Istituto di cibernetica "Edoardo Caianiello" (ISASI)


The Institute of Cybernetics "Eduardo Caianiello" carries out research in the fields of Physics, Information Sciences, Neurosciences and Biology. The research activity in each field has a high degree of specialization. In addition, the Institute has great potentiality to investigate problems which require a multidisciplinary approach, where the different methodological and technological expertises can contribute in synergy to achieve and transfer new knowledge. In July 2001 the Institute has moved to the " Olivetti" Area in Pozzuoli (NA). In the year 2002 the re-organization of the Institute has been accomplished with the appointment of the new Director, as provided by the re-organization law of CNR. The Institute of Cybernetics was established in 1968 by Eduardo Caianiello. The idea, ambitious at that time, was to collect the expertises of different disciplines and focus them on a common objective, the Cybernetics. Under the following Directors, the different disciplines have been oriented toward an independent development with a high degree of specialization in its own subject, in agreement with the general trend in the world. During this time, the various topics have achieved a well established and recognised assessment. Nevertheless, they have maintained a high capacity of interdisciplinary interactions at methodological level. In the recent years this "attitude to dialogue" has produced an effort of several groups to elaborate and promote interdisciplinary research projects which have involved groups from different disciplines both in other institutions and within the Institute. The research themes of the Institute are:
- Physics and technology of quantum devices and of laser/matter interaction: investigation of macroscopic quantum systems like superconductors, quantum optics and optoelectronics; investigation of the interaction of radiation with condensed matter;
- Investigation of biological mechanisms, natural and artificial models of representation, description and classification of visual and cognitive processes;
- Methodologies of symbolic computation for the development of cooperative information systems;
- Interdisciplinary studies of the molecular and cellular basis of inter-neuronal communication in physiological and pathological conditions; modelling and experimental investigation of the synaptic function and brain activity.

The research themes are the result of a focusing and a maturity process of the research activities that have been carried out during the last thirty years in the Institute; they are also the result of a balance between the investigation of specific topics of consolidated disciplines and the share of expertise coming from different cultural backgrounds. This aims to the solution of complex problems and to achieve a deeper knowledge in the specific field of interest. The "double" aim to achieve disciplinary goals from one side, without forgetting multidisciplinary objectives on the other, remains one of the most significant characteristics of the Institute of Cybernetics and defines its peculiar attitude to face frontier research themes with interdisciplinary aspects.

The description of the following Research Activities must be read having in mind the grid of the possible methodological interactions which have already produced specific interactions and could be useful in the investigation of new problems at the border line of different disciplines.

In the area of Physics, the Institute has developed an intense research activity on the investigation of superconducting devices based on the Josephson effect. This activity dates since the foundation of the Institute, that was among the first research centres in the world active in this subject (the first observation of the Josephson effect was in 1963). The pioneering activity in a subject of frontier science had the Institute as a protagonist in those years. This experience, in continuous growth, has produced in Campania the birth of one of the largest scientific communities in Italy and Europe for the study of superconducting devices and materials. Actually, more than 60 researchers are involved on this subject in different institutions (CNR, Universities of Naples, Salerno and INFM). In 2003 the 6th European Conference on Applied Superconductivity (EUCAS 2003) will be held in Sorrento. This can be considered an important international acknowledgement of the role and the contribution given by this scientific community. The Institute has obtained significant achievements in superconductivity. It has proposed and opened new directions of investigation for the development of advanced technologies in fabrication and in electromagnetic characterization at low temperatures of thin film superconducting devices. A special mention has to be given to the first experiments that investigated the temperature and magnetic field behaviours of Josephson tunnel junctions and their contribution to confirm the theory of the Josephson effect; the proposal to investigate the use of Josephson tunnel junctions as radiation detectors, an application which is still now of great interest in the field of superconducting sensors; the development of fabrication technology for LTC-SQUID, which is nowadays a well established reference in the world for other institutions interested in the use of such sensors; the investigation of fundamental phenomena such as intrinsic fluctuations and macroscopic quantum tunnelling in Josephson junctions. From 1988 to 1992, the Institute was the leading institution of the CNR National Project "Superconducting and Cryogenic Technologies" , the most relevant initiative at national level in this area which involved private enterprises, universities and governmental research institutes. Nowadays the Institute is still active in this field, which is one of the most relevant topics in the Physics of the Condensed Matter. The research work is carried out by 12 staff scientists, organised in 5 Research Activities. They use several well equipped laboratories, covering an area of 1230 square meters. At the present, the Institute is a node of the European Foundry "Fluxonics EV" for fabrication of superconducting devices. It participates to several projects with external financial support in which the development of fabrication technologies of superconducting devices is a relevant aspect. From this respect it is worth to underline that the expertise of the Institute puts it in a favourable position to develop investigation of nanotechnology, physics of mesoscopic phenomena, radiation/matter interaction and their applications. In recent years a considerable effort has been undertaken to transfer the achieved knowledge and the expertise in developing complete systems for their use in different areas like biomedicine, molecular biology, archeometry and material analysis. In particular, are under realization: - Multisensors SQUID System for monitoring the hepatic iron in thalassemic patients (at the National Institute for the Study and Treatment of Cancer "Fondazione G. Pascale", Napoli); - SQUID System for magnetic susceptometry "in vitro" (at the Garibaldi Hospital, Catania); - EDS-SEM Instrument with superconducting detectors for X-ray fluorescence microanalysis of materials in archeometry and microelectronics (at the Cybernetics Institute, Pozzuoli) - SQUID-based Magnetic Microscope for magnetic mapping by non-destructive analysis in archeometry.

