Visual Development and Dynamics of Perception


This research area will apply and test quantitative physiologically-based models of the development and response properties of primary visual cortex, to better understand how visual features are able to be detected and bound into unified perceptions.


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 model of brain stimulus-activity-measurement dynamics that includes key physiology and anatomy from synapses to the whole brain and from milliseconds up in timescale. We have successfully applied this model to understand many of the response properties of primary visual cortex, especially its generation of gamma-band (40 Hz) oscillations in certain experiments on visual perception. The next stage is to use the model to study how neural plasticity simultaneously enables development of the cortical microstructure that leads to these responses. 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) Adding neural plasticity to the model to study the development of preferential responses of different cellular groups to different visual features (edges, texture, color, etc.).
2) Modeling other aspects of the physiology and anatomy not previously incorporated, with the aim of making new and more general predictions.
3) Prediction of the effects of biases in incoming stimuli (e.g., due to squint/strabismus, or unilateral blindness) on development and resulting neural responses, and comparison with relevant data.
4) Relate the results in the visual cortex to other sensory modalities - e.g., hearing, touch.
5) Use the results to better understand attention and feature recognition, including interaction with memory.

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 experimental data, especially through the CIBF. 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 scholarship 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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biological physics, biomedical physics, biomathematics, brain dynamics, nonlinear dynamics, networks, neural networks, neuronal networks, brain structure, brain connectivity, brain mapping, functional connectivity, computational neuroscience, neurophysiology, neuroanatomy, electroencephalography, gamma oscillations, primary visual cortex, perception, self-organization, complex systems, physics, Medical physics, Neuroscience, Biophysics, Applied mathematics, Electrophysiology, Vision, Attention, Development, theoretical physics.

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 679

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