A scientist on take-off - a Nobel Prize winner on landing

Newly crowned Nobel prize winner Edvard Moser visits Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology

October 06, 2014

He might have postponed his departure for Germany if he had suspected that this would be the day he would be awarded the highest honour in science: the Nobel Prize.

Edvard Moser, Nobel Prize Winner for Medicine 2014

When the plane arrived in Germany from Norway, Edvard Moser still did not know about his good fortune. He was somewhat perplexed, therefore, when the lady from Lufthansa pressed a bouquet of flowers into his hands "for the prize that he had received from Max Planck". The misunderstanding was soon resolved: the Max Planck Institute was merely the client who had ordered the bouquet, the prize came from Stockholm. Looking at his mobile phone, Moser saw a missed call from the Secretary of the Nobel Prize Committee. Tobias Bonhoeffer, Director at the MPI of Neurobiology, was then able to confirm to him that, together with his wife May-Britt and John O'Keefe from University College London, he had actually won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The three neuroscientists have been awarded the prize for discovering an internal navigation system in the brain. O'Keefe identified the so-called "place cells" in the hippocampus of a rat's brain that are always active when the animal is in a particular location in a room. May-Britt and Edvard Moser, who currently work at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and Centre for Neural Computation in Trondheim in Norway, discovered the coordinates system associated with the place cells, which they called "grid cells". These cells are located in the entorhinal cortex. Together with the nerve cells that recognise the direction of the head, these cells form the brain's GPS system as it were. Animals - including humans as recent research results show - can use this system to orient themselves in their environment.

Edvard Moser and Tobias Bonhoeffer have been working together for some time on a joint research project; Bonhoeffer has also been a visiting professor at the Kavli Institute in Trondheim. Moser has arrived at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried for a research residency lasting several weeks. It's true to say that the first day didn't exactly go according to plan: instead of a tour of the lab, there was a hastily arranged press conference at the MPI. The newly crowned Nobel Prize winner would probably still like to celebrate this prize in person with his wife - after all, there are not too many married couples who have shared a Nobel prize.

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