From maps to memories: ERC Consolidator grant for study CreateKnow

In everyday life, we acquire memories not just to reminisce about the past, but to extract valuable information that lets us build up knowledge about our world. For example, when we move to a new city, we will use the experiences of navigating through new streets to create a spatial map in our mind. Once we have this map, we can now easily update it and learn where a new restaurant is or how we can take a short-cut. In the end of 2023, Lisa Genzel was awarded an ERC Consolidator grant of two million Euro to unravel how such knowledge is encoded in the brain.

During the CreateKnow project, Lisa Genzel aims to discover how we build up and update our knowledge networks depending on the amount of previous experience we have. Rather than viewing memory as a static entity, she proposes a dynamic model that considers the gradient of experiences individuals have with specific concepts or topics. Genzel: ’most people would agree with the conventional wisdom that if you are unfamiliar with Nijmegen, you might struggle to remember specific locations like a new restaurant. If you stumble upon this restaurant without knowing the city’s layout, chances are you will not retain its location for your next visit. However, if I guide you to this restaurant in your hometown, where you are intimately familiar with the streets and landmarks, you are likely to remember it for life-whether you want to or not.’

One of the distinguishing features of Genzel’s grant proposal is her interdisciplinary methodology, which involves studying memory processes across species, including mice, rats, and humans. By employing various techniques, she aims to explore memory mechanisms at both the cellular and systems levels, unravelling the complexities of memory formation and retention over extended periods.

Challenge educational methods

Genzel’s study could challenge educational methods, such as the use of condensed learning blocks of weeks that currently are used by many universities. Her research underscores the need for evidence-based approaches to education that prioritize long-term knowledge retention and comprehension.

ERC Consolidator Grants

ERC Consolidator Grants are designed to support researchers at the stage at which they are consolidating their own independent research team or programme. The funding per grant is about two million euros and truly prestigious. Out of 2.130 candidates, the CreateKnow project was one of the selected projects to receive funding.