King Faisal International Prize (KFIP) recognizes excellence in 5 categories: Service to Islam, Islamic Studies, Arabic Language & Literature, Medicine, and Science, since 1979

Professor Rudiger Wehner

Winner of the  
2008
KFIP Prize for  
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Topic: Biology

Biography

Nationality: Germany

2008-Rudiger-WehnerProfessor Rudiger Wehner, born in Germany in 1940, is a world-renowned neuroethologist whose work revolved around the general question of how a 0.1-milligram brain of a 10-milligram animal solves complex computational tasks. He focused on the extraordinary navigational skills of visually guided desert ants (Cataglyphis spp.). Wehner’s work inspired many groups to use this elegant animal model for various conceptual and methodological approaches aiming at the questions of how nervous systems evolved, how they work and how they control behavior. His work is also increasingly capturing the attention of the artificial intelligence and neuroinformatics communities.

Professor Wehner showed that Cataglyphis while roaming over desert terrain for distances of up to 100 metres employs a computational strategy called vector navigation: it measures all angles steered (by employing a neural compass) and all distances covered (by employing a neural odometer) and integrates these measures into a mean vector, which guides it back to its start. One of Webner’s major ‘landmark’ discoveries is how Cataglyphis uses the pattern of polarized light in the sky (which humans are unable to see) as a compass to determine walking directions. Wehner and his team unravelled the computational and neurobiological details of the ant’s skylight compass, discovered and studied various mechanism of landmark guidance that complement the animal’s vector navigation system and simulated the animal’s navigational technique in computer software and implemented it a in robot (Sahabot) that navigates by polarized skylight cues just as Cataglyphis does. Furthermore, his finding that the ant’s brain is organized in a modular way, with separate sensory-motor systems devoted to different behavioural tasks, has important implications for understanding the general design features of larger brains such as those of birds and mammals.Wehner recently extended his research scope to studying the physiological and ecological framework within which the ant’s navigational skill has evolved. He found that the spatial and temporal foraging characteristics, a particular mode of respiration and special expression patterns of heat-shock genes allow for an extreme reduction of water loss and the most extreme heat tolerance observed in any terrestrial animal. Furthermore, Wehner performed molecular systematics and phylogeography to uncover the evolutionary history of Cataglyphis.

Professor Wehbner published four books, a 330-page Handbook chapter, and 225 scientific articles. His 1000 page Zoology textbook “THE WEHNER/GEHRING”, now in its 7th edition, is widely used and highly valued by colleagues and students alike. Beside King Faisal International Prize for Science, Wehner has received numerous awards and honors.

Professor Rudiger Wehner, has been awarded the prize, for his outstanding neuroethologist whose work revolved around the general question of how a 0.1-milligram brain of a 10-milligram animal solves complex computational tasks. He has focused on the extraordinary navigational skills of visually guided desert ants. His work has inspired many international research groups to use this elegant animal model for various conceptual and methodological approaches aiming at the questions of how nervous systems evolved, how they work and how they control behavior.

More about Awarding this Winner

Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Wehner Korber Stiftung
King Faisal International Prize winners announced Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia 2008
Dr. Rüdiger Wehner ETH
Professor Rudiger Wehner Wikipedia
Read the Press Release Read the Acceptance Speech View the Honorary’s Certificate