Max Planck Dahlem Campus of Cognition (MPDCC) 

The Max Planck Dahlem Campus of Cognition (MPDCC) offers a high-end laboratory infrastructure for cognitive behavioral and neuroscience research conducted at the MPI for Human Development. Over the past 15 years, the spectrum of empirical methods used at the Institute has expanded and shifted fundamentally. Today, it is strongly oriented towards experimental research and can no longer be regarded as purely rooted in the humanities.

In order to meet the growing demand for laboratory space, more and more parts of the building on the neighboring property Dillenburger Straße 53 have been rented over the last 10 years. To enable the Institute to operate these laboratory spaces sustainably and develop them innovatively for the future, the Max Planck Society was finally able to purchase the entire building in March 2023 after protracted negotiations (see Figures 1 and 2).

At present, the MPDCC houses a magnetic resonance imaging lab (MRI Lab), a lab for electroencephalography (EEG) including mobile EEG that can be integrated with virtual reality (VR), a dedicated VR lab, and several labs for behavioral testing, as well as a high-performance computing cluster. The capacities of the current magnetic resonance tomograph (MRI, 3-Tesla field strength, Siemens Trio) no longer meet the increased demand, as several Centers and junior research groups now rely on neuroscientific methods. In addition, the multiband sequences required for state-of-the-art quantitative imaging can rarely be run on the existing scanner, necessitating the acquisition of a modern 3-Tesla device.

The topic of plasticity across the lifespan is of central importance for both the Center for Lifespan Psychology and the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience. The Institute occupies an internationally leading position in the field. In order to maintain this position, the acquisition of a 7-Tesla MR device is required. Over the past few years, the MPI for Human Development has increasingly been working on closing the gap between plasticity research on animal models and the corresponding research in the human field through the concerted use of structural, spectroscopic, and functional MRI methods. The acquisition of a 7-Tesla device will greatly propel these efforts, as the increased signal yield of the device provides improved spatial resolution in both structural and functional imaging. For metabolic imaging and for single-voxel spectroscopy, the signal gain and the smaller spectral linewidth are also an enormous advantage. Taken together, an MRI scanner with 7-Tesla field strength is the first choice for studies in which the relationships among changes in the brain on a structural, functional, and neurochemical level and changes in behavior are to be explored. In sum, by expanding its neuroimaging facilities, the Institute underscores its leading role in research on the causes and consequences of neural plasticity in humans.

The acquisition of a 3-Tesla and a 7-Tesla MR scanner was already granted to the Institute by the Max Planck Society in 2018. Through the purchase of the building at Dillenburger Straße 53, the large equipment will now find a suitable home. Additional labs for extended reality (XR), robotics, science of intelligence research, near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), and wave-field audio synthesis are being planned. The construction planning and the tenders for the procurement of the equipment have begun, so this unique laboratory infrastructure will hopefully be completed within the next 2 to 3 years.

Beyond pure laboratory infrastructure, we launched the MPDCC in 2021 in order to create a hub for scientific collaboration and exchange in the field of cognitive neuroscience. The MPDCC provides office space and laboratory facilities for MPI for Human Development researchers and integrated Campus research groups. Current research groups at MPDCC include the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience (Simone Kühn), the ERC-funded Adaptive Memory and Decision Making Group (Bernhard Spitzer), and the Mind-Body-Emotion Group at the MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (Michael Gaebler). Collaborators from partner institutions in Berlin and beyond as well as international guests are also welcome to work at the MPDCC.

The Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) and the Freie Universität Berlin are involved in the MPDCC development, e.g., via the shared International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS) on Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research (COMP2PSYCH) and on the Life Course (LIFE) (see below). In addition, by appointing Roberto Cabeza from Duke University, USA, as an Einstein Profile Professor for Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging and Memory at HU, the Einstein Foundation has brought an internationally renowned neuroscientist to Berlin who is collaborating with the MPDCC. The Berlin site of the Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research, under the leadership of Ulman Lindenberger and Ray Dolan, is also interlinked with the MPDCC. It is a central research location for London and Berlin Fellows of the Max Planck UCL Centre, providing a unique research infrastructure in the near future. Overall, the MPDCC is designed to promote high-level scientific cooperation in Berlin and beyond.

Research at the MPDCC is facilitated by an experienced lab team supporting neurocognitive study organization, recruitment, and data collection. We have introduced mandatory guidelines for conducting research at our labs. Study participants are recruited through our participant data base (Castellum), and all employees who require access to data from Castellum must complete both Castellum training and data protection training via our data protection awareness platform. To make efficient use of limited office space and laboratory infrastructure and to secure the high standards of scientific practice and excellence of the Max Planck Society, the Institute’s Board of Directors introduced regular Campus User Meetings for research conducted under the MPDCC umbrella in September 2022. Every study planning to use MPDCC laboratory or staff resources is required to seek approval from the Campus User Meeting Committee. To be considered for approval by the Committee, researchers will need to register their study plans with the Institute’s newly established Study Registration Tool. The Campus User Meeting Committee, consisting of the directors, the Institute’s research coordinator, the heads of labs, the head of lab technology, and the main research assistant, decides on the general suitability of a given study to be run at the MPDCC based on the research design, intended methods, and available resources. Should several studies require access to the same laboratory or support resources (e.g., telephone studio), the Campus User Meeting Committee decides the priority of resource allocation among the studies.

The MPDCC is also set to provide an excellent environment for educating and promoting the next generations of leading researchers in cognitive neuroscience and developmental psychology. Hence, it is the Berlin home base for three international PhD programs: the IMPRS LIFE, the IMPRS COMP2PSYCH, and the Max Planck School of Cognition (MPSCog). The Berlin headquarters of MPSCog is located at Dillenburger Straße and thus forms a crucial part of the MPDCC. The graduate schools at the MPDCC organize curricula and training together to create synergies between schools and strengthen graduate education, particularly with regard to (computational) methods training. We regularly organize a PhD Day, where PhD fellows from the various Campus groups and schools get the chance to meet and exchange ideas (see Figure 3). Furthermore, we offer a colloquium series, talks, and workshops at the MPDCC, forming the basis for a vibrant scientific community with a focus on exchange and collaboration.

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