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PhD projects in the Systems Neuroscience Group at QIMR Berghofer:



How brain dynamics emerge from energy constraints (Michael Breakspear and James Roberts)

The brain consumes 20% of the body’s energy despite constituting only 2% of the body’s mass. Optimal brain functioning thus requires careful balancing of the brain’s energy budget. This central organising principle has been extraordinarily successful in explaining brain structure, including brain network architectures that minimise wiring length, optimal neural codes for efficient information representation, and optimal behavioural patterns. Moreover, functional neuroimaging techniques that specifically measure changes in blood oxygenation have provided unprecedented insights into brain activity and metabolism. Despite these successes, most of the brain’s energy expenditure is currently unexplained. The question of how metabolic constraints shape neuronal dynamics – particularly at the large scale – remains largely unanswered. A large part of the problem is that existing models of large-scale brain activity do not explicitly include metabolic variables and so are unable to address dynamical constraints on resources such as oxygen and energy. The overarching objective of this project is to use biophysical modelling to understand how the need to optimise the brain's energy resources shapes brain activity. The project will involve close engagement with neurophysiological and neuroimaging data. Candidates must have a bachelor degree in mathematics, physics, engineering, computer science or equivalent academic qualifications. Experience in computational modelling and proficiency programming (e.g. in Matlab, C++, or R) is required. Basic knowledge about physiology and neuroanatomy is a desired bonus.


Sample Reference:
Roberts JA, Iyer K, Finnigan S Vanhatalo S, Breakspear M (2014). Scale-free bursting in human cortex following hypoxia at birth. Journal of Neuroscience 34:6557-6572

The candidate will work with Dr James Roberts and Professor Michael Breakspear. Please direct inquiries to Dr Roberts or Dr Breakspear



Computational models of brain network dynamics (Michael Breakspear and Leonardo Gollo)

The human connectome project is one of the largest and most ambitious scientific projects and has the goal of understanding the “Google map” of the brain – namely the complex network connections that underlie cognitive function. Applications are sought for a PhD project in the Systems Neuroscience Group, investigating the roles of neural and glial networks in shaping neuronal dynamics. The successful student will investigate the dynamics of fast large-scale neuronal networks, and how they interact with the slower glial network employing computational modelling and graph theory. The project will focus on computational and mathematical studies of network dynamics, although there is also ample opportunity to study human connectomic data and be involved in local neuroimaging projects. Candidates must have a bachelor degree in mathematics, physics, engineering, computer science or equivalent academic qualifications. Experience in computational modelling and proficiency programming (in Matlab, C++, or R) is required. Basic knowledge about physiology and neuroanatomy is a desired bonus. 

Figure 1 Motifs in cortical networks.

Sample reference: Gollo LL , Mirasso C, Sporns O, Breakspear M (2014). Mechanisms of Zero-Lag Synchronization in Cortical Motifs. PLoS Computational Biology 10e1003548. 

The candidate will work with Dr Leonardo Gollo and Professor Michael Breakspear. Please direct inquiries to Dr Gollo or Dr Breakspear


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