During the years, the area of Physics has further differentiated in developing optical techniques for analysis of materials. These analytical methods, originally oriented toward the application of holographic techniques for the characterization of biological and archeological handmade samples, have been progressively improved resulting in the actual structure of 4 laboratories of Optic and technical support services which cover an area of 300 square meters. In these laboratories, which are equipped with advanced instrumentation, work 4 staff scientists and researchers from other Institutions. In the framework of common research projects and with the help of technicians of high professional profile, the research activity deals with applied optics for non destructive control and analysis of materials, interferometry and holography, laser/matter interaction and photonics for advanced opto-electronics devices, sensor development and spectroscopy for the investigation and characterization of materials. Since 2000 the Institute has a strong collaboration with the National Institute of Applied Optics in Florence. The two institutions are joint partners in various national research projects. This activity contributes in strengthening the scientific activity of the Institute in this area and in developing specialized expertise which can positively qualify the entire Institute at both national and international level.

In 2002 the Regional Government of Campania, in the framework of a strong funding policy to support research, has established and funded several Regional Centres of Technological Expertises (CRdC). They constitutes a very relevant initiative in terms of financial support to upgrade the instrumentation resources and in terms of the organization structure which they realize which is finalized to sustain the participation in projects which require a large critical mass. The Research Activities of the area of Physics take part in two CRdCs: - New technologies for production - Development and transfer of innovation to cultural and environmental heritage.

The topic "Vision and Cognitive Models" is concerned with the study of problems related to the biological mechanisms and the natural and artificial models for representation, description and classification of visual processes in the framework of interest. Moreover, it is also concerned with the characterisation of cognitive models relative to the whole process of vision, including the inferential aspects developed within the hybrid systems approach. The project takes advantage of expertise collected in the areas of Biological Systems, Image Processing, Artificial Intelligence, and Theory of Codes and Formal Languages.
Vision involves the elaboration of the information deriving from luminous stimulation, from the morpho-functional study of the phototransductive mechanisms at molecular and cellular level (as well as the analysis of the behavioural photoresponse mediated by the activity of the nervous system) up to the integration mechanisms occurring at perceptual and cognitive levels. From a biological point of view, the definition of a particular level of organisation of the visual system depends on the anatomical organisation of its basic components and on the typical functions of the level itself. The aim is to define such functions and to correlate them to the anatomical organisation of its components. The experimental analysis is carried out at three levels: cellular, integrative at circuit level, and cognitive. The first two levels, belonging to the low-level vision and approached by fundamental neurosciences, range from the molecular and cellular mechanisms of the retinal and extraretinal peripheral photoreceptive system to higher processes (not yet cognitive) that elaborate the photic information. The cognitive level, belonging to the high-level vision and especially pertaining to the cognitive sciences, is characterised by the processes resulting from the contribution of the downward information arising from the higher cortical centres. It implies the formation of perceptive representations, each linked to a coherent interpretation of the bottom-up pattern variation at receptor level.
Also in the area of artificial vision it is appropriate and convenient to refer to low-level vision and high level vision. The purpose of low-level vision is to achieve a description of the image on the basis of a variety of visual primitives. This description is a preliminary step towards the construction of a more abstract description, characterised by a higher semantic level. A difficult problem to face, because of the noise and ambiguity inherent in the data available from the sensors, is the segmentation of the image, namely its partition into a number of connected components, constituted by sets of elements that are uniform with respect to a certain property (e.g., grey-level, colour, texture). Shape description is an efficient way to characterise every component of the image (figure). It can be obtained, for instance, in terms of the curvature extrema found on the border of the figure, of the symmetry axes (or more generally of the skeleton), of the convex deficiencies present in the convex hull, of the properties of the distance transform. In the case of figures having complex shape, the description can be obtained by referring to the structural method, which is based on a suitable decomposition of the figure into parts having simple shape, which are usually less difficult to be described. Then, the description of the complex figure becomes available by considering the simple parts and their mutual spatial relations. The structural method can be usefully employed also in the case of a multi-scale representation, when images are characterised by details with different size and the details of finer level are not always necessary to achieve an acceptable description in certain problem domains.
The purpose of high-level vision is to take advantage of the information resulting from the processes performed at low-level, in order to interpret the contents of an image. The interpretation requires the design of processes able to build and deal with complex descriptions. Generally, different hypotheses have to be formulated and checked before finding a satisfactory solution.

