Crowdfunding campaign for the Transylvanian Neuroscience Summer School

April 1st, 2015

Who We Are

Raul Muresan, Florin Albeanu and Adam Kampff – We are researchers investigating how the brain works (when healthy) and doesn’t work (when ill). We know we can’t do this alone. Therefore, we are trying to inspire and train the neuroscientists of the future, to provide them with the best chance to solve the mysteries of the brain, to discover how we perceive, think, decide, act, and understand the world and ourselves; and to offer real hope for a cure of the brain’s devastating maladies, ranging from Schizophrenia to Alzheimer’s.

Our Cause

We have started a worldwide initiative to train young brain researchers throughout the world, from both poor and developed countries, in the most advanced tools in brain research today. We do this in an idyllic location, without any preexisting infrastructure, where students and instructors alike enjoy the adventure, work hard, and build a sophisticated research lab from scratch.

This is TENSS, the Transylvanian Experimental Neuroscience Summer School:

  • – 3 weeks of 24/7 hands-on practical and theoretical courses in building, debugging, using and interpreting data from cutting-edge experimental methods in modern neuroscience.
  • – A select group of the best applicants: for this year’s edition (2015), top 12-13 selected from an excellent pool of 150 applicants from all over the world – 42 countries and 5 continents.
  • – A wide collection of experts: 20 instructors and 10 dedicated teaching assistant from Brain research institutes in the USA, UK, Germany, Denmark, Portugal, Romania, India, Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands, Hungary and Slovakia.
  • – 20 supporting companies in the field of brain research providing demos, equipment and technical expertise throughout the course.
  • – A knowledge base of Open-Source solutions to complex problems in brain research, providing an alternative to the expensive commercial systems.

What We Need

We need the involvement of the community:

  • – A stable source of funding for TENSS, for equipment purchase – a vital aspect for keeping up with advances in technology.
  • – A communication portal with the community, rising awareness about TENSS and its benefits directed to the general public.
  • – A means of support for the host institute, the Romanian Institute for Science and Technology, which provides the foundation for the course.

What You Can Do for Us

  • – You can support TENSS and RIST by placing a donation. Any dollar counts!
  • – You can spread the word about the initiative, its philosophy and the crowd funding campaign.

The Story Behind TENSS

The Transylvanian Experimental Neuroscience Summer School (TENSS) was born in 2010, from an idea that Florin Albeanu shared to Raul Mureşan during a conference in Romania. The first edition of TENSS took place in 2012, on the shores of Pike Lake, in the picturesque province of Transylvania. In 2014, TENSS has welcomed a third permanent organizer, Adam Kampff, from the Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, Portugal.

The main objective of TENSS is to provide participants top-level, hands-on training in experimental techniques used in neuroscience, from optical all the way to electrophysiological methods. The philosophy of the school is learning by doing and while doing so, openly sharing ideas and expertise. To the best of our knowledge the opportunity for such training is scarce and is covered only in a few places in the world, such as Cold Spring Harbor and Woods Hole, in the USA or Plymouth in UK. TENSS is unique in that most of the experimental (hardware and software) tools are assembled from scratch, with minimal costs leading to a deeply personal transfer of information from first principles. This is best achieved in a location that lacks much infrastructure and further helps tremendously researchers who are faced with limited financial resources in coming up with clever and inexpensive solutions to complex problems.

The course takes place in a remote, picturesque location in Transylvania, where high level technology seems to be out of place. Every year, organizers, professors and students altogether, start building: from as much as an internet connection, they reach by the end of the three weeks to have functional two photon microscopes, fully equipped single cell electrophysiology rigs, behavioral boxes, tetrode drives, virtual reality environments and what not!? And on top of that, much of the equipment built within the school represents an alternative solution to commercial setups: for example, the custom-built two photon microscope in TENSS costs one tenth of the price of typical commercial setup with the same functionality. Participants get actively involved in building a laboratory from scratch and then have the chance to use it too: they learn acquisition methods, analysis and data interpretation, and have the time to conceive their own mini-projects. Such an experience can convince any researcher that everything is possible in science and that financial and concept limitations are easily overcome by creativity and knowledge.

“I would whole-heartedly recommend this course to anyone interested in studying cellular and systems neuroscience. The standard of teaching is extremely high and it is amazing to realize how much sophisticated equipment you can build yourself (especially in rural Romania!)”

Participant in TENSS 2014

A second objective of TENSS is to attract a large number of top-level scientists from all over the world, who can provide theoretical lectures and can interact with participants, among themselves, and with local scientists based in Romania, giving rise to scientific debates of the highest quality. The purpose is to create a durable network of scientists that are willing to share their knowledge and are open to collaborations, and place them in a pool of curious and capable students that can absorb and later implement in their own laboratories the solutions discussed in the summer school. In this way, we want to encourage worldwide access to the open solutions and innovations in neuroscience research. This is of remarkable importance for those individuals interested in pushing the technical and conceptual boundaries within the field. It aims at helping the neuroscience community to solve technical implementation hurdles of the necessary framework for running experiments and allows researchers to devote more time on actually focusing on the research programs of interest.

“The course was a pure delight. The science was hands‐on and cutting edge ‐ despite the need to improvise extensively; the TAs where superb, the organization professional and the visiting lecturers amongst the best in the world. However, the specific reason why I believe the course ranks supremely amongst its peers and is the best choice for any aspiring graduate student or postdoc in the neurosciences is the unusual setting in the rural parts of Transylvania and the ‐ possibly correlated ‐ quality of the students who are absolutely delightful and highly intelligent without exception. All of these elements in combination produced a summer school that has no equal in the world”.

