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  Animats - neural culture-controlled robots for closed-loop neuroscience

   Department of Biomedical Engineering

  ,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The project will continue research started at the University of Reading on animats - robotic platforms controlled in real time by activity of biological neuron cultures - and will investigate the methods for implementing efficient conditioning protocols. To understand how neural activity leads to behaviour we need to study networks operating in a continuous closed loop of interactions between neural activity and behaviours. Yet the vast majority of neuroscience is based on an open loop paradigm - where stimulus is delivered and the results of its effect on a neural tissue simply noted. An animat platform allows us to combine the principles of cybernetics with neuroscience and build a system with a minimal ’nervous system’ substrate that operates in a closed loop with a robotic platform.  

This PhD student will build the closed loop platform and attempt to perform various forms of behaviour by animats by investigating different forms of conditioning. It will require a combination of tools from neuroengineering with cybernetic principles.   

The project will be hosted in the Brain Embodiment Laboratory (BEL) within the School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading. BEL is an interdisciplinary laboratory where complex systems approaches to modelling and analysis meet empirical studies and where investigations of fundamental properties of cognitive systems are translated into improved bioengineering solutions. BEL has a strong reputation for its innovative research in cybernetics, and biomedical engineering, including Brain Computer Interfaces, animats - (robots controlled by cultures of living neuronal cells) and cognitive robotics systems.  

School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading: 

The University of Reading, located west of London, England, provides world-class research education programs. The University’s main Whiteknights Campus is set in 130 hectares of beautiful parkland, a 30-minute train ride to central London and 40 minutes from London Heathrow airport. 

Our School of Biological Sciences conducts high-impact research, tackling current global challenges faced by society and the planet. Our research ranges from understanding and improving human health and combating disease, through to understanding evolutionary processes and uncovering new ways to protect the natural world. In 2020, we moved into a stunning new ~£60 million Health & Life Sciences building. This state-of-the-art facility is purpose-built for science research and teaching. It houses the Cole Museum of Zoology, a café and social spaces.

In the School of Biological Sciences, you will be joining a vibrant community of ~180 PhD students representing ~40 nationalities. Our students publish in high-impact journals, present at international conferences, and organise a range of exciting outreach and public engagement activities.

During your PhD at the University of Reading, you will expand your research knowledge and skills, receiving supervision in one-to-one and small group sessions. You will have access to cutting-edge technology and learn the latest research techniques. We also provide dedicated training in important transferable skills that will support your career aspirations. If English is not your first language, the University's excellent International Study and Language Institute will help you develop your academic English skills.

The University of Reading is a welcoming community for people of all faiths and cultures. We are committed to a healthy work-life balance and will work to ensure that you are supported personally and academically. 


Applicants should have a bachelors (at least 2.1 or equivalent) or master’s degree in physics, applied mathematics, engineering, computing or a strongly related discipline.

Strong analytic and programming skills are desired as is interest in learning neurobiology lab techniques.

Applicants will also need to meet the University’s English Language requirements. We offer pre-sessional courses that can help with meeting these requirements.

How to apply:

Submit an application for a PhD in Cybernetics at


Further information:



Prof Slawomir Nasuto , email:

Please see Prof Nasuto’s profile:

Professor Slawomir Nasuto – University of Reading

Computer Science (8) Engineering (12)

Funding Notes

We welcome applications from self-funded students worldwide for this project.
If you are applying to an international funding scheme, we encourage you to get in contact as we may be able to support you in your application.

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