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The neuromechanical basis of locomotion in 3D


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Ongoing deadline
Project start date
Tuesday 1 October 2024
Country eligibility
International (open to all nationalities, including the UK)
Competition funded
Source of funding
University of Leeds
Professor Netta Cohen
Additional supervisors
Dr Thomas Ranner
School of Computing
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

How do animals move? What mechanisms give rise to their adaptability, robustness and resilience? How are they able to modulate their gait and switch seamlessly between different motor behaviours? How do they maintain function while growing, ageing, and subject to circuit reconfiguration, external perturbation and injury? Our group addresses these questions in the microscopic roundworm C. elegans. C. elegans is a leading model system in biology and offers many advantages: it is experimentally tractable, it is genetically, anatomically and developmentally well characterised, and its locomotion behaviours are relative simple, and lend themselves to quantitative measures and mathematical-computational modelling. Locomotor control circuits have many similarities across animal species, so lessons learnt even from a little worm can be relevant to understanding of all motor control, and link with related research on human health. In this project, we are interested in understanding how C. elegans swim in 3D fluids. Nearly all of the research on swimming in this and other species focuses on planar waves. We have an unprecedented corpus of 3D behaviour, consisting of postures and positions of worms over time in different fluids, and revealing fundamentally new biomechanical behaviours. Our next challenge is to determine the neural and neuromechanical basis of these behaviours. A key feature of all undulators and swimmers, including the worm is the tight coupling between the dynamics of neural circuits, the mechanical body and the physical interactions with the environment. To understand adaptation, robustness and resilience therefore requires an integrated brain-body-environment approach. By its nature, this problem is highly multidisciplinary and our group welcomes researchers with complementary expertise, from neuroscience and behaviour, through data analytics and computer vision, to mathematics, physics and computational science. This project is highly interdisciplinary, combining data-driven and theory-driven investigation, and the topic described falls into several disciplines of physics, mathematics and computer science, including active diffusion; soft matter physics; biomechanical control of locomotion; and dynamical systems, and with applications to biorobotics, control engineering and autonomous systems. Prior experience in Neuroscience or Biology is not required. However, you should demonstrate an interest in biology, computational neuroscience and/or biological physics. Projects have the freedom to be predominantly data-driven or theory-driven, and to combine analysis of the dynamics of locomotion in the worm, with mechanistic modelling. Both data-driven and theory-driven work will require you to use and possibly develop mathematical tools or models and to implement these in practice, with programming and computer-based work.

<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Full description</h2>

<p class="MsoNoSpacing">This studentship forms part of a larger collaborative and interdisciplinary project to study the neuromechanical basis of behaviour in the nematode worm C. elegans. Our research combines biological experiments, mathematical and computational modelling of the neural control as well as investigations of the physics of the worm and its interaction with the environment. You will join a multi-disciplinary, dynamic, and creative group within the School of Computing at the University of Leeds, with close ties to the Fluid Dynamics Centre for Doctoral Training, and neuroscience activity in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, where additional biological experimental facilities are housed. Informal enquiries are welcome from all potential candidates.</p> <p>Selected references:</p> <ol> <li>Yuval, O. PhD thesis, University of Leeds (2022) The neuromechanical control of Caenorhabditis elegans head motor behavior in a 3D environment.</li> <li>Ilett, T.P. PhD thesis, University of Leeds (2023) How worms move in 3D.</li> <li>Wang et al. (2022) A monolithic optimal control method for displacement tracking of Cosserat rod with application to reconstruction of C. elegans locomotion. Computational Mechanics.</li> </ol>

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p style="margin-bottom:11px">Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the&nbsp;<a href="">University&#39;s website</a>. Please state clearly in the Planned Course of Study section that you are applying for <strong><em>PHD Computing FT,</em></strong>&nbsp;in the research information section&nbsp;that the research degree you wish to be considered for is&nbsp;<em><strong>The neuromechanical basis of locomotion in 3D</strong></em> as well as <a href="">Professor Netta Cohen</a>&nbsp;as your proposed supervisor and in the finance section, please state clearly&nbsp;<em><strong>the funding that you are applying for, if you are self-funding or externally sponsored</strong></em>.</p> <p>If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (below).</p> <p><em>As an international research-intensive university, we welcome students from all walks of life and from across the world. We foster an inclusive environment where all can flourish and prosper, and we are proud of our strong commitment to student education. Across all Faculties we are dedicated to diversifying our community and we welcome the unique contributions that individuals can bring, and particularly encourage applications from, but not limited to Black, Asian, people who belong to a minority ethnic community, people who identify as LGBT+ and people with disabilities. Applicants will always be selected based on merit and ability.</em></p> <p>Applications will be considered after the closing date. &nbsp;Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the supervisors for an informal discussion before making a formal application. &nbsp;We also advise that you apply at the earliest opportunity as the application and selection process may close early, should we receive a sufficient number of applications or that a suitable candidate is appointed.</p> <p>Please note that you must provide the following documents in support of your application by the closing date of 3 April 2024 for Leeds Opportunity Research Scholarship or&nbsp;8 April 2024 for Leeds Doctoral Scholarship:</p> <ul> <li>Full Transcripts of all degree study or if in final year of study, full transcripts to date</li> <li>Personal Statement outlining your interest in the project</li> <li>CV</li> </ul>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

Applicants to research degree programmes should normally have at least a first class or an upper second class British Bachelors Honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate discipline. The criteria for entry for some research degrees may be higher, for example, several faculties, also require a Masters degree. Applicants are advised to check with the relevant School prior to making an application. Applicants who are uncertain about the requirements for a particular research degree are advised to contact the School or Graduate School prior to making an application.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.5 overall with at least 6.5 in writing and at least 6.0 in reading, listening and speaking or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

<h2 class="heading">Funding on offer</h2>

<p><strong>Self-Funded or externally sponsored students are welcome to apply.</strong></p> <p><strong>UK</strong>&nbsp;&ndash;&nbsp;The&nbsp;<a href="">Leeds Doctoral Scholarships</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="">Leeds Opportunity Research Scholarship</a>&nbsp;(open from October 2023)&nbsp;are available to UK applicants.&nbsp;<a href="">Alumni Bursary</a>&nbsp;is available to graduates of the University of Leeds.</p> <p><strong>Non-UK</strong>&nbsp;&ndash; The&nbsp;<a href="">China Scholarship Council - University of Leeds Scholarship</a>&nbsp;is available to nationals of China (now closed for 2024/25 entry). The&nbsp;<a href="">Leeds Marshall Scholarship</a>&nbsp;is available to support US citizens.&nbsp;<a href="">Alumni Bursary</a>&nbsp;is available to graduates of the University of Leeds.</p> <p><strong>Important:</strong>&nbsp; Any costs associated with your arrival at the University of Leeds to start your PhD including flights, immigration health surcharge/medical insurance and Visa costs are not covered under this studentship.</p> <p>Please refer to the&nbsp;<a href="">UKCISA</a>&nbsp;website for information regarding Fee Status for Non-UK Nationals.</p>

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p style="margin-bottom:11px">For further information about this project, please contact Professor Netta Cohen by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p> <p>For further information about your application, please contact Doctoral College Admissions by email to <a href=""></a></p>