are at a critical junction point in defining and deciding how we want to live with artificial intelligence. Certainly, everyone talks about human-centric AI but I don’t know what that means. Or if that’s the best way forward. Humans haven’t necessarily made the best choices for our world. If we try to make AI in our own image, it might not turn out right. What I hope this project brings are philosophical insights that will better inform the values we need to encode into AI, so it serves the best interests of everyone, especially, those who will be most vulnerable to its influence. 

What inspired you to collaborate with c:o/re?

My inspiration to collaborate with c:o/re stems from my growing interest in phenomenological aspects of human-machine relations. For the past three years, my research has focused primarily on empirical studies of AI. The insights gained from this were very satisfying, albeit they also opened the door to larger, more complex questions that could only be examined from a more theoretical and philosophical perspective. After a chance meeting with Alin Olteanu at a semiotic conference, I was invited to attend a c:o/re workshop on software in 2023. I realized then that KHK’s interdisciplinary and international environment would be a perfect place for an international collaborative research project.   

Lecture Series Summer 2024: Lifelikeness

Due to the great interest, the lecture series of the summer semester 2024 will once again be held on the topic of “Lifelikeness”.

Various speakers, including the sociologist Hannah Landecker (University of California, Los Angeles) and the historian of science Friedrich Steinle (TU Berlin), will be guests at the KHK c:o/re and shed light on “Lifelikeness” from different disciplinary perspectives.
Please find an overview of the dates and speakers in the program.

The lectures will take place from May 8 to July 3, 2024 every second Wednesday from 5 to 6.30 pm in presence and online.
An exception is the lecture by Hannah Landecker, which she will give as part of the interdisciplinary conference “Politics of the Machines” on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Super C- Generali Saal.

If you would like to attend the lectures, please send a short email to events@khk.rwth-aachen.de.

Program: PoM Conference in Aachen

Programmable biosensors, life-like robotics and other artificial models – the present and the future are dominated by new phenomena in the life sciences. How can the challenges, opportunities and uncertainties associated with these advances be addressed?

The transdisciplinary conference series “PoM – Politics of the Machines”, which will take place from April 22 to 25, 2024 at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research (c:o/re) at RWTH Aachen University under the title “Lifelikeness & beyond”, will explore this question. At the interface of science and art, the conference aims to stimulate reflection on the comprehensive connections that shape our perception of the world.

International researchers and practitioners from various fields of science, technology and art will come together to discuss socio-cultural concepts of the future, the interaction between human and machine and ideas of the living and non-living in different formats.


The main program from 22 to 25 April will take place in Aaachen in the Super C of the RWTH Aachen and in the LOGOI Institute.

You can register with this form.
Further information on the schedule can be found in this program.
You can find a longer version with all abstracts in this program.


As part of the conference, the choreographic centre PACT Zollverein in Essen will realize the accompanying programme ‘life.like’ on 26 and 27 April 2024, which consists of six artistic positions in the form of performance, installation, discourse and sound.


‘Lifelikeness & beyond’ is the fourth edition of the “Politics of the Machines” conference series, founded by Laura Beloff (Aalto University Helsinki) and Morten Søndergaard (Aalborg University Denmark) and organized in collaboration with RWTH Aachen University, LOGOI Institute for Philosophy and Discourse and PACT Zollverein in Essen.

Theodore von Kármán Fellowship to Professor Reiner Grundman

photo: Reiner Grundmann

Reiner Grundmann, Professor of Science and Technology Studies (STS) at the University of Nottingham, has been awarded the Theodore von Kármán Fellowship by RWTH Aachen University.

Professor Holger Hoos (Chair for Methodology of Artificial Intelligence), Professor Frank Piller (Chair of the Institute for Technology and Innovation Management) and KHK c:o/re Director Professor Stefan Böschen jointly applied for the fellowship. The fellowship thus strengthens interdisciplinary cooperation in the field of artificial intelligence (AI).

The fellowship enables Reiner Grundmann to spend seven weeks at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research (c:o/re) at RWTH Aachen University, where he will work on a project entitled “Communication Unbound: The Discourse of Artificial Intelligence” from April to May 2024. It investigates the discourse on forms of AI based on large language models and the challenges they pose to society. His current work focuses on the relation between knowledge and decision making, with a special interest in the role and nature of expertise in contemporary societies. To present the outcomes of this fellowship, Reiner Grundmann will give a public university lecture on May 15, 2024, 5-6.30 pm, at KHK c:o/re, Theaterstr. 75.

