School of Psychology

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Mark Van Rossum

Chair and Director Neural Computation Research Group, Faculty of Science


Teaching Summary

Mark van Rossum has taught and organized various courses in the field of computational neuroscience.

He has directed multiple PhD training programmes in Edinburgh, and is very excited about the new programmes that he is setting up in Nottingham, as it allows for the first time in the UK a direct integration of computational neuroscience with psychology and mathematics.

To support students who have less exposure to computational neuroscience research, he has lectured many times in so-called summer schools and tutorials. His lecture notes have been used worldwide.

Mark has also (co-) supervised numerous PhD students and was nominated for a FENS teaching award.

Research Summary

Mark van Rossum started his computational neuroscience research after obtaining a PhD in theoretical physics. He has since worked across a wide number of topics in neuroscience, including, retinal… read more

Recent Publications

Current opportunities:

In Fall 2019 we will welcome our first intake in our new MSc Computational Neuroscience, Cognition and AI

There are openings for PhD students in Computational Neuroscience. Feel free to email me. Follow this link to make a formal application: PhD opportunities

Frequently asked questions

I am often asked by physicists, computer scientists, biologists, or mathematicians about studying computational neuroscience. Here are personally biased answers to some of those questions.

Q: I want to switch to computational neuroscience. What do I need?

First, you might feel more secure knowing that many people before you have made this switch. Clear scientific thinking is the most important skill. Next, I think, are quantitative skills. Typical tools I use for my work are: statistical physics, non-linear dynamics and simulations. Programming is an important secondary skill. However, it is important to point out that excellent programming by itself does not make good science. Programming languages that are used a lot in this field are: Python, C++, and Matlab.

Q: I already have a PhD. Should I first obtain a PhD in computational neuroscience before I can work in this field, or can I go for a postdoc position straight away?

Not necessarily. A large part of the skills you learned during your PhD (writing papers, scientific thinking, independent work) will be also useful when you switch fields. However, there is a danger that you will not get exposed to enough neuroscience. You should consider this when looking for postdoc positions. You need to be extra pro-active to study neuroscience and to integrate into your new field.

Q: Do I have to do experiments?

No. Some researchers working in neural computation never see a lab. Others are captivated by studying the nervous system directly and turn into full-time experimentalists.

Q: What attracts you in Neural Computation?

The nature of my personal fascination with neuroscience is not very different than my fascination with physics. Physics tries to figure out the rules governing the physical world and tries to describe the world in mathematical terms. This seems a crazy idea, but the weird thing is, of course, that it works. The realization that all that we see is made out of atoms, that everything obeys the same laws, is awesome. In neuroscience one tries to understand how the brain works, and therefore what the basis is for our thinking. And, crazy as this idea might seem, in some cases we start to understand it. We know roughly how the sensory systems and the motor systems work, especially for the lower animals. The realization that all our thinking is done by those things called neurons is in my opinion equally astounding as relativity theory. What makes neural computation particularly fun is that many questions remain still open and can be researched. The field also moves very fast, so that a newcomer in the field has an advantage. Q: What else should I do to decide on an area of interest? Talk to people in the field. Conferences are a very good source of information, not only for experts. Students in our programmes are encouraged to visit conferences and summer schools. Read a few books. A starting student can easily asks question to which nobody knows the answer. What is even better, the student can try to learn the necessary techniques and explore the issue for themselves after a couple of months.

Reading list:

- "The Computational Brain" by Patricia S. Churchland, Terrence J. Sejnowski. MIT Press; ISBN: 0262531208; Reprint edition (February 3, 1994) - "Theoretical Neuroscience : Computational and Mathematical Modeling of Neural Systems" by Peter Dayan, L. F. Abbott. MIT Press; ISBN: 0262041995; 1st edition (December 1, 2001)

- "Biophysics of Computation: Information Processing in Single Neurons" by Christof Koch, Oxford University Press; ISBN: 0195104919; (November 1998) - "Introduction to the theory of neural computation" Hertz, J., