A Nobel Prize laureate in Vilnius University students’ conference

„Try to find out what interests you the most, if that challenge can truly take over your mind. If so, then try finding the best laboratory to solve your problem“ – an advice given to young scientists by professor Erwin Neher, a famous German biophysicist. In 1991 he was awarded with a Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine with professor Bert Sakmann for their discoveries concerning the function of single ion channels in cells.

During the international conference The COINS in Vilnius University Life Sciences Centre professor Neher will hold a lecture „Ion Channels: Their Discovery, their Function and their Role in Medicine and Pharmacology “ about his experiment which led to international acknowledgement.

He kindly agreed to answer a few questions.

What drew your interest to science and what made you choose your field?

Already in middle school I was fascinated by the fact that electricity runs in our bodies. I wanted to learn more about it. At the time when I was preparing for my entrance exams the Hodgkin-Huxley model of neural excitation was very popular. At that time I firmly decided to study physics and then later – biology. That‘s how I chose the path of a biophysicist.

What is so special about the job of a scientist?

A scientist has the privilege of delving deep into his field of interest and the ability to set very concrete goals for himself. Not everyone can do this and earn for their living at the same time.

What motivated and kept you going during all those years?

Curiosity. I wanted to find out how our nervous system was functioning. Of course there were obstacles, failures but they just made me find new ways to solve the problems that were prevalent at the time.

Did you understand the significance of your Nobel Prize worthy discovery at the time?

We made our biggest discoveries in 1975 to 1981. By „we“, I mean me and my colleague Bert Sakmann. We were sure that we had tackled a very significant problem, however the significance of ion channels in muscles, other than the ones in nerve-muscle system was found out much later.

Are you still continuing your research in this field?

Not anymore. In 1980 i became interested in calcium-regulated neurotransmitters and hormonal secretion. Both of these processes are closely related and regulated by ion channels, of course. For our new challenge we used the same, albeit a bit modified technology that we developed during our Nobel Prize-winning experiments.

Any advice for students or young enthusiastic scientists?

Try to find out what interests you the most, if that challenge can truly take over your mind. If so, then try finding the best laboratory to solve your problem. If not, then consider career options in other fields rather than true science.


Erwin Neher will attend The COINS conference which will take place February 28th – March 2nd and promotes the scientists of different fields of life sciences to share their ideas, results and insight about the newest advances in life sciences. Professor E. Neher is an alumni of Technical University of Munich who also worked in Gottingen (Germany), Yale and Wisconsin-Madison universities. From 1983 he is the director of Max Planck institute of biophysical chemistry. His scientific achievements are acknowledged with not only a Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, but numerous other awards as well.

The COINS – 13th annual scientific conference, organized by Vilnius University Students Representation in Life Sciences Centre. It’s the biggest event of its kind in Europe with a goal to create an open space and opportunity for individual improvement of students. The COINS attracts a large international community sharing the same values every year.

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