PhD Studentship - Computational Modelling of the Emergence of Somatosensory Cortical Maps

University of Sheffield

Fully Funded PhD Scholarship in Psychology at the University of Sheffield

This is one of many projects in competition for the current funding opportunities available within the Department of Psychology

Project title: Computational modelling of the emergence of somatosensory cortical maps

Primary supervisor: Dr Hannes Saal

Co-supervisor(s): Dr S Wilson

Project description: The aim of this project is to to build a computational model of the development of cortical somatotopy in humans, focusing specifically on the representation of the hand. While many models exist that attempt to explain retinotopy in visual cortex, the equivalent problem in touch faces an additional challenge: our body is a three-dimensional object, whose representation needs to be embedded on the two-dimensional surface of the cortex. Which principles guide this transformation is currently unknown. Furthermore, our sense of touch relies on multiple classes of receptors, which respond differently to tactile stimuli. The contribution of each of these receptors to cortical map formation is currently unknown.
This project will focus on three questions:

  1. What are the statistics of tactile input when manipulating objects and exploring the environment using our sense of touch? This part of the project will involve tracking finger movements, measuring contact events, and reconstructing peripheral neural responses using a large-scale spiking model of the nerve, while participants explore a variety of haptic stimuli.
  2. To what extent is the structure of cortical somatotopic maps determined by the statistics of tactile input? This part will explore computational models for the development of cortical maps, with the aim of learning realistic maps of the human hand from the tactile data collected in part 1.
  3. Finally, touch is an active sense, and how we choose to interact with objects and our environment determines the tactile feedback we receive. How does this relationship determine the development of cortical representations? This final part of the project will explore the effect that different movement patterns have on the resulting cortical representations. This PhD project is suitable for applicants with a background in computational neuroscience and modelling and/or an interest in psychophysics.

Start date: 1 October 2018

Requirements: Applicants must have 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.

Funding: Tuition fees £4,194 per year Living Expenses £14,500.00

Science Graduate School

As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you'll be part of the Science Graduate School. You'll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You'll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

For further details and the application process please visit:

Closing date for applications is 5pm Wednesday 24 January 2018

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