In the field of cognitive models, aspects of low-level and high-level vision can be lead again on one hand to purely perceptive systems and on the other hand to the representation of knowledge concerning both the language and the link between the language and the image. These aspects have great relevance in studying problems related to knowledge representation and to reasoning for AI systems. One of the most promising methodologies for modelling cognitive processes seems to be that of "hybrid systems" in which perception and reasoning cooperate for information processing. Rational agents and parts of monotonic and non-monotonic logic can represent the right tools to develop such models. Moreover, typical theoretical computer science methodologies allow one to analyse and to elaborate information involved in the cognitive process.
Neuro-symbolic hybrid systems allow the interaction between perceptive systems, formed, for instance, by artificial neural networks, and abductive reasoning systems that can be implemented both in terms of artificial neural networks and in terms of purely symbolic systems. For this reason, the interest of many researchers is devoted to the study of hybrid systems including both the power of rule-based systems and non-monotonic inferences.
The study of interface adaptability and adaptivity can be placed in this research as well. In designing intelligent interfaces, the user is explicitly represented by a model (his basic representation can be organized in ontology) describing his general characteristics and specifications (informational needs, personality, etc.). Furthermore, "multi-modality" has to be taken into account for obtaining an interface capable of managing different way of interaction with users.
It can be noticed that "intelligent agents" methodologies applied to virtual reality or to augumented reality systems represent an attractive perspective for hybrid systems. In fact, nowadays, new hardware devices (such as FPGA) allow their parallel implementation; such characteristic gives to hybrid systems the power of quickly processing a great amount of data coming from both sensorial equipment or other inference modules.

Since the '80s many research activities for the design and development of base components software system have been carried out. The results achieved allowed to extend the research to the area of distributed systems and to symbolic computation methodologies for parallel programming and to significantly increase the available budget through external financial sources. In this context some significant results were achieved as testified by more than 70 papers and the consolidated scientific cooperation network, such as the Università Politecnica of Barcelona (Spain), University of Patras (Greece), University of Southempton (England), University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (Illinois), University of California at Irvine (California), Laborartory of Computer Science del MIT (Massachusetts), la Nara Woman University (Nara Japan). A very accurate budget management and cooperation policy with the main international company operating in computer science allowed to build computing and supercomputing infrastructures (Cray J916, SGI Onyx 2000 + Infinity Reality, Nec SX6i, cluster di 16 processori con backbone gigaethernet), and networking infrastructure (ATM 155 Mbps, Ethernet Gigabits, Cisco Network Academy).

