The following laudatory speech was part of the presentation of the Ammodo KNAW Award to Serge Dumoulin in 2015.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As a social scientist Serge Dumoulin investigates the fascinating interface between human brains, perception, psychology and cognition. How can humans connect with each other and the world around them using their brains and senses? How are our senses connected to parts of the cerebral cortex, and how do sensory stimuli then lead to a conscious perception and a better understanding?
Like many neuroscientists Dumoulin focused on the processing of visual information. Human beings are visually oriented creatures; this is clearly illustrated by the fact that a quarter of our cerebral cortex is composed of nerve cells that assist in the processing of stimuli coming from our eyes.
However Dumoulin is also interested in more fundamental questions than just how information from our eyes is processed. He uses the visual brain system as a model for the entire cerebral cortex, but also as a laboratory to develop and test innovative research techniques.
One of his most notable findings to date actually had nothing to do with visual stimuli: it was the discovery of an area of the brain that forms a spatial representation of numerical information – a kind of mental slide rule in our brains. Such direct spatial representation in the brain was recognised in relation to various organs and limbs, but not for an abstract concept such as a set of numbers.
Serge Dumoulin is also developing new methods for analysing and interpreting data from brain scans. For example, he tries to learn more about brain cells from brain scans than only whether the cells are “active” or not. Some of his methods have quickly spread internationally: dozens of universities worldwide are now using software written by him to process their research data.
Dumoulin’s work has also led to fundamental new insights into the plasticity of the brain. Until recently it was widely supposed that brains could only correct early developmental disabilities by organizing themselves differently on a large scale. However Dumoulin has discovered examples of large deviations being compensated for during brain development by small, subtle adjustments in the nerve circuits. That discovery was received with intense and widespread interest and has radically changed perspectives in Dumoulin’s field.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The advisory committee is delighted this innovative researcher, after years in Canada, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, eventually returned to Utrecht a few years ago. I ask for your sincere applause for Serge Dumoulin, winner of an Ammodo KNAW Award for Social Sciences!
Which nerves connect our senses with our cerebral cortex? How do our brains become conscious of sensory stimuli? And how does that ultimately result in an understanding of what is happening around us? These are the kind of questions that Serge Dumoulin is engaged in, and which put him on the trail of a congenital abacus in our brain.See profile