[Comp-neuro] PhD Studentship in Neuromechanics

Spence, Andrew aspence at rvc.ac.uk
Thu Jan 21 14:14:55 CET 2010

We have a PhD studentship opportunity within the dynamic and rapidly
expanding Structure and Motion Group at the Royal Veterinary College
near London, UK. Details of the PhD follow. Funding is available for
EU/EEA and UK citizens only, and the deadline for applications is Feb
12, 2010.

Information and applications are available at

Thank you for your time,
Andrew Spence

Title: Comparative sensory biomechanics of locomotion in horses, dogs,
and insects

Supervisors: Dr Andrew Spence (aspence at rvc.ac.uk), Dr John Hutchinson,
Dr Monica Daley and Dr Thomas Witte
Department: Veterinary Basic Sciences

This PhD will examine how sensory input is used by the nervous system to
control legged locomotion. It will take a comparative approach that
focuses on animals with four or more legs, and will include dogs,
horses, and insects. This research has benefits in basic and applied
neuroscience (how does ataxia result in unstable locomotion, and how can
we better diagnose and rehabilitate patients with neurological
problems?), engineering (how do we build more agile robots?), and basic
biology (how has evolution shaped animal locomotion?).

Past research has found that the locomotor neural control architecture
is hierarchical, with different aspects of control handled by the brain,
spinal networks, muscles, and physics of the limbs in interaction with
the environment. Recent computer modeling studies have proposed that the
goal achieved by this hierarchy may be for a running animal's legs to
act like springs that are controlled at the hip, such that the feet
match the desired speed of locomotion. This studentship will investigate
this and other competing mechanistic control hypotheses, using data from
clinical gait analysis, basic neuroscience, computer modeling, and novel
experiments. Larger animals (dogs, horses) will provide systems in which
diagnosed neurological conditions can be used to elucidate healthy
control mechanisms and to understand the effects of damage to the
control architecture. Insects will provide a model system in which the
nervous system can be experimentally manipulated and large perturbations
to the moving animal are possible. Data from these systems will be
compared and integrated.

The project will involve capturing kinetic, kinematic, and
electrophysiological data from moving animals using animal mounted
backpacks, optical motion capture, force plates, and electromyography
(EMG), in addition to computer modeling. A technical background is not
essential but a good degree in a biological, engineering, veterinary or
allied discipline, coupled with enthusiasm, are.

1. Ishihara, A., S. M. Reed, et al. (2009). Use of kinetic gait analysis
for detection, quantification, and differentiation of hind limb lameness
and spinal ataxia in horses. J Am Vet Med Assoc 234(5): 644-651.
2. Prochazka, A., Yakovenko, S. and Cisek, T.D. (2007) The
neuromechanical tuning hypothesis. In: Progress in Brain Research,
Elsevier. pp 255-265.
3. Herr, H.M., Huang, G.T. and McMahon, T.A. (2002) A model of scale
effects in mammalian quadrupedal running. Journal of Experimental
Biology 205, 959-967.

The deadline for applications is Friday 12th February 2010.

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