Florian Engert, lecturer Harvard University, USA

Finally, TENSS aims to bring world-wide visibility to neuroscientific research in both Europe and in Romania. The host institute, The Romanian Institute of Science and Technology (, is the only independent, non profit basic research facility in Romania, with the aim of providing world class scientists the appropriate institutional and administrative support so that they can run their research within Romania. Such an event brings visibility, enthusiasm and solutions for the challenges the institute meets in its quest to boost neuroscience research in the country.

“Participating in TENSS 2013 was an amazing experience and an opportunity to meet people who were not only extremely bright, dedicated, contagiously enthusiastic and very much on top of their field but also very open and approachable, starting with the students and all the way to the lecturers. The lectures and lab sessions were well organized and came in support of each other, creating an efficient and intensive hands‐on learning process where each day would bring some incredible source of thrill (such as, well after midnight when you’re finally done aligning and adjusting mirrors and lenses, realizing that you’ve just built your own two‐photon microscope almost from scratch). I can say without a doubt that attending this summer school has been a real boost and an eye‐opening experience in more ways than I could have ever expected. Hopefully many more students will have the opportunity to a similar experience in the following years”

Ioana Gasler, participant in TENSS 2013 Master of Neurobiology University of Bucharest, Romania

Up to now, funding the Transylvanian Experimental Neuroscience Summer School has been partly assured by research societies across the globe, and support was provided by the top companies involved in neuroscience research: This edition, we are seeking to involve the community, the people themselves into participating and supporting the event. We believe that through this support, we can ensure the durable existence of TENSS as an event on the research calendar of Europe.

Where Your Contribution Goes

The budget of one edition of TENSS is around 80000 EUR, which includes accommodation and food for all participants for almost three weeks, logistics, permanent equipment for the school and transportation for organizers and invited speakers. However, throughout the years, there has been no budget allocated to the organizers and the host institution, RIST. The time, effort and administrative costs associated with TENSS were supported by researchers themselves and their ongoing grants. Unfortunately, due to the critical situation of research funding in Romania, the Romanian Institute of Science and Technology has reached a breakpoint: as of this year, the researchers themselves cannot sustain the existence of the institute and its involvement in TENSS. Therefore, it is vital for the continuity of TENSS itself, and for accomplishing one if its main goals to support neuroscience research in Eastern Europe and Romania, to raise community awareness and support in the matter.

To break it down, the funding raised through this campaign will go to the following directions:

  • – Administrative costs within RIST that are associated with the organisation of TENSS will be covered: three researches and one accountant are involved full time for about 4 months each year before, during and after TENSS in order to make it happen.
  • – Equipment purchase for TENSS: every year, companies throughout the world lend sophisticated equipment for the event, taking advantage of the great crowd that participates, teaches and organizers TENSS that get to test and rate their products. The costs and formalities involving the transportation of loaned equipment to and from the course every year are a loss on both the producer and the summer school’s point of view. Thus, many companies offer discounts in order to sell, rather then loan the equipment every year. In this way, TENSS has a permanent equipment basis in RIST, avoiding the expenses of transporting it back and fourth. Throughout the year, the equipment bought for TENSS is also used to perform high level research at RIST, enabling it to bridge the large gap between labs in richer countries and those in Romania. This year, we want to purchase a patch clamp amplifier and a pipette puller for single cell electrophysiology experiments.
  • – We want to share TENSS with the community by creating a knowledge basecontaining information disseminated, discovered and debated in each edition of TENSS, under the form of a wiki. This knowledge base will be open to the scientific community and contributions are expected from scientists around the globe,

The Impact

This event was built on an idea that two friends had at a dinner table. Ever since then, it has continued to grow in scale and prestige, using the same mechanisms: more people were interested, applauded and supported the event, and in the end became friends. This campaign is only the natural evolution of TENSS, opening the opportunity of joining the TENSS team to the community out there.

The impact of having community support for this event is huge:

  • – First, we will close a loop between our beneficiaries and our support: the summer school is a close listener to students’ needs and advances in neuroscience on one side, and cultural and administrative limitations on the other. Therefore, it is not only the scientific community that we address the event to, but to the society in which this event is embedded: The people that work, come from or care about the research environment in Romania. Having the support of our target group will back our every year efforts and provide feedback as to whether we are succeeding in our goals.
  • – Second, this support will assure the stability of the existence of TENSS throughout the years. Not only will it cover equipment purchase costs for the event, but it will support the host institution in continuing its activity associated with TENSS. On the long run, community support for TENSS will translate in community support for neuroscience research in Romania and Eastern Europe.

Other Ways You Can Help

There are many ways you can contribute to TENSS:

  • – First of all, please spread the word about our campaign. The fundraising period is 60 days, meaning it will end the day we start our course.
  • – Secondly, please spread the word about TENSS: we are struggling every year to get the word out so that more people have the opportunity to reach this training. Also, spread the word about the initiative: we would like to see more groups that are inspired by the TENSS and RIST philosophy and try it out in their country and field of study.
  • – Finally, give us some feedback: what do you think about this initiative? What could be improved, what do you know that we haven’t found out yet. We are eager to get new ideas and put them to practice to increase the impact of TENSS on the community around it.

Donate on Indiegogo