Modelling the cerebral cortex

Why does a bang on the head cause unconsciousness? Modelling physical brain networks.

Degree type


Closing date

25 September 2023



Citizenship requirement

Domestic / International

About the research project

Neuroscientists agree that the cerebral cortex is the part of the brain most closely associated with cognition and awareness, but how exactly is this achieved? This question remains frustratingly unsolved after more than a century of careful anatomical, electrophysical, chemical and functional investigation. In the last decade, increasing understanding of a key network of interneurons in the cortex suggests that it may play a central role in coordinating cortical function, somewhere between a metronome and an organiser in concept. These interlinked interneurons, which express the protein parvalbumin (PVINs), provide rapid pulses of inhibition to the "principal" neurons processing sensory activity and plan responses. Timing is critical for principal neurons, and it appears that the PVIN network can generate and coordinate rapid rhythmic inhibition which enables them to integrate and share information. The coherence of this "gamma band" activity comes from tuned PVIN networks, which during critical periods of development become able to "bind" areas of cortex in a common timing relationship. This binding gives temporal structure to the communication between principal neurons, enabling synaptic plasticity to create lasting associations.

The aim of this project is to use biological data to adapt and improve existing mesoscale multi-element models of cortical activity, with the aim of more closely understanding the effects of physical disruption of cortical tissue, specifically on the parvalbumin network. For example, when a blow to the head causes a loss of consciousness, or the growth of pathology in Alzheimer's disease (AD) physically perturbs brain structure, what is the effect on the activity of this key network? A successful model could make predictions about changes to the EEG power spectrum caused by such disruptions, which could be verified using in vitro and/or in vivo studies depending on the student's interest.

This project would suit students with an interest in computational modelling, mechanobiology and neuroanatomy. An undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering, neuroscience or computing with emphasis on simulation and modelling would be advantageous.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Matthew Kirkcaldie


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $31,500 per annum (2023 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.

Other funding opportunities and fees

For further information regarding other scholarships on offer, and the various fees of undertaking a research degree, please visit our Scholarships and fees on research degrees page.


Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Ensure your eligibility for the scholarship round by referring to our Key Dates.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • Applicants must be able to undertake the project on-campus

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Coding and data analytical skills

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Mathematical modelling abilities
  • Biomedical sciences

Application process

  1. Select your project, and check that you meet the eligibility and selection criteria, including citizenship;
  2. Contact Dr Matthew Kirkcaldie to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. In your application:
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • Submit a signed supervisory support form, a CV including contact details of 2 referees and your project research proposal.
  4. Apply prior to 25 September 2023.

Full details of the application process can be found under the 'How to apply' section of the Research Degrees website.

Following the closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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