Otto Hahn Medal thanks to an optical illusion

For her insights into the neuronal mechanism of motion perception, Dr. Yunmin Wu is awarded the Otto Hahn Medal. The scientist at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology decoded the neuronal basis of an optical illusion in the zebrafish brain. For her achievements, she now receives the 7500€ prize of the Max Planck Society, which is awarded annually for excellent scientific achievements by young talents.

It all started with a cat video. After Yunmin Wu saw that optical illusions also work in animals, the doctoral student came up with the idea for her own research. She would trigger the motion aftereffect, also called the "waterfall illusion," in the tiny zebrafish larvae she was studying in Herwig Baier's department. In this way, she sought to better understand what actually happens in the brain when movements are perceived.

In the brain, several thousand neurons process movements and their direction. Using the waterfall illusion, Yunmin Wu was able to show that only a handful of cells out of this large number of neurons are necessary and sufficient for motion vision. "If we ask the right questions with the right tools, we are able to see very interesting things that we didn't know before," Yunmin Wu affirms. "It's the idea behind my project that I'm proud of. I'm very pleased that this is being recognized by the Max Planck Society and the award committee."

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