Who Am I?

Born in the American Midwest (Kansas City) into a German household, I grew up in Amsterdam/Holland, Bonn/Germany, Ottawa/Canada, and Rabat/Marocco where I graduated from the Lycée Descartes with a classic French Baccalaurèat in 1974.

I studied Physics and Philosophy in Tübingen, Germany. I was awarded a Master of Physics in 1980 and my PhD from the Max-Planck-Institut for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen in 1982. The bulk of my thesis was published in the venerable Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. I had two thesis advisors, called Doktorvater in German, Prof. Valentin Braitenberg and Prof. Tomaso (Tommy) Poggio.

I followed the latter to Boston, where I spent four years as a post-doctoral fellow at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and at the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department at MIT.

In the fall of 1986, I joined the California Institute of Technology‘s newly started Computation and Neural Systems PhD program as an Assistant Professor. Caltech, in beautiful Southern California, is an oasis, an ivory-tower dedicated to educating the best and brightest in the way of science and the pursuit of the truth. For more than a quarter of a century I lead a laboratory, taught and mentored more than one hundred graduate and post-graduate students. For my and their academic pedigree see here. 

Collectively, we published  >300 papers in the peer-reviewed literature that have been cited >120,000 times, countless book chapters, patents and columns in magazines.

Between 2011 and 2013, I transitioned from the hallow halls of academe in Southern California with all of its freedoms to direct a very focused and goal-driven institution, the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, in the awesome Pacific Northwest. Our team of more than 300 scientists, engineers and other staff is engaged in two large-scale “Big Science” projects.

One is a foundational and high-throughput effort to identify and catalogue all cortical cell types in the mouse and human brain using single-cell transcriptional, morphological, electrical and connectional properties and to organize them into a taxonomy. Sort of like the construction of the biological equivalent of the Periodic Table of chemical elements.  


The second is to a build cellular-level Brain Observatory using optical and electrical recording in behaving mice. My dream from the start has been to construct a central facility for recording brain-wide cellular-level activity using both optical and electrical techniques in behaving mice and to make the usage of such a Brain Observatory available to any scientist following a competitive screening process of external proposals, similar to the operating model of all astronomical observatories for the past century.

I live part time on a small island in the Salish Sea and love big scruffy dogs.

I find ecstasy and pure experience in climbing mountains and walls, long-distance running and rowing crew.


In the summer of 2000, my son and I joined an archeological expedition to dig up part of the Temple built by King Herod in 20 BC in Caesarea, along the Israeli coast. While there, I had the classic Macintosh Apple logo tattooed onto my right deltoid. Together with the Boeing B-747 Jumbo Jet and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Apple Macintosh is one of the most beautiful and elegant artifact of the 20-th century. A perfect marriage of form and function.