RWTH Kármán-Fellowships are funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research
(BMBF) and the Ministry of Culture and Science of the German State of North Rhine
Westphalia (MKW) under the Excellence Strategy of the Federal Government and the
Länder.

How a well-crafted brain model has influenced research

PROF. HANS EKKEHARD PLESSER

On the tenth anniversary of the publication of a model of a cortical microcircuit by Potjans and Diesmann (2014), 14 experts in computational neuroscience and neuromorphic computing will meet at the KHK c:o/re, at RWTH Aachen, to discuss their experiences in working with this model.

This event is a unique opportunity to gain insights on the effect that the Potjans-Diesmann model is having on computational neuroscience as a discipline. In light of the success of the model, the participants will reflect on why active model sharing and re-use is still not common practice in computational neuroscience.

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Prof. Hans Ekkehard Plesser

Hans Ekkehard Plesser is an Associate Professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
His work focuses on simulation technology for large-scale neuronal network simulations and reproducibility of research in computational neuroscience.

Computational neuroscience, the field dedicated to understanding brain function through modelling, is dominated by small models of parts of the brain designed to explain the results of a small set of experiments, for example animal behavior in a particular task. Such ad hoc models often set aside much knowledge about details of connection structures in brain circuits.  This limits the explanatory power of these models. Furthermore, these models are often implemented in low-level programming languages such as C++, Matlab, or Python and are  shared as collections of source code files. This makes it difficult for other scientists to re-use these models, because they will need to inspect low-level code to verify what the code actually does. One might thus say that these models are formally, but not practically FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable).

The model of the cortical microcircuit published by Potjans and Diesmann (2014) pioneered a new approach, quite different to previous practice. For good reasons, this new approach made the model remarkably popular in computational neuroscience. Based on a well-documented analysis of existing anatomical and physiological data, Potjans and Diesmann provided a bottom-up crafted model of the neuronal network found under one square millimeter of cortical surface. Their paper describes the literature, data analysis and data modeling on which the model is based, and provides a precise definition of the model.

Schematic illustration of the microcircuit model of early sensory cortex in Albada et al. (2018). Copyright: Creative Commons

In addition to their theoretical definition of the model, they created an implementation which is executable on the domain-specific high-level simulation tool NEST. They complemented this implementation with thorough documentation on how to work with the model. They even created an additional implementation of the model in the PyNN language, so that the model can be executed automatically on a wide range of neuronal simulation tools, including on neuromorphic hardware systems.

These efforts have led to a wide uptake of the model in the scientific community. Hundreds of scientific publications have cited the Potjans-Diesmann model. Several groups in computational neuroscience have integrated it in their own modelling efforts. The model has also had a key role in driving innovation in neuromorphic and GPU-based simulators by providing a scientifically relevant standard benchmark for correctness and performance of simulators.

References

Potjans, T. C., Diesmann, M. 2014. The cell-type specific cortical microcircuit: Relating structure and activity in a full-scale spiking network model. Cerebral Cortex 24(3): 785-806.

van Albada S. J., Rowley A. G., Senk, J., Hopkins, M., Schmidt, M., Stokes, A.B., Lester, D.R., Diesmann, M., and Furber S.B. 2018. Performance Comparison of the Digital Neuromorphic Hardware SpiNNaker and the Neural Network Simulation Software NEST for a Full-Scale Cortical Microcircuit Model. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 12:291.


Objects of Research: Sarah R. Davies

For today’s edition of the “Objects of Research” series, c:o/re Senior Fellow Sarah R. Davies gives an insight into her desk set up. As a professor of Technosciences, Materiality, and Digital Cultures, her work focuses on the intersections between science, technology, and society, with a particular focus on digital tools and spaces.

“I guess many academics would share some varient of this image: a careful arrangement of computer equipment, coffee, notepads, pens, and the other detritus that lives on (my) desk.

For me it’s important that the technical equipment is shown in conjunction with the paper notebook and pens. I’m fussy about all of these things – it’s distracting when my computer set-up isn’t what I’m used to, and I need to use very specific pens from a particular store – but ultimately my thinking lives in the interactions between them.

