Indiana University
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The Gill Center for Biomolecular Science

Robert Raimond de Ruyter van Steveninck | Faculty

Robert Raimond de Ruyter van SteveninckProfessor, Department of Physics
Professor, Program in Neuroscience

Office: Swain West 165
TEL: 855-6857


  • B.S., University of Groningen, The Netherlands, 1981
  • PhD, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, The Netherlands, 1986
  • Postdoctoral positions: Cambridge, UK and Groningen, The Netherlands

Research Interests

His research centers on coding and computation in the sensory nervous system. An important motivation of this work is to search for optimization principles underlying biological information processing. The signals collected by the sense organs are uncertain, and the nature of this uncertainty is twofold: Sensory signals fluctuate in ways that are causally related to events in the environment, but on top of this there are random variations in the physical carriers of these signals. From this corrupted sensory input the brain must make deductions about the events that caused them. The statistics of signal and of noise together determine how sensory signals should be processed in the best possible way, and it is interesting to ask how close biological systems are to being optimal in this sense. Before this question can be answered, we need to know how to interpret neural signals, that is, we need to understand the neural code. These issues are studied both experimentally and theoretically. The experiments center on the visual system of the blowfly, where recordings are made from photoreceptors and from motion sensitive neurons. This system allows long term stable recordings, and the quality of the data makes it possible to put theories of neural coding and optimal processing to quantitative tests. One clear theoretical prediction is that the optimal processor is context dependent, and for this reason there is a substantial effort to understand neural processing in the animal's natural environment.

Representative Publications


  • Rieke, D. Warland, R. de Ruyter van Steveninck, W. Bialek: Spikes: Exploring the Neural Code, Bradford Book - MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1997.

Book Chapters

  • R. de Ruyter van Steveninck, W. Bialek. Timing and counting precision in the blowfly visual system. In: Methods in Neural Networks IV (J. van Hemmen, J.D. Cowan, E. Domany, eds.). Springer Verlag, Heidelberg, New York, 2001, pp 313-371.
  • R. de Ruyter van Steveninck, A. Borst, W. Bialek. Real time encoding of motion: Answerable questions and questionable answers from the fly's visual system. In: Processing Visual Motion in the Real World (J. Zanker and J. Zeil, eds.). Springer Verlag, Heidelberg, New York, 2001, pp. 279-306.


  • I. Nemenman, W. Bialek, R. de Ruyter van Steveninck. Entropy and information in neural spike trains: Progress on the sampling problem. Phys Rev E (in press)
  • A.L. Fairhall, G.D. Lewen, W. Bialek, R.R. de Ruyter van Steveninck. Efficiency and ambiguity in an adaptive neural code. Nature 412: 787-792, 2001.
  • G.D. Lewen, W. Bialek, R.R. de Ruyter van Steveninck. Neural coding of naturalistic motion stimuli. Network: Computation in Neural Systems 12:317-329, 2001.
  • N. Brenner, W. Bialek, R.R. de Ruyter van Steveninck: Adaptive Rescaling Maximizes Information Transmission. Neuron 26:695-702, 2000.
  • R.R. de Ruyter van Steveninck, G.D. Lewen, S.P. Strong, R. Koberle, W. Bialek: Reproducibility and Variability in Neural Spike Trains, Science, 275:1805-1808, 1997.
  • R.R. de Ruyter van Steveninck, S.B. Laughlin: The rate of information transfer at a graded-potential synapse. Nature 379, 642-645, 1996.
  • W. Bialek, F. Rieke, R.R. de Ruyter van Steveninck, D. Warland: Reading a neural code. Science 252, 1854-1857, 1991.
  • R. de Ruyter van Steveninck, W. Bialek: Real-time Performance of a Movement-Sensitive Neuron in the Blowfly Visual System: Coding and Information Transfer in Short Spike Sequences. Proc. R. Soc. Lond., B 234, 379-414, 1988.