Understanding the brain in more detail: Helmholtz Doctoral Prize for physicist from Forschungszentrum Jülich

Jülich, 6 November 2019 –Miriam Menzel received today the Helmholtz Doctoral Prize 2019 in the research field Key Technologies. The physicist from Forschungzentrum Jülich developed in her PhD thesis various methods that enable a more precise reconstruction of nerve fiber pathways in the brain. The Helmholtz Association awards the prize for early-career scientists that reached outstanding achievements during their doctoral phase.

Dr. Miriam Menzel
Preisträgerin Dr. Miriam Menzel
Forschungszentrum Jülich / Ralf-Uwe Limbach

In her PhD thesis, Miriam Menzel has been working at the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-1) in Forschungszentrum Jülich on a microscopy technique known as “3D Polarized Light Imaging”. The technique reconstructs the three-dimensional pathways of nerve fibers in the brain by transmitting polarized light through extremely thin brain sections and measuring the resulting light intensity changes.

The methods that Miriam Menzel developed during her PhD thesis enable to reconstruct complex nerve fiber configurations in more detail. In this way, her work allows for a better understanding of the structure and organization principles in the brain. By performing simulations on Jülich supercomputers, she could show for example that light scattering contains valuable additional information. A normal computer would have needed more than 1300 years for the computations.

Light scattering occurs when light deviates from its straight trajectory while passing through brain tissue. Menzel found out that even complex nerve fiber constellations can be reconstructed by studying the respective scattering patterns, for example crossing fibers that lie on top of each other. With the common technique, this would not have been possible. Moreover, she discovered a hitherto undescribed effect of light attenuation that depends on the direction of oscillation of the light and that provides additional information about certain brain tissue properties.

Use for diagnosis and therapy

A detailed network model of the brain is not only interesting from an anatomical point of view. A comparison with MRI measurements can also improve the analysis and interpretation of MRI data and thus enable an early diagnosis of brain diseases. A detailed knowledge about the nerve fiber pathways also helps to better plan brain surgeries and the treatment of patients. For a deep brain stimulation, used to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease, the connection of nerve cells in deep lying brain regions is of great importance.

Helmholtz Doctoral Prize

The prize winners of the Helmholtz Doctoral Prize obtain 5,000 euros for further research and 2,000 euros per month for a half-year research stay abroad. With the award, the Helmholtz Association wants to support talented young researchers at an early stage of their career and encourage them to remain in science.

Further information:

Press release of 14 March 2019,"Diattenuation Imaging – A promising imaging technique for brain research"

Research group „Fiber Architecture“ (FA), Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine, Structural and functional organisation of the brain (INM-1)


Dr. Miriam Menzel
Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine, Structural and functional organisation of the brain (INM-1)
Tel.: +49 2461 61-96359
E-Mail: m.menzel@fz-juelich.de

Press contact:

Tobias Schlößer
Press officer, Forschungszentrum Jülich
Tel.: +49 2461 61-4771
E-Mail: t.schloesser@fz-juelich.de

Last Modified: 22.05.2022