My colleagues and I are working on an autoethnographic study of knowledge production, and notice that (our) creative research work often emerges as we move notes and ideas from paper to computer (and back again).”

Would you like to find out more about our Objects of Research series at c:o/re? Then take a look at the pictures by Benjamin Peters, Andoni Ibarra, Hadeel Naeem, Alin Olteanu, Hans Ekkehard Plesser, Ana María Guzmán, Andrei Korbut, Erica Onnis, Phillip H. Roth, Bart Penders and Dawid Kasprowicz.

Objects of Research: Dawid Kasprowicz

Presenting the next chapter of the “Objects of Research” series, c:o/re Postdoc and Fellow Program Coordinator, Dr. Dawid Kasprowicz, whose main research fields include theory and history of embodiment, phenomenology, human-robot-Interaction, philosophy of computer simulation, joins us with a picture of his fundamental object for his research practice:

“This is a notebook my Mom gave me. She had it as a kind of leftover from a shopping tour and she thought that it might be of use for my work. And of course, she was right. And as you know, research always starts with a good question that attracts attention.”

Would you like to find out more about our Objects of Research series at c:o/re? Then take a look at the pictures by Benjamin Peters, Andoni Ibarra, Hadeel Naeem, Alin Olteanu, Hans Ekkehard Plesser, Ana María Guzmán, Andrei Korbut, Erica Onnis, Phillip H. Roth and Bart Penders.

Get to know our Fellows: Guillaume Yon

Get to know our current fellows and gain an impression of their research.
In a new series of short videos, we asked them to introduce themselves, talk about their work at c:o/re, the impact of their research on society and give book recommendations.

You can now watch the sixth video of Dr. Guillaume Yon, historian of economics, on our YouTube channel:

Check out our media section or our YouTube channel to have a look at the other videos.

Workshop “Art, Science, the Public”

On 16 February and 17 February 2024, the workshop “Art, Science, the Public” took place at the KHK c:o/re in cooperation with the project “Computer Signals: Art and Biology in the Age of Digital Experimentation“, a research collaboration between artists, biologists and humanities scholars, in which c:o/re director Gabriele Gramelsberger has been involved since a long time. 

Together with representatives and colleagues from the research group “Computer Signals”, PACT Zollverein and RWTH Knowledge Hub, different formats and practices of science communication, in particular those that experiment with artistic forms, were discussed. The aim of the workshop was to exchange ideas and best practice examples on the interface between science and art and the associated communication challenges.

Prof. Hannes Rickli provides insights into the “Computer Signals” research project.
Prof. Gabriele Gramelsberger and c:o/re research associate Ana María Guzmán talking about science communication at KHK c:o/re

A special highlight was the sound work by Valentina Vuksic, a transdisciplinary associate of the project “Computer Signals”. During the workshop, Valentina set up an installation format in which the archive of sounds, produced by the research project, could be explored.

The sound archive collected by the project “Computer Signals” can be visited here: https://archiv.computersignale.zhdk.ch.

In the evening, the workshop was concluded with a live performance by Valentina, in which she presented artistic formats that stem from straightforward audifications of computational processes with little aesthetic consideration taken at first, and yet, took on a double life as musical works outside of their context.

The electromagnetic, electric and mechanical recordings originate from the research infrastructure of the biological laboratory at UT Austin by Hans Hofmann and the underwater observatory RemOS in Kongsfjorden, Spitsbergen by Philipp Fischer (Alfred-Wegener-Institut for polar and marine research). The audio material stays unprocessed; it is merely re-arranged and layered. The sonic works set out from digital data generation as part of scientific procedures to take a specific course outlined by a series of sonic extracts.

Valentina Vuksic during her live performance
A special place for a special event: the cellar of c:o/re

Here you can listen to excerpts from Valentina’s work that she presented that evening

Photos and videos by Jana Hambitzer

Header picture: RemOs1, Archiv Stereometrie (15. 9. 2012 – 16. 6. 2020), 2022. Detailansicht Fotoinstallation Ausstellung «Daten lauschen» im Deutschen Schifffahrtsmuseum, Bremerhaven 2022. Fotodruck auf Polycarbonatplatten, 135.168 Bildpaare, 2.32 x 1.59 x 60 m.  Fotografie: Marc Latzel.