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Investigation of cortical function by large-scale electrophysiology and computational modelling

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

About the Project

A fundamental question in sensory neuroscience is what information sensory neurons convey during natural behaviour (‘sensory coding’). Neuroscience textbooks describe in detail how the cortex is parcelled up into ‘sensory’ and ‘motor’ regions. However, new studies have challenged this dogma by showing that the activity of neurons in areas of the cerebral cortex classically considered to be purely sensory actually depend on an animal’s motor state (eg running speed or whisker movement). The full extent and significance of these findings remains, however, unclear.

The aim of this project is to use exciting new methods (large-scale electrophysiological recording, behaviour imaging, machine learning) to investigate this general issue. Specifically, we will test between competing hypotheses for how motor state influences the activity of neurons in sensory cortex. This will be done by recording the activity of neurons in the somatosensory cortex using state-of-the-art Neuropixels probes.

This project will suit motivated students with a passion for interdisciplinary neuroscience, involving both experimental and computational methods. Students might come either a biology/neuroscience background or from a physical sciences background.

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor. On the online application form select PhD Neuroscience.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 2 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website). For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (View Website).

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


Petersen R.S. et al (2020) A system for tracking whisker shape in three dimensions. PLOS Computational Biology

Storchi R, Milosavljevic N, Allen AE, Zippo AG, Aghihotri A, Cootes TF, Lucas RJ (2020) A high dimensional quantification of mouse defensive behaviours reveals enhanced diversity and stimulus specificity. Current Biology, in press (see preprint at

Campagner D., Evans M.H., Chlebikova K., Colins-Rodriguez A., Loft M.S.E., Fox S., Pettifer D., Humphries M.D., Svoboda K. and Petersen R.S. (2019) Prediction of choice from competing mechanosensory and choice-memory cues during active tactile decision making. Journal of Neuroscience

Campagner D., Evans M.H., Loft M.S.E., Petersen R.S. (2017) What the whiskers tell the brain. Neuroscience

Campagner D., Evans M., Bale M.R., Erskine A., Petersen R.S. (2016) Prediction of primary somatosensory neuron activity during active tactile exploration Elife 5:e10696 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.10696.

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