Dr Levi with staff and students from the IIS. Dr Levi with staff and students from the IIS.

Dr Levi arrived in Tokyo in April 2017 for a mobility period scheduled until the end of June 2019. His research focuses on the topic of Biomimetic Spiking Neural Networks.

Why did you choose to carry out an international research visit?

I was born and grew up in Bordeaux – right next to the University of Bordeaux. For this reason, I always wanted to travel and discover new horizons – and this is exactly what I did!

During my engineering school (ENSEIRB-MATMECA) studies, I went abroad for each of my internships (Germany and Northern Ireland). In 2008, after my post-doctorate at CEA in Grenoble (south-east France), I went to the University of Tokyo to work on Artificial Neurons within the framework of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

Between 2009 and 2013, as Associate Professor teaching a University Technical Diploma (DUT) at the IMS laboratory and in charge of international internships, I completed various visits to perform new collaborations throughout Europe. In 2013, I returned to the University of Tokyo for two years as a visiting research fellow within a CNRS delegation, working on microfluidic neurons and biomimetic artificial neural networks. And most recently, in 2016, when the University of Tokyo contacted me with the proposal of this Associate Professor position at the IIS, it was therefore a very natural next step to return to what has become my second home.

What is the topic of your research project? 

The title of my research project is: “Biomimetic Spiking Neural Network (SNN) for Bio-Hybrid experiments: Applications to Neurological disorders and Biological Artificial Intelligence”.

The characterization and modeling of biological neural networks is a field that promises major advances in our understanding of the mechanisms that govern the functioning as well as the different pathologies that may affect the brain. This field also leads on to a new domain of research: Biological Artificial Intelligence (BAI) using Neuro-intelligence to create new brain-based AI.

My current research focuses on the design of biomimetic artificial neural networks. The aim is to carry out bio-hybrid experiments, with bi-directional communications between artificial and biological neurons. This enables the creation of tools which may be used on the one hand for biomedical activities that help to better understand the nervous system and to develop neuroprosthesis and, on the other hand, to pursue a new path in Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Why the University of Tokyo, Japan?

The University of Tokyo is the leading university in Asia. It is renowned worldwide and boasts collaborations with highly-reputed institutions such as Harvard, MIT, etc.  Such partnerships are very interesting and useful in my actual research and also in strengthening my professional network.

In addition to my own personal experience, another objective of this mobility is to boost the collaboration between the University of Tokyo and the University of Bordeaux. With this in mind, we are organizing a workshop on the topic of “Micro and nano-technologies for neuroscience, chemical engineering, and material characterization” that will take place at the Institute of Industrial Science of the University of Tokyo from the 12th until the 14th December 2018 (see brochure). A delegation from Bordeaux will be present at this event which will then be organized on an annual basis, taking place alternately in Tokyo and in Bordeaux.

We also have plans to implement a Memorandum of Understanding between our two establishments that will encourage the exchange of students and researchers. Such collaboration will hopefully drive us on further to another project which is the creation of a joint laboratory, to be based in Bordeaux and that will share technology, equipment and researchers from both universities.

How would you describe the research environment in Japan?

In Japan, the field of research is very well funded – laboratories are equipped with the latest technologies and researchers are dedicated 100% to their projects without an additional teaching workload. Within my specific domain of research, thanks to minimal paperwork and rapid processing, it is easier to carry out a greater range of experiments.

In terms of communication, the Japanese culture means that co-workers are very reserved and respectful of one another. However their typical discretion means that sometimes it is a case of “Lost in translation” as what they say is not necessarily always what they mean! In my experience, a short period of adaptation suffices to ensure no more misunderstandings and what then follows is a highly efficient level of collaboration.

In conclusion?

Travelling broadens the horizons and enables one to have an objective viewpoint vis à vis the home country – its strong and its weak points. From a research perspective, it also allows one to discover a new work environment (meetings, management, methodology, etc.) and to bring the best “lessons learned” back to France. I would strongly encourage everyone, students and researchers, to go abroad if they have the opportunity.


Read about the 1st workshop organized jointly by the IIS (University of Tokyo) and the University of Bordeaux:

> Download the workshop program

Updated on 18/10/2018