Summer of Spikes

4 Jan 2010

Unravelling how the brain works is a complex task – but researchers are hoping a lecture series at the Queensland Brain Institute will make it a little easier.

Guest speakers from across the globe are converging on The University of Queensland institute over the summer to discuss the link between learning, rhythm and computational neuroscience. By increasing their knowledge, the scientists hope to advance research into neurological disorders.

Series organiser Dr Angelique Paulk said: “Direct interaction between scientists provides the groundwork for truly novel research which would not otherwise occur, which is why we decided to organise this course and bring so many well-known researchers from a diversity of fields together.”

While the neuroscientists are all focused on increasing understanding of how the brain functions, their methods of research are varied.

Associate Professor Jean-Mark Fellous researches the role of noise in neural computations. He said: "Noise is an integral part of the nervous system which can be experimentally measured and controlled. It is becoming increasingly clear that the nervous system uses noise in interesting ways to perform computations, something that computers cannot yet do."

Associate Professor Michael Breakspear from the University of New South Wales uses mathematical theories to better understand cognitive, perceptual and motor action processes.  He said the research could lead to a better understanding of mood disorders, psychosis and dementia.

Professor Anthony Burkitt is also relying on mathematical and computer modelling for his research into information processing, which could lead to changes in cochlear implants.

The neuroscientists will take centre stage at the “Learning and Oscillations: Summer of Spikes” series, an initiative of the Australian Research Council Thinking System Project, linking QBI with The University of Queensland’s School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, which will run until February.

“The unique opportunity here is that we are tackling a major question using a different set of tools from an emerging field: computational neuroscience. The goal of this lecture series is to bring together individuals from such diverse fields as engineering, math and biology in an effort to answer the perennial question: how does the brain work?” said Dr Paulk.

In all, 11 leading neuroscientists will speak in the series. To learn more about the lectures, or to attend, go to   


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Notes to the Editor
The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) was established as a research institute of the University of Queensland in 2003. The Institute is now operating out of a new $63 million state-of-the-art facility and houses 26 Principal Investigators with strong international reputations. The QBI is one of the largest neuroscience institutes in the world dedicated to understanding the mechanisms underlying brain function.

The series will assist researchers to gain insights into the inner workings of the brain, benefitting medicine, biology, physics, mathematics, computers and technology. The lectures are designed to give attendees a basic knowledge of the link between learning and oscillations, or rhythms, by building on existing knowledge. 
Associate Professor Michael Breakspear
Professor Anthony Burkitt
Associate Professor Jean-Marc Fellous
Professor Benedikt Grothe
Professor David Reutens
Professor Pankaj Sah
Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen
Dr Guy Wallis
Dr Francois Windels
Dr Angelique Paulk
Dr Peter Stratton