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PhD position: Analytic and computational models of auditory processing

Dear all,

please pass this on to any potential candidates or other interested parties.

Apologies if you recieve this twice.

Chris Sumner

Analytic and computational models of auditory processing

Dr Steve Coombes, School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Nottingham.
Dr Chris Sumner, MRC Institute of Hearing Research.

The brain is able to construct a view of the outside world from sound alone: it lets us listen to music and locate each musician in space; pick out a bassoon in an orchestra or follow the grand themes of a symphony; follow one person speaking amidst the cacophony of a room full of conversations. Yet the brain receives only two one-dimensional inputs: one from each ear. And even with one ear, we still perceive a world of discrete, separate sound sources. This project will investigate with analytical and computational models, the neural processing that might underlie this remarkable feat of hearing.

The range of possible projects is broad. However, the motivation will be to bring abstract models of neural systems to real problems in auditory neuroscience. Analytical analogs will be sought between different modes of processing in order to describe canonically the neural processing. For example, what is the functional value of shunting versus subtractive inhibition in an auditory neuron? Analytical expansions of biophysical equations can show this. Other problems include how the dynamic properties of highly artificial networks relate to networks of biophysically realistic neurons with realistic auditory inputs. Traditional models of neural processing have been based on the idea that information is conveyed in neurons by the rate at which they fire. However, in the auditory system much information is conveyed about sound by the timing of single spikes. Recently, mathematicians have started to study the properties of spiking neurons, their dynamics and behaviour in networks such as oscillations and synchronisation. Another interesting problem is how, when individual neurons are so non-linear, representations in the cortex can be quite linear. Analytic studies will be complemented by simulations to confirm them, or inform when analytical solutions are not possible.

A suitable candidate will probably have a good first degree in maths, physics or engineering. Some experience in programming is very desirable. They should have an interest in applying their quantitative, analytical skills to scientific questions. They will interact with neuroscientists, psychologists and mathematicians. There will also be opportunities for becoming involved in experimental work on hearing. This will lead to an interdisciplinary PhD with mature skills in computational neuroscience and mathematics.

This position is funded by a Marie Curie Early Stage Training Fellowship, as part of the programme for Research Training in Mathematical Medicine and Biology at the University of Nottingham (MMBNOTT). Marie-Curie Fellowships are available for this project from 1 September 2006 and 1 June 2007 and are open to non-UK nationals. There is a monthly living allowance (gross), plus travel allowance, mobility allowance, career exploratory allowance, all in excess of 30K euros per year. For full details of the training programme, eligibility requirements and application procedures please see www.maths.nottingham.ac.uk/mmbnott. For informal enquires please contact Chris Sumner (chris@xxxxxxxxxxxxx) or Steve Coombes (stephen.coombes@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx).

Dr. Christian J. Sumner
MRC Institute of Hearing Research
Tel: 0115 922 3431
Fax: 0115 951 8503

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