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Neural Field Theory and Brain Dynamics


This research area is concerned with developing better understanding of the structure and activity of the brain, especially through modeling the dynamics and interactions of its neuronal networks, and in applying the results to understand the brain networks that have evolved and how they operate and structure themselves to process information.


Professor Peter Robinson.

Research location

School of Physics

Program type



Neural activity in the brain has been observed for over a century and is widely used to probe brain function and disorders, through the electroencephalogram (EEG), electrocorticogram, depth electrodes, functional MRI, and many other measures. However, the connections between stimuli, physiology, processing, and measurements have been chiefly qualitative until recently, and most links between stimuli, activity, function, and measurements have been based on phenomenological correlations. We have developed a quantitative multiscale neural field model of brain stimulus-activity-measurement dynamics that includes key physiology and anatomy from synapses to the whole brain and from milliseconds upward in timescale. We have successfully applied this model to understand a host of brain activity phenomena, and to use these to infer underlying structure. Applications have included dynamical time series and spectra, evoked responses to stimuli, seizures, Parkinsonian tremor, visual processing, sleep-wake dynamics, and pharmacological effects. We have also shown how field-theoretic results can be used to understand discrete network dynamics and brain waves and modes. Numerous areas exist for PhD, MSc, or Honors projects, which could include theoretical, computational, and experimental components in cooperation with our international and local collaborators.

Specific projects lie in areas including:
1) Modeling new features of brain anatomy and physiology, such as the hippocampus, which is central to spatial navigation.
2) Developing field-based inversion methods to determine brain structure from activity.
3) Implementing quantum-theory-based analyses of brain modes and their interactions. Analyzing brain activity in terms of eigenmodes and their interactions.
4) Development of real-time brain-state tracking methods and their interpretation in terms of physiology.

Additional information

Our approach is to formulate an overall project topic in close consultation with the prospective student, and to allow the approach and details to evolve with increasing student input as the candidature develops. Excellent facilities are available to carry out all aspects of the work, including access to computing resources and network data, especially via CIBF collaborators. Because of the highly interdisciplinary nature of the spectrum of projects, students from a wide variety of backgrounds will be able to find suitable projects in this area, with emphases ranging from highly theoretical to highly applied/clinical in nature. Successful existing and past students have had backgrounds in Physics, Medicine, Engineering, IT, Psychology, Mathematics, Physiology, and other disciplines. Top-up funding may be available for students of University Medal standard, or equivalent. Travel support to present research results at national and international conferences is also available.

HDR Inherent Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 1395

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