Prof. Dr. Ilka Diester


Optophysiology - Optogenetics and Neurophysiology


University of Freiburg
Georges-Köhler-Allee 201
79110 Freiburg i. Br.

+49 (0)761 203-8440


My vision is a holistic understanding of how decisions are reached and how they turn into actions. This has far reaching implications for neuroprosthetics, a scientific area which helps patients with specific loss of functions with electronic supplements.
The science of my lab spans the understanding of the basic mechanisms of how we reach decisions and how movements are generated. We apply cutting edge technologies as electrophysiology, optogenetics, fiber-based Calcium imaging and 2-photon imaging with holographic stimulation combined with behavior. To understand how neuronal activities and behavior are linked holistically, we investigate what kind of model of the world is represented in the brain. For that we tightly interact with our colleagues from the Computer science department.

I’m convinced that a couple of prerequisites must be met in order to achieve our goals.

  • To stimulate creative approaches to complex neuroscientific problems, we must promote collaborations between neuroscientists, engineers, computer scientists and ethicists. The IMBIT build the ideal environment for such an interdisciplinary approach.
  • To enable our research, we must develop and apply the next generation of tools and instrumentation.
  • To ensure sustained creativity, we must recruit and train the next generation of scientists with interdisciplinary backgrounds.
  • To maximize community support and engagement, we must develop a communications and outreach effort that informs and educates the public about our scientific progress and aspirations. For that, tightly interact with Nexus experiments, a platform for community based outreach activities.

Scientific & professional career

Since 2014W3 Professor at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freibug
2011-2014Research Group Leader at the Ernst Strüngmann Institute in Cooperation with Max Planck Society
2008-2011Postdoctoral Research Fellow with Dr. Karl Deisseroth, Laboratory of Optogenetics, and Dr. Krishna Shenoy, Laboratory of Motor Control, Stanford University, California, USA.

Academic Functions

2022-presentSpokesperson of IMBIT//BrainLinks-BrainTools
2022-presentDeputy speaker of the Research Unit FOR5159 ‘Prefrontal flexibility’
2019-presentCo-speaker of the Center BrainLinks-BrainTools
2019-presentSpeaker of the Profile Field Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Freiburg
2018-presentMember of directory Board of the research building Intelligent Machine Brain Interfacing Technology (IMBIT)
2014-presentMember of the steering committee of the Excellence ClusterBrainLinks-BrainTools
2016-2019Member of the steering committee of the DFG Priority Program 1926

Academic education

2008Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Eberhart-Karls-University, Tübingen, Germany
2003Dipl. Biol. (equivalent to Master) from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

Honors & Awards

2016Member of the FENS Kavli Network of Excellence
2013ERC Starting Grant
2013TILL Photonics Research Award
2012Bernstein Award (BMBF)
2012Boehringer Ingelheim FENS (Federation of European Neuroscience Societies) Research Award
2009Postdoctoral fellowship of the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP)
2008Academy prize of the Göttingen Academy of Science
2008Graduate “Summa cum laude”, Eberhardt-Karls University, Tübingen
2008Postdoctoral fellowship of the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst)
2008Paper of the year award (Hertie Institute for clinical brain research)
2007Travel stipend of the NWG (Neurowissenschaftliche Gesellschaft)
2005Marine Biological Laboratory Award, Woods Hole


Journal papers

Diester I, Bartos M, Bödecker J, Kortylewski A, Leibold C, Letzkus J, Nour MM, Schönauer M, Straw A, Valada A, Vlachos A, Brox T (2024) Internal world models in humans, animals, and AI. Neuron:112: 2265-2268. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2024.06.019

Journal papers

Sporer M, Vasilas IG, Adzemovic A, Graber N, Reich S, Gueli C, Eickenscheidt M, Diester I, Stieglitz T, Ortmanns M (2024) NeuroBus - Architecture for an Ultra-Flexible Neural Interface. IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems, doi: 10.1109/TBCAS.2024.3354785.

Journal papers

Zhu H, De La Crompe B, Kalweit G, Schneider A, Kalweit M, Diester I, Boedecker J (2023) Multiple Intention Inverse Reinforcement Learning for Animal Behavior Characterization. arXiv:2311.13870. doi: 10.48550/arXiv.2311.13870.

Journal papers

Crompe B, Schneck M, Steenbergen F, Schneider A, Diester I (2023) FreiBox: A Versatile Open-Source Behavioral Setup for Investigating the Neuronal Correlates of Behavioral Flexibility via 1-Photon Imaging in Freely Moving Mice. eNeuro. 10(4):ENEURO.0469-22.2023. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0469-22.2023.

Journal papers

Hanganu-Opatz IL, Klausberger T, Sigurdsson T, Nieder A, Jacob SN, Bartos M, Sauer JF, Durstewitz D, Leibold C, Diester I (2023) Resolving the prefrontal mechanisms of adaptive cognitive behaviors: A cross-species perspective. Neuron. 111(7):1020-1036. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2023.03.017.

Journal papers

Alyahyay M, Kalweit G, Kalweit M, Karvat G, Ammer J, Schneider A, Adzemovic A, Vlachos A, Boedecker J, Diester I (2023) Mechanisms of Premotor-Motor Cortex Interactions during Goal Directed Behavior. bioRxiv. doi:

Journal papers

O'Shea DJ, Duncker L, Goo W, Sun X, Vyas S, Trautman EM, Diester I, Ramakrishnan C, Deisseroth K, Sahani M, Shenoy KV (2022) Direct neural perturbations reveal a dynamical mechanism for robust computation. bioRxiv. doi:

Journal papers

Melbaum S, Russo E, Eriksson D, Schneider A, Durstewitz D, Brox T, Diester I (2022) Conserved structures of neural activity in sensorimotor cortex of freely moving rats allow cross-subject decoding. Nat Commun. 13(1):7420. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-35115-6.

Journal papers

Eriksson D, Schneider A, Thirumalai A, Alyahyay M, de la Crompe B, Sharma K, Ruther P, Diester I (2022) Multichannel optogenetics combined with laminar recordings for ultra-controlled neuronal interrogation. Nat Commun. 13, 985.  doi:

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