Connecting European Neuroscience

Ph.D. Student in Sheffield/UK

11 April 2018

Ph.D. Student in Sheffield/UK

Job ID


Modelling optimal synaptic plasticity rules underlying associative memory

How can intelligent systems learn? What learning rules and information coding strategies are best for allowing systems to learn that certain stimuli or actions are good or bad, even with imperfect inputs or limited, unreliable computational resources? Solutions to this engineering problem may find inspiration in biology: the humble fruit fly has solved this problem, as it can learn to associate specific odours with reward or punishment with a brain of only 100,000 neurons.

This learning occurs by synaptic plasticity: changing connection strength between odour-encoding neurons and output neurons that lead to approach or avoidance behaviour. During reward learning, synapses to avoidance outputs are weakened; during punishment learning, synapses to approach outputs are weakened. Why does the fly use opposing output channels (approach and avoidance)? Why does learning weaken, rather than strengthen, synapses? We ask whether these synaptic learning rules are in some sense ‘optimal’: are they better than alternative rules? By what measures? Under what conditions?

We will address these questions experimentally, by measuring synaptic plasticity rules for different output neurons, and computationally, by modelling how different rules perform under different conditions. The answers will inform the design of efficient learning algorithms for artificial intelligence.

We seek a motivated and creative student with a strong interest in how the brain works. We welcome applications from candidates from a range of backgrounds (from biology to computer science or physics), especially those with strong quantitative backgrounds. In carrying out this interdisciplinary project, the student will learn a range of cutting-edge techniques, including multiphoton imaging and computational modelling.

Job Information

Closing date:
Employment start date:
Contract length:
3.5 years
University of Sheffield
Biomedical Science

Contact Information

Andrew Lin
Department of Biomedical Science
Firth Court
Western Bank
Sheffield S10 2TN

Jobs Archive