This talk will focus on the importance of using natural behaviors in neuroscience research – the “Natural Neuroscience” approach. I will illustrate this point by describing studies of neural codes for spatial behaviors and social behaviors, in flying bats – using wireless neurophysiology methods that we developed – and will highlight new neuronal representations that we discovered in animals navigating through 3D spaces, or in very large-scale environments.  In particular, I will discuss three recent studies: (1) A multi-scale neural code for very large environments, which we discovered in the hippocampus of bats flying in a 200-meter long tunnel. This new type of neural code is fundamentally different from spatial codes reported in small environments – and we show theoretically that it is superior for representing very large spaces.  (2) Rapid modulation of position × distance coding in the hippocampus during collision-avoidance behavior between two bats flying in the long tunnel. This result provides a dramatic illustration of the extreme dynamism of the neural code.  (3) I will also describe new results on the social representation of other individuals in the hippocampus, in a highly social multi-animal setting – which revealed complex neuronal coding of social variables – including the identity, sex, affiliation, and hierarchy of others.   The lecture will propose that neuroscience experiments – in bats, rodents, monkeys or humans – should be conducted under evermore naturalistic conditions.


Nachum Ulanovsky is a Professor of Neuroscience and Head of the Center for Learning, Memory & Cognition at the Weizmann Institute of Science. He is an elected International Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Nachum studies the neural basis of spatial cognition and social cognition in the mammalian hippocampal formation – using bats as a novel animal model that he pioneered. His group developed wireless-electrophysiology devices, which enabled the discovery of 3D place-cells, 3D head-direction cells and 3D grid cells in flying bats; as well as the discovery of goal-vector cells – which encode navigational goals; and social place-cells – which represent other individuals, in a social context. Nachum performs experiments in bats flying in very large environments, hundreds of meters in size, during navigation and social interactions. He seeks to create a "Natural Neuroscience" approach for studying the neural basis of behaviour – tapping into the animal's natural behaviors in complex, large-scale, naturalistic settings.