[visionlist] PhD Fellowhips at Italian Institute of Technology

Sandini Giulio giulio.sandini at iit.it
Thu Aug 28 06:47:45 PDT 2008


The Robotics, Brain and Cognitive Sciences (RBCS) Department of the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) is offering fellowships in the area of HUMAN MOTOR LEARNING, BIOMECHANICS AND REHABILITATION ROBOTICS and BRAIN MACHINE INTERFACE. These fellowships are part of a multidisciplinary project aiming at 'reading' the brain to understand and extract motor signals which may be used to control an artificial limb. 
These two main streams of research will be developed jointly at RBCS department of IIT under the responsibility of Giulio Sandini and two groups of scientists coordinated by Thierry Pozzo (motor learning) Luciano Fadiga (Brain Machine Interface) and including: Lorenzo Masia, Stefano Panzeri, Alessandro Vato, Gytis Baranauskas, Davide Ricci and Franco Bertora, Marco Jacono. 
These projects address topics such as the design of microelectrode and microelectronics devices for chronic in-vivo recording, electrophysiological and brain signals recording, investigation of the coding/decoding issue, functional identification of brain motor/premotor areas, and direct connection to artificial actuators.
More specifically the five research themes proposed are (short abstract and scientist in charge are included at the end of the message):
Research Stream: Human Behavior, Perception and Biomechanics
* Theme 5.4: Psychophysical study of unimodal perception and multimodal integration
* Theme 5.5: Modular Control of Equilibrium and Movement
* Theme 5.6: Neural Correlates of Biological Motion Inference
Research Stream: Brain Machine Interface
* Theme 5.7: Machinery for functional brain analysis
* Theme 5.8: The Neurophysiology of the Human Brain
Interested applicants should refer to one of the following website to download instructions on how to apply and/or contact directly the scientists in charge (below) for more information regarding the individual research plans.
http://www.liralab.it/iit2009phd.htm
http://www.iit.it/phd_positions

