Max Planck Society awards Franziska Bröker with Otto Hahn Medal

June 21, 2023

Franziska Bröker, PhD graduate at the Department of Computational Neurosciences at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics and the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at University College London, receives the Otto Hahn Medal for her outstanding doctoral thesis on the role of feedback in human learning. Each year, the Max Planck Society honors up to 30 young scientists for their exceptional work which they achieved with their dissertation at a Max Planck Institute. Today, the medal will be presented during a formal ceremony at the annual meeting of the Max Planck Society in Göttingen, Germany. 

In her dissertation, Franziska Bröker breaks new ground both theoretically and conceptually as well as empirically. She explains why previous experiences, the structure and sequence of tasks have a significant effect on the success of learning in humans and explains equivocal results of previous studies. The thesis also provides a novel synthesis of diverse findings in the literatures of multiple research fields and provides important understanding as to why current models of semi-supervised learning are unable to account adequately for human behaviour.

Franziska Bröker has thus made multi-level contributions to the understanding of semi-supervised learning in humans, which break substantial new ground for future work on this topic. “Her work is of superb scientific quality, with clear hypotheses addressed by innovative designs and rigorous analyses. It sits at an attractive equipoise between sophisticated ideas and methods in psychology and machine learning,” comments Peter Dayan, Managing Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, who was her primary thesis advisor.

Franziska Bröker also stood out with her contributions to the broader environments that she occupied and her organisational abilities to make these happen in parallel to finishing her degree. She served as the institute’s deputy gender equality officer and taught summer classes to disadvantaged high school students, but she also created a whole international internship programme targeting students from the Global South in order to foster diversity and inclusion – the most enormous undertaking. “Franziska is simply in a class of her own, and I can’t wait to see what she will do next,” Peter Dayan adds.

Franziska now continues her research on semi-supervised learning at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she joined the Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship Program at the Neuroscience Institute. By combining computational modelling with experimental paradigms from auditory cognitive neuroscience, she seeks to establish strong links between behavior, models and the brain. In her current project, she studies how people’s language experience affects whether the learning of new sound categories – with or without feedback – is successful in the lab.

For more than 40 years, the Max Planck Society has been awarding prizes to junior scientists who have performed exceptional work. The Otto Hahn Medal was the first of its kind.


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