Denise Manahan-Vaughan was born in Ireland and is a brain researcher. Having graduated in natural sciences at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Ireland, she obtained her PhD in neuropharmacology at TCD at the age of 27. After her doctorate, she moved to the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology in Magdeburg and five years later obtained a habilitation degree in physiology from Otto-von-Guericke University. Following several years as a research group supervisor at the Johannes Müller Institute of Physiology at the Charité, Berlin, she accepted the appointment as Professor of Neuroscience, and Director of the newly founded "International Graduate School of Neuroscience" (IGSN) at the Ruhr University in 2003.
In 2007, she turned down calls from the University of Freiburg and University College Galway, Ireland, and accepted the the Ruhr University’s call to head the Department of Neurophysiology at the Faculty of Medicine instead. In 2010, she successfully recruited a Collaborative Research Centre (SFB 874, 2010-2022) on "Integration and Representation of Sensory Processes" and co-founded the "Research Department of Neuroscience" in the same year. Since 2017, she has been Director of the Institute of Physiology at the Faculty of Medicine. In 2006, she founded the "Network of European Neuroscience Schools", which connects graduate programmes in neuroscience across Europe, and in 2019, she founded "NeuroNexxt", a digital platform to increase the international visibility and networking of women neuroscientists.
On 1 November 2021, Denise Manahan-Vaughan became Vice-Rector for Structure, Strategy and Planning at the Ruhr University Bochum.