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The role of non-synaptic interactions in odour object recognition


Project Description

Odorants are chemicals in the air that animals can detect with their olfactory organs to gather information about their environment. Animals use olfactory information to find food, sexual partners, a place to deposit eggs, or to avoid predators. In insects, odours are sensed by olfactory receptor neurons on the antennae or on the maxillary palps. The vast majority of scientific studies, both experimental and theoretical, assumes that each olfactory receptor neuron acts on its own and that interactions between neurons only occur through synaptic connections deeper in the brain. However, in many insects, olfactory receptor neurons of different types are co-housed in close proximity in olfactory sensilla and interact.
• In this PhD you will build on ongoing efforts in our lab to investigate the nature of these interactions and their role in recognizing odor objects, i.e. the behaviourally relevant sources of smells. The work will be a combination of electrophysiology, behavioural work and computational modelling (see e.g. Chan et al., PLoS Comp Biol 2018, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006536) and the particular emphasis will depend on your preferences.
Olfaction, the sense of smell, is one of the most poorly understood senses but there is rapid progress being made at the moment in this exciting research area, in particular in insects.

This project is offered as part of the newly created Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme entitled ’From Sensation and Perception to Awareness’, co-directed by Professor Jamie Ward and Professor Anil Seth at the University of Sussex. Each successful applicant will receive a tax free stipend at Research Council rates (currently £14777 per annum), a Home/EU fee waiver and generous research and training costs. On completion of their PhD, our programme alumni will be eligible to apply for one of several 12 month postdoctoral research fellowships at Sussex, available only to completing Leverhulme DSP scholars.
Our doctoral scholars will be immersed in an inter-disciplinary training environment including monthly seminars and an annual student-led conference on a topic related to the theme. A strong emphasis is placed on developing technical skills, and we will provide specialist training in areas such as programming. Students in this new scheme will benefit from links with existing research groups within Sussex such as Sussex Neuroscience and the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science.

How to apply
Full information about the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme can be found here: https://www.sussex.ac.uk/sensation/applications

Applicants selecting the project above should develop this into a more detailed research proposal. Guidance on writing a research proposal can be found at https://www.sussex.ac.uk/study/phd/apply/tips-research-degrees/research-proposal. Applicants will need to apply through Sussex’s online PhD application form, https://www.sussex.ac.uk/study/phd/apply%20, to the PhD course linked to the department of your chosen supervisor (i.e. Thomas Nowotny, PhD Informatics, School of Engineering and Informatics) and enter ’Leverhulme’ in the sources of funding box. Your completed application should include your project proposal, your CV, and any other information requested e.g. degree certificates and transcripts and English language qualifications.

You will also need to complete the Leverhulme Funding application. You can request this by emailing

Timeline
31 January 2019 - Deadline for applications.
25 - 27 February - Interviews (note that all interviews will be conducted by the programme management committee, which is cross-disciplinary in nature).
4 March - Applicants notified regarding the outcome of their application.

Contacts
Any questions concerning this research project should be directed to Prof Thomas Nowotny:
Any questions relating to the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme, or the application process, can be sent to Shelley Jenkins, Senior Doctoral School Coordinator, at

Funding Notes

Studentships offered under the Leverhulme DSP are competition funded. Successful applicants receive a studentship that covers UK/EU fees and a stipend at standard RCUK rates.

Applicants should be UK or EU citizens and should have/expect to have at least a 2:1 undergraduate honours degree. A master's degree in a relevant discipline is strongly desirable.
Applicants must have a willingness to participate in interdisciplinary training and seminars relating to 'sensation, perception, and awareness'.

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