Neural processes related to visual perception, learning and memory, and in a wider perspective, the intelligent human behaviour and the mind events, are studied intensively by one of the interdisciplinary groups active in the Institute of Cybernetics. Different levels of investigation by using several different methodologies are followed for this aim. As regards the memory, the final goal is the formulation of unifying models to describe how the sensory information, filtered by the different levels of the cerebral cortex, is eventually processed by the hippocampus to produce the engrams, i.e. memory traces. This research is carried out by methods of experimental biology, by the formulation of mathematical theories and by computation models, which describe the neural activities of the different sub-fields of the hippocampus and of linked, cortical and sub-cortical, brain regions. The approach utilizes the activity of single neurons and of neural populations. The studies of visual perception are carried out mainly with psycho-physics techniques but some aspects are investigated also by the use of neural networks. The possible impairments in perceptive and memory processes produced by drug addiction are also analysed in collaboration with experimental investigators. At a more basic level the synaptic transmission is investigated by modelling and computer simulation, also by considering LTP and LTD phenomena, the possible neural agents of memory. Other interdisciplinary investigations pertain to the clinical neurophysiology. Specific interest is devoted to the quantitative analysis of EEG and multi-modality evoked potentials. The EEG modifications produced by psychoneurotic or psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia and depression, and by drug abuse are studied. The problem of a quantitative, neurophysiological and neuropsychological, evaluation of the human brain ageing has also been considered. We investigated dementia and post-stroke evolution, by an integrated evaluation of the bioelectrical and neuropsychological aspects. These studies are accomplished in co-operation with specialized health centres. Specific interest is attributed to the characterisation of quantitative prognostic parameters to evaluate the stroke recovery.
Some experimental activities, co-ordinated with the above described theoretical, quantitative investigations, are conducted on the drug abuse. In particular, we are studying the ontogenetic consequences of drug abuse, such as morphine and cocaine, on neuronal structure and morphology and on neuropeptides, neurotransmitters and neuroprotective proteins like calcium-binding proteins, by neuroanatomical and neurochemical methodologies (histology, Golgi-staining, histochemistry, immunohistochemistry) using the laboratory mouse model. Particular attention is devoted to the role of the limbic system. Not only the developmental effects of drugs of abuse, but also of treatment drugs like methadone and naltrexone are investigated. A different line of research in the field of intercellular signalling is devoted to studies on the mechanism of action of cannabinoids, to studies of the metabolic pathways of endogenous cannabinoids in different species, to their potential therapeutic applications. A new role as neurotransmitter has been proposed for these molecules, which have been involved in inflammatory processes as well as in pain mechanisms and in a variety of cellular activities. Our studies in C6 glioma cells have allowed characterisation of the synthetic and degradative enzymes for anandamide, and assessment of differential activation of CB and vanilloid receptors in response to endocannabinoids. We have identified a new class of molecules, the arachidonoyl amino acids, and have characterized N-arachidonoyl-glycine, one member that inhibits pain. We have shown "in vivo" the anti-tumor effect of an ANA analog (2-methyl-arachidonoyl-2'-fluoro-ethylamide) on a thyroid epithelial tumor transformed by k-ras oncogene via a CB1 receptor.

A new surge of interest for different animal models in the field of neurotrasmission studies is at the base of meaningful results recently obtained by a consolidated line of research. These investigations are carried out by using an invertebrate animal model, the freshwater polyp Hydra (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa). In Hydra, one of the most primitive metazoans to develop a nervous system, neurons are connected to one another forming a nerve net that extends throughout the animal, with a concentration of neurons in the regions of the head and the foot, without a recognizable brain. Cnidarian nerve nets have been the obvious candidate for comparative and evolutionary studies on the origin of synaptic transmission. Parker's theory that 'the elementary nervous system' originated as a means to co-ordinate independent effector cells in response to environmental changes has prompted innumerable studies and speculations on the structure and physiology of conducting systems. Eighty years since the publication of Parker's book, it is now generally agreed that the 'simplicity' of the cnidarian nerve net does not occur at the cellular level but rather in the organisation of conducting systems. Cnidarian neurons, in fact, are electrically excitable, show the typical extended morphology and are connected by chemical synapses, gap junctions or syncytial bridges. This model organism was introduced into the Institute of Cybernetics in the early 70's where it is grown since. In recent years it has been used in visual perception (see above) and chemical transmission studies.
We were the first to show by biochemical and behavioural studies (1995-1998) the occurrence of high affinity receptors to GABA in Hydra tissues, whose pharmacological properties compare with those of mammalian GABA-A receptors. These receptors are involved in the modulation of pacemaker systems and of the feeding behaviour. Further studies have shown the occurrence in Hydra of two distinct populations of receptors to glycine, a strychnine-sensitive populations which compares with mammalian ionotropic aglyR, and a strychnine-insensitive subpopulation whose pharmacological properties indicate that it could act as a glycinergic binding site of a NMDA receptor, thus suggesting that this type of receptor to glutamate is also present in Hydra as well as the AMPA and kainate types so far identified. In mammals glyR are prevalently localized in the peripheral nervous system. The receptor we have identified and characterized in Hydra is one ot the first ionotropic glycine receptors so far described in invertebrates. Taken together, these results show a considerable heterogeneity of LGIC populations occurring in a primitive organism, lending further support to the hypothesis of an early evolution of the LGIC gene superfamily. These results have prompted a great interest, as shown by the front cover of the EJN issue (2001) where the paper has been published.