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The synthetic littermate project: How do natural experiences shape the functional organisation of the developing brain?

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  • Full or part time
    Dr SP Wilson
    Prof AJ Prescott
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

How do natural experiences shape the functional organisation of the developing brain? To address this question directly, we have been developing a novel robotic technology - the synthetic littermate (or ’surrogate’). The current prototype consists of a biomimetic skin, which encloses camera, microphone, gyroscope, and accelerometer sensors. This allows us to collect naturalistic, multisensory experiences from within a litter of real developing rat pups. Rat pups spend the first two postnatal weeks in large huddles, wriggling closely in a synergy that aids thermoregulation: This primitive, natural ’huddling’ behaviour presents a rich and continuous source of sensory input to the developing pups, and so provides a unique opportunity to study self-organisation at the interface between natural and artificial systems. Driven by the rich multisensory experiences of a surrogate, self-organising models can be used to derive important predictions about the functional organisation in multisensory cortical areas, about which modern neuroscience knows relatively little. The approach could be used to predict, for example, the receptive field structure of multisensory neurons that represent combinations of somatosensory, visual, and proprioceptive spaces that interact to provide an agent with a sense of where it is in space (body schema).

Reading:
-Glancy J, Gross R, Stone JV, Wilson SP (2015) A self-organising model of thermoregulatory huddling. PLoS Computational Biology 11(9): e1004283

Funding Notes

This is one of many projects in competition for the current funding opportunities available within the Department of Psychology. Please see here for full details: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/psychology/prospectivepg/funding
Overseas students are welcome to apply for funding but must be able to demonstrate that they can fund the difference in the tuition fees.
Requirements: We ask for a minimum of a first class or high upper second-class undergraduate honours degree and a distinction or high merit at Masters level in psychology or a related discipline.

How good is research at University of Sheffield in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.45

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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