Prof. Dr. Surjo Soekadar's research explores how neurotechnologies can be used in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders. Neurotechnologies are technological and computer-assisted tools that analyze brain signals and are capable of modifying them in a targeted manner. Neurotechnologies include brain-computer interfaces, the application and development of which is at the center of Prof. Soekadar's work. In his previous research, Prof. Soekadar enabled quadriplegic patients with complete finger paralysis to eat and drink independently using a brain/neural-controlled hand exoskeleton.
Please close your eyes and think about your research project. What do you see at first?
How, despite severe hand paralysis, someone grabs a piece of his favourite chocolate and eats it for the first time independently again thanks to a brain-controlled hand exoskeleton.
How would you explain your research to a child?
In our brain, there is a constant flow of electric currents, like they come out of the socket, only much, much weaker. When we think of something in particular, e.g. making a fist, these electric currents in our brain change in a certain way. We can measure this change from the scalp and translate it into a control signal, for example, of a robotic hand. Such thought-translation device can help paralysed people to cope better in everyday life. If it is used regularly, it is even possible that the electrical currents in the brain intensify. It is one of the main questions I am working on, how this effect can be used to treat certain diseases of the brain, e.g. depression or anxiety disorders.
What is it that surprises people when you tell them about your research?
How precisely brain activity can be measured in everyday life by completely inconspicuous, wireless and miniaturized devices. Most people are also very surprised to hear about the possibility that repeated use of a brain-computer interface can lead to remarkable remodelling of the nervous system. And it fascinates them how neuroplasticity can trigger neural recovery and restoration of brain function.
With whom would you like to swap your workplace for one day? What would you do?
I would like to swap with a pilot and then fly an Airbus 340 or a Boeing 747 from Paris to New York.
Is there any rather unusual hobby or talent you might want to share with us?
I have been collecting various writing instruments since I was a student. Maybe a little rebellion against digitalisation and the result of my enthusiasm for writing.
What did your research teach you about life?
That technology can simplify our lives and make them more convenient, but rarely provides answers to the big questions of life.
What would your job be, if not a scientist?
Fortunately, I lead kind of a double life: on the one hand I am a scientist, but on the other hand I am also a medical doctor. Both are very fulfilling professions for me. I probably would have stayed with being a medical doctor if science hadn't worked out.
Is there any particular object that follows you through work and/or life?
On my desk there is a chaos pendulum, i.e. a pendulum with several swingingv elements whose movement cannot be predicted. This pendulum symbolizes each of the 86 billion nerve cells in our brain. Like any nerve cell or any other unstable system, this chaos pendulum has a critical point at which it is completely unclear which state the pendulum will take next. For me, the secret of life and freedom lies in this principle.
Which place in Berlin do you like the most, and why?
In Berlin, almost everything is exciting! My favourite place is the Zion Curch in the Rosenthaer Vorstadt, where Dietrich Bonhoeffer worked in the 1930s and where opposition groups met later during the DDR era.
Is there anything about Berlin that you didn’t expect at all? And/or something that you miss here? What makes Berlin special for your research?
Berlin is incredibly diverse and versatile. That made it difficult for me to understand this city at the beginning. Meanwhile I have understood that this diversity is exactly what distinguishes Berlin from other metropolises, what makes it worth living in and what Berlin can be proud of.
Berlin attracts the best minds and the most talented young scientists - a huge advantage for my research!