OUR MISSION. Neuro-Electronics Research Flanders (NERF) is a young not-for-profit academic research initiative with the ultimate goal of forming a thorough understanding of brain function at multiple levels of detail ranging from cells and circuits to behaviour. New insights into the operation of brain circuits are empowered by the development of novel technologies that integrate neurobiology and nano-scale engineering. We will use and aim to develop novel electronic, chemical and optical tools to monitor and manipulate brain circuits with high spatial and temporal resolution. In the long term the basic research at NERF is expected not only to inspire scientists to simulate brain networks, but also to lay a scientific framework to develop novel medical applications for the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders.
OUR RESEARCH. To achieve our mission, NERF attracts talented scientists who address fundamental neuroscience questions through a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach, combining methodologies from biology, physics, engineering and computer science. NERF currently hosts five laboratories and one visiting scientist that are focused on how neuronal circuits are built and on how they perform computations underlying perception, memory, thought and behaviour. The NERF labs take advantage of a combination of powerful approaches, such as molecular, cellular and viral biology, genetics, microscopy, (electro)physiology and behavioural studies.
OUR ORGANIZATION. NERF is set up as a long-term collaboration between three Flemish institutes - imec, KU Leuven and VIB - and receives structural funding from the Flemish government. NERF is part of a strong neuroscience research community in Leuven and is actively collaborating with other major universities in Flanders: University of Antwerp and Ghent University. The three founders have instated an Inter-Institutional Board to support the development of NERF and its integration with the founding institutions. The scientific progress, quality and strategy are evaluated by a Scientific Advisory Board, composed of six internationally acclaimed neuroscientists.
OUR ENVIRONMENT. NERF is located on the imec campus in Leuven, Belgium, in close proximity to the Science and Engineering Departments of KU Leuven and in short (biking) distance from the University Hospital. NERF researchers are members of the research communities of imec, KU Leuven and VIB and have full access to the research, technology and service facilities of the founding institutions. NERF research teams benefit from onsite imec facilities, including an electronic workshop, a mechanical workshop, and state-of-the-art clean rooms. To take full advantage of the collaboration of engineers and scientists at imec and NERF, links have been established between the technology-driven NERF scientists and imec engineers.
The NERF laboratories span approximately 1000 m2, where the research groups work together in cross-disciplinary teams. Researchers have access to central animal housing and animal care services for rats, mice and zebra fish that is supported by KU Leuven. For histology, a shared facility accompanied by a core confocal microscope is available. The labs have established state of the art behavioural neurophysiology and two-photon imaging systems for studying neural circuits in various animal models. Moreover, a viral vector facility for production of adeno-associated viral vectors and rabies vectors and a molecular biology lab enable researchers to use cutting edge genetic tools.