Faces of NeurotechEU and NeurotechRI: Research, and Multidisciplinary Collaborations with Péter Szücs

In the faces of NeurotechEU and NeurotechRI series, several people in the NeurotechEU/NeurotechRI alliance are interviewed to learn about their experiences and insights.

Dr. Péter Szücs, chairman of the Department of Anatomy, Histology, and Embryology at the University of Debrecen, is actively involved in neurobiology and pain research. Since 2020, he has been serving as the University’s scientific coordinator and a member of the Board of Governors (BOG) for NeurotechEU and NeurotechRI.

The experience of effectively operating within a radically different cultural setting can immensely benefit individuals.

Dr. Péter Szücs

How did you become involved in NeurotechEU?

Our Vice-Rector for Science, Professor Csernoch, mentioned to me this exciting project involving top-notch universities. Recognizing the need for expertise in neuroscience and neurotechnology, I was entrusted with the task of gathering faculty contacts and individuals to foster collaboration on projects in this field and on the Neuroinnovation Summit program.

The University of Debrecen has diverse and strong faculties actively engaged in NeurotechEU-related projects. How does this multidisciplinarity foster collaborations?

The University of Debrecen hosts over 30,000 students across its 13 faculties. With the support of NeurotechEU, the Faculty of Engineering has introduced new course curricula, incorporating specific linkages and facilitating inter-faculty collaborations.

During the initial exploratory phase of collaboration, the Faculty of Medicine engaged in several multidisciplinary projects. In partnership with the Faculty of Economics and the Faculty of Music, we investigated the connection between different music styles and mood in neutral or nature-inspired settings.

The Faculty of Engineering plays a vital role in neurotechnology education. Before Professor Péter Korondi’s initiative in social robotics research, they had already collaborated with the Faculty of Medicine on prosthetic development. The new curricula developed by the Faculty of Engineering include elements that require collaboration with biologists and medical educators.

Furthermore, the other faculties also have the potential to make valuable contributions to neurotechnology from various angles, such as neurometaphysics and neuroethics. By introducing modular courses, they aim to foster collaborative efforts among neuroscientists and experts from diverse disciplines.

The University of Debrecen stands out as one of the most international members of the alliance, boasting a significant population of international students. What advantages does this offer?

Engaging in NeurotechEU not only amplifies our global presence, particularly in fields that already draw a substantial number of international students, such as medicine and engineering but also piques the interest of international students, who exhibit a profound fascination with emerging technologies.

Participating in NeurotechEU could further strengthen our educational and research collaborations with renowned foreign partner universities, opening up additional growth opportunities for our students. This active participation underscores our capacity for technological advancement and scientific innovation, potentially enticing talented students who, having enriched their knowledge abroad, return and contribute to domestic research.

You spent six years conducting research in Portugal. How did you benefit from that period, and what led to your return?

I had substantial responsibilities at the University, leaving limited time for research. Drawing from my prior experiences in research-oriented environments like Strasbourg and Oxford, I sought research intensity. Portugal offered an exceptional research opportunity, where I collaborated with the outstanding researcher Boris Safronov for five years. However, after our son’s birth we needed more help from family members so we returned and continued our research in Hungary.

I often advocate for my colleagues to seize opportunities to work abroad whenever possible. The experience of effectively operating within a radically different cultural setting can immensely benefit individuals. This is particularly important given our role in educating many international students, where such networking experience holds great significance.

What is your research area?

My research focuses on studying neurons involved in pain information processing, specifically at the spinal cord level. We examine the functioning and electrical activity of these neurons. We continue collaborating with Boris Safronov and have jointly published research. We have developed a new research method with him, eliminating the need to slice the spinal cord. Illuminating it’s surface with oblique infrared light reveals sensory neurons and allows studying their connections.

In addition to conducting research, you are actively promoting neuroscience in outreach events like the International Brain Bee competition, Brain Awareness Week, or Researchers’ Night. Which of these holds the most significance for you?

Within the NeurotechEU framework, BrainBee presented one of the most intriguing challenges. Collaborating with my esteemed colleagues, András Birinyi and Balázs Pál (UD, Department of Physiology), we prepared and edited the questions to train the students. Notably, in the first competition, an impressive majority of applicants hailed from Debrecen, showing our effective outreach to students. Mentoring these remarkably bright, curious, and brilliant high school students was gratifying.

Furthermore, we proposed establishing preparatory teams at the NeurotechEU level in each country where a partner university is present. These NeurotechEU teams could provide a more advanced level of preparation for the national BrainBee competitions, enhancing our prospects on the international competition.

What do you consider the most notable achievement of UD in the NeurotechEU project?

Despite initial challenges, the project advanced, and communication became more effective over time. Throughout events like BrainBee, Brain Awareness Week, and Researchers’ Night, the NeurotechEU project successfully reached the public. Internally, we identified areas for expanding interdisciplinary collaboration in neurotechnology. This cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary approach can be beneficial for future collaborations within the University.

What is the key takeaway from your NeurotechEU experience?

We could have achieved even greater effectiveness with a more structured approach and more local support. Relying solely on self-motivation of involved staff proved to be risky and unsustainable. Task distribution, monitoring, and better compensation should have been more efficient.

On a positive note, the University of Debrecen’s participation in such a significant European university alliance was successful and added value to the program. We are grateful to have been a part of it, and we hope that we not only were active and valuable contributors to NeurotechEU but also continue to be so.

By: Krisztina Csiba from the University of Debrecen

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