Understanding what our brain and muscles tell us

Silvia Arber © Valérie Chételat

Silvia Arber is a neurobiologist working on a map of the nerve connections between the head and the body. Her work increases our understanding of human dexterity. By Florian Fisch

For Silvia Arber, the photo sessions have become tedious. Since it was announced that the neurobiologist is to be awarded the Otto Naegeli Prize, she’s had to cope with a never-ending stream of journalists. Now they all want to take their own photos, despite her already having spent two hours at a professional photo shoot. Prof. Arber would much rather spend the time working in her lab. She even has a microscope set up in her little office, sandwiched between two laboratories, at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel. Nor is her microscope just for show or to impress her visitors – she uses it almost every day. She mostly examines slices of the brain or the spinal cord. It’s there that nerve cells from the brain meet motor nerve cells that transmit signals for muscles to contract. Arber is researching into how the nervous system steers our muscles. "Almost everything that the brain does has motor consequences", she says.

(From "Horizons" no. 102, September 2014)