Meet: Eberhard R. Horn, Ph.D.
Who I am:
I am the head of a research group for Gravitational Physiology and Experimental
Epilepsy at the Department of Neurology belonging to the Medical Faculty
of the University of Ulm, Germany. I also hold a professorship for neurobiology
at the Institute of Zoology of the Karlsruhe University Fredericiana,
Germany. My scientific activities were strongly influenced by scientists
of different fields like the reknown expert in bee physiology, Prof. Martin
Lindauer, by himself a pupil of the Nobel Prize winner Prof. Karl von
Frisch, as well as by the Italian neurophysiologist Prof. Ottavio Pompeiano
from the University of Pisa and the retired neurologist Prof. Hans Helmut
Kornhuber from the University of Ulm.
My Career Journey
Originally I studied Biology and Mathematics to become a school teacher.
But strongly influenced by the anatomical and physiological courses in
Zoology, I decided to write a doctoral thesis starting the classical scientific
career at a university. As an assistant professor, my major field of interest
was oriented around insects, especially in bees and flies. Later on it
was extended to gravitational physiology in tadpoles. A symposium performed
by Dr. W. Briebleb, Deutsches Forschungsinstitut für Luft-und Raumfahrt,
in 1985 gained my interest in using microgravity as an environment for
physiological investigations. As a result of this symposium, I developed
a conception for research in the field of gravitational biology/physiology.
He also gave me material from the German D1-mission for histological investigations
and encouraged me to write a proposal for the German D-2 mission.
Role for Neurolab
In my first
scientific investigation I studied the sense of gravity in a large number
of adult insect species. Soon it became attractive to extend these investigations
to the field of development. Crickets became attractive to me after I
discovered the importance of the clavate sensilla on their cerci for gravity
reception. It followed the discovery of neuroplastic, adaptive properties
of this system. It was precisely this discovery which led me to write
a proposal for Neurolab. But the main encouragement came from my successful
experiments with tadpoles of the frog Xenopus laevis from the German D-2
mission which were conducted by me as Principal Investigator. The results,
together with those obtained from my experiment with tadpoles and fishes
on the 6th Shuttle-to-MIR Mission, convinced me that gravity deprivation
can, in fact, alter gravity related behavior in a way which allowed the
development of reasonable working hypotheses.
By my work, I want to contribute a solution to the problem of how the
nervous system works, and especially, why it demonstrates the extreme
highly developed adaptivity and neuroplasticity. It was interesting to
realize this neuroplasticity not only in my investigations on gravity
sensation, but also in my projects on experimental epilepsy.
Benefit of the Study
Exposure to microgravity means gravity deprivation. So far, the effects
of sensory deprivation was studied in most sensory systems. The importance
of these studies was underlined by the fact that Hubel and Wiesel were
awarded with the Nobel Prize for their studies of the visual system. As
the efficiency of many other sensory systems could also be affected by
deprivation, it became attractive for me to study the sense of gravity
in relation to deprivation, i.e. to microgravity, and to find out whether
there is a general rule in the effects of sensory deprivation. I am absolutely
convinced that my experiments can help to answer this question.
I consider crickets as a model system
to study the effects of microgravity on structure and function of the
nervous system under deprivation conditions. Deprivation of the gravity
sensing organs from their naturally occurring stimulation can even occur
on Earth if, for example, the blood supply to the central neuronal networks
is blocked. The risk of the occurrence of this event cannot be excluded.
Therefore, my crickets offer the possibility to study effects of deprivation
even on the level of the structure of individual neurons and, additionally,
whether modifications can be compensated for. Results obtained from experimental
models are easier to obtain than those from human beings. They give the
arguments for a goal directed investigation in highly developed organisms.
In elementary school, we wrote a test in mathematics. Our teacher was
sitting close to me so that I could see the result of her calculation.
My calculations differed from hers. Many pupils of my class were asked
for their result. Their results differed also from that of our teacher
but were the same as I had calculated. Because I was the best in mathematics,
she asked me for the answer. I gave her the one I had seen on her sheet
of paper, because in my opinion, at that time, a teacher never fails.
After some protest of my class, she decided to repeat the calculation
at the blackboard. The result was clear, and I had gotten a very important
experience. I was 7 years old when this happened.
In the gymnasium (editor's note: European equivalent to high school),
I had finished a test in the Biology course unsuccessfully. This event
led me to the decision to study Biology. Why? Because I knew that I was
much better than the result of this test; my aim was to demonstrate it.
I was 17 years old when this happened.
There were only a few persons who had directly influenced my career.
The German neurologist, Prof. Dr. Hans Helmut Kornhuber encouraged me
to follow my ideas in experimental epilepsy which contrast the current
opinion. Dr. W. Briegleb, involved in research of gravitational biology,
directed my attention to the field of gravitational biology/physiology.
The Italian physiologist Prof. Dr. Ottavio Pompeiano introduced me to
neuropharmacology of the vestibular system in mammals. However, in contrast
to many scientists, the final decision about my professional career and
my scientific fields were defined by my own ideas. The many discussions
with my students, to whom I have to explain and defend my ideas may have
effected my way of thinking. As long as I can remember, the experience
which I gained from the exploration and discovery of new insights always
Likes/Dislikes about career
What I like best about my job are: to follow my own ideas, to have close
contact with international partners, and to educate. What I like least
are: types of administrative work which is uneffective and the blockade
of scientific work by administrative acts.
Try to follow your own ideas, but to keep always in mind the reality
of the world and look for strong partners. The best way to learn more
about what I'm doing is to visit me. This would be a great pleasure to
I am married and father of two sons. We all love the Italian and the
English way of life. Therefore, as often as possible we spend our holidays
together in one of these countries.
Personally, I collect ancient books mainly in the field of life sciences
and classic literature. I like to play music. I have learned to play piano,
violin and guitar. The latter is my companion when I sing country and
western songs. I also enjoy walking in the mountains as often as my job
gives me the time.