What happens in a person's brain when a memorable experience occurs?

Helping us to better understand the neurological processes involved in memory formation, Alessio Attardo's research on engram neuron creation has clear applications for the treatment of people who suffer deficiencies in this area.

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Why did you choose Germany as a research destination?

I first came to Germany from Sicily in 2002 to start a PhD at the MPI of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden. At that time, it was basically by chance: I had interviewed in various schools and decided to go to Dresden because I simply loved the institute and the science there. I lived in Dresden for 5 years, then I moved to the USA for my postdoctoral fellowship. After that I really wanted to come back to Germany because I knew the research environment was excellent, funding was good, and the overall quality of life was very good. During my period in Dresden I became acquainted with the German culture and I knew I’d like to live in Germany.

What was your first impression of Germany, the German culture and its people?

I suppose for me a lot had to do with the language initially: I had not studied any German language prior to moving to Germany, so at the beginning it was hard. Also, the proverbial directness of German people can be easily interpreted as lack of politeness which can be intimidating. However, in Dresden I always – literally – found friendly and helpful people, which helped a lot. After I gained some confidence with the language and understood some "basic laws" of German interpersonal interaction, my life became richer and I could enjoy a lot more of the German culture. Regarding my current impressions of the culture, they are obviously biased by my "home culture" – of an Italian from the south – and by my long stay in the USA. I truly appreciate the attitude of "getting things done", but with attention to sustainability and efficiency. I also like the general forward-looking attitude. The aspects I am not very fond of are lack of propensity toward risk-taking and a general feeling of dissatisfaction I often see in people – even though the average quality of life is very good.

Did you encounter any difficulties while settling in in Germany?

I am in a somewhat privileged position as I came to Germany first as a student in a place that supported me very well during my settling process. When I settled to Germany for the second time it was in Munich, which is a very dynamic and international city; by that time I had a German wife and a small child. We really had no major issues and settling was relatively smooth, despite the – somewhat expected – issues with high living costs in the city.

Do you have tips for other international researchers who are thinking about coming to Germany or cooperating with researchers in Germany?

My advice would be to persist and try to go beyond the first difficulties you might encounter with the language and the people: you'll discover a richness and many opportunities in the country.

Short and crisp: What is your favourite

  • German word: Schornsteinfeger (Still can't pronounce it…)
  • German dish: Schweinshaxe (Had too many of those…)
  • piece of German culture: Public transportation you can bet your life on


Find out more about Alessio Attardo and his research project on the Latest Thinking website: www.lt.org