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RESEARCH TOPICS PROPOSED
Research Stream : Human Behavior, Perception and Biomechanics
Theme 5.4: Psychophysical study of unimodal perception and multimodal integration
Tutor: Monica Gori
N. Available positions: 1
In this project we will investigate the way in which unimodal sensory signals are integrated in order to obtain a robust multimodal perception of the world. As no single information-processing system can perceive optimally under all conditions, integration of multiple sources of sensory information makes perception more robust. Many recent studies have demonstrated the capacity of human observers to integrate information across various senses in a statistically optimal (sometimes termed ?Bayesian?) fashion, where greater weight is given to the sense carrying the more reliable information under any particular condition. Importantly, performance in the multimodal condition is always better than in either single modality. An aspect of the integration to be studied by our research group is to investigate at what age children start to integrate sensory signals, and if is this integration optimal. Another aspect to be studied is how dynamic information are integrated between different modalities, by studying the integration of visual and tactile integration of visual and tactile flow motion. One PhD student will be involved in psychophysical experiments of this research theme. The aim is to study and understand how our brain produces an integrated robust percept of the world. Backgrounds in experimental psychology, neuroscience and basic programming skills are required.
For further details concerning the research project, please contact: monica.gori at iit.it 
Theme 5.5: Modular Control of Equilibrium and Movement
Tutor: Prof. Thierry Pozzo
N. available positions: 1
The program of research is based on previous results obtained during a paradigm that we developed to study both equilibrium and spatial components of a complex multijoint goal oriented task. When subjects reach targets positioned beyond arm length from the standing position, the central nervous system (CNS) has to specify the spatio-temporal characteristics of the arm movement while maintaining the whole body center of mass (CoM) within the supporting base (the feet). A number of interesting questions arise when considering together the control of equilibrium and arm trajectory formation : 1) Are the control laws governing arm movements, laid down largely using planar 2-joint tasks (and having little or no equilibrium constraints) applicable to multijoint reaching movements (requiring a high degree of equilibrium control and numerous DoF)? 2) How are equilibrium constraints integrated by the CNS during the formation of a specific end-point trajectory among a plethora of possible ones? 3) Is there a macroscopic representation (motor primitives) at spinal and/or supraspinal level of such components and can they be combined like building blocks to perform this task in different conditions? 
Within this field of research, one PhD student will study the interaction of these two components of the action by using experimental and computational approach and modelling. A simulator based on experimental results and optimization of iterative algorithms able to find the motor solution which, respecting the anatomical and task constraints, minimizes a given cost function, will be developed.  We need therefore the contribute of one PhD students possessing basic competencies in robotic, control theory or computational neurosciences.
For further details concerning the research project, please contact: thierry.pozzo at iit.it
Theme 5.6: Neural Correlates of Biological Motion Inference
Tutor: Prof. Thierry Pozzo
N. available positions: 1
The spatiotemporal discontinuity of visual input (e.g., when a person  suddenly disappears behind a wall) is a common experience for human beings.  Non-human primate studies (Baker et al. 2001) demonstrated that cells in the superior temporal sulcus (STS) contribute to the perceptual capacity for object permanence and support the hypothesis that the motor representation of action performed by others can be internally generated in the observer's premotor cortex, even when a visual description of the action is lacking (Umilt... et al. 2001). Recent behavioral experiments (Pozzo et al. 2006, Saunier et al. 2008), suggest an implicit motor simulation during the complete occlusion of biological motion that compensates the lack of visual input. Little is known, however, about the neurophysiological basis of the biological motion permanence and of the capability to predict the outcome of others' actions. Within this field of research, one PhD student will be involved in the development of a high density EEG system which will enable to quantify, in humans, the involvement of action representation during the perception of biological motion. The aim is to develop a high temporal resolution EEG technique to better precise the functional roles played by the STS region and by the fronto-parietal network involved in the perception of biological motion. The student will be involved both in the recording techniques and in the online deocoding of neural signals, which will be perfomed with the aid advanced wavelet decomposition techniques to denoise the signal and information theoretic techniques to reveal the most informative components of the neural signal.  The candidate should possess basic competencies in physicis, statistics, mathematics and computer science and will receive interdisciplinary training by a team composed of both experimental (Prof. Pozzo and Fadiga) and theoretical (Prof. Panzeri) neuroscientists.
For further details concerning the research project, please contact: thierry.pozzo at iit.it
Research Stream : Brain Machine Interface
Theme 5.7: Machinery for functional brain analysis.  
Tutor: Prof. Franco Bertora
N. of available positions: 1
There is at IIT an ongoing program to investigate the frontiers of functional MRI imaging.  Any fMRI of the motor cortex has so far been performed on subjects confined in a supine/prone position in the limited volume of a traditional scanner.  There are reasons to think that the analysis of subjects performing motor tasks in a more ?natural? environment could produce different and more meaningful results.  A study is currently in progress for an open scanner, based on an innovative magnet design, allowing functional brain analysis of a human adult in a standing or sitting position.  We are looking for one PhD student with background in physics, electronics, signal processing and MRI to participate in the design of the magnet and its related equipment and to explore and conceive novel imaging techniques (MRI sequences, data acquisition modalities and image reconstruction) to be included in the development of the scanner.
For further details concerning the research project, please contact: franco.bertora at iit.it

Theme 5.8: The Neurophysiology of the Human Brain
Tutor: Dr. Elisa Molinari
N. of available positions: 1
The Phd student will use brain mapping approaches based on functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the structural and functional organization of cortical and subcortical motor systems.
Through this project we will better understand the functional correlates of motor planning/execution and the underlying motor circuits.
Quantitative approaches to the anatomical definition of the cortical grey matter in healthy individuals are of specific interest. 
We are looking forward to one PhD student which should be competent in physics, computer science and basic neuroscience.
For further details concerning the research project, please contact: elisa.molinari at iit.it 




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