TENSS – the story of a dream
In the past three decades, neuroscience has been one of the most active and advanced fields of research in the world. It studies the brain, attempting to understand how its function arises from the miraculous workings of billions of neurons and thousand-fold more synapses. Neuroscience is not neurology, the latter being a subfield of medicine, but an amazing interdisciplinary effort that combines biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, philosophy, computer science, signal processing, medicine, and so on. To understand how the brain works, mankind needs to probably invest effort from all disciplines – and yet, in spite of more than 100 years of research, we are still far away from the ultimate goal of understanding how we understand.
In USA neuroscience has witnessed the largest number of postdoctoral researchers among all sciences in the past decade. By contrast, in Eastern Europe it is poorly represented – if at all. Romania is no exception: there are very few groups active in this field and, therefore, we can say that brain research here is still in its infancy. This is a real pity, considering that neuroscience holds an extraordinary potential: it may help us to better understand who we are, to treat devastating neurological disorders, and even to build intelligent machines by copying the brain. Given the dearth of active neuroscience research in Romania and, nevertheless, withholding its potential, it is important that a substantial effort is made to make sure that neuroscience research in Romania catches up.
The Transylvanian Experimental Neuroscience Summer School (TENSS) is part of the effort to put Romania on the map of international neuroscientific research. TENSS was born when Dr. Florin Albeanu and I met at the Diaspora in Scientific Research and Higher Education in Romania, a conference organized by the Romanian Government to attract Romanian scientists working abroad. Florin, presently at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in the US, had this cool idea of organizing a school in Romania at the level of the most famous experimental schools such as CSHL or Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). As crazy as it sounded, I immediately liked the idea and so we started to work together, exchanging many emails and meeting online more often than not for the next 1.5 years to make it happen.The plan was ambitious: it had to be a “hands-on” school where a dozen students from all over the world could learn the most advanced techniques in experimental neuroscience, from optical imaging (shining lasers onto fluorescent neurons) to intra- and extra-cellular electrophysiology (using microelectrodes to record the electrical activity of cells in the brain).
Organizing such a school is extremely demanding, and for that reason Europe was lacking something that could come close to the CSHL and MBL courses in the US. Unlike usual summer schools, an experimental school has to build from scratch research labs having the most advanced equipment available, from lasers to microscopes and recording rigs. I have to admit, in the beginning I was skeptic that this could be done in Romania, but Florin’s enthusiasm quickly made my fears vanish.The first edition of TENSS took place during June 1-15, 2012, at Pike Lake (Săcălaia) in Romania.
TENSS relied on the enthusiastic support of its organizing team, dedicated teaching assistants (the real driving forces behind the course!), sponsors, partner companies, and of the lecturers who immediately embraced the fact that this was more than just another school. In 2012, both students and we have learned that you can do top neuroscience on the shores of a lake, in a pension in a remote location of Transylvania that was not built to host research labs, but nevertheless had been filled to the brim with most outstanding pieces of equipment, which was also functional and was working fine after tinkering and debugging by the end of the course! Both students and we have learned of what can be done with determination and courage.TENSS 2012 was a huge success. From 40 applications we selected 13 students from prestigious labs around the world (USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Hungary, and Switzerland – some of which were Romanians working abroad).
Lecturers also came from renowned labs at Harvard, University College London, Max Planck Institutes, King’s College London, Cold Spring Harbor, and so on. As a result of its success, the second edition of TENSS, which will begin on June 1st 2013, has attracted 157 applications from 37 countries across 6 continents and we hope it will be equally fun and instructive as the first edition.TENSS could not have happened without the generous support of its sponsors and partners.
iQuest has been one of them and has sponsored the school for both the first and second editions, therefore contributing substantially to its success.
Dr. Raul C. Mureşan
Center for Cognitive and Neural Studies (Coneural)
Romanian Institute of Science and Technology
A few pictures from the first edition of the summer school, in 2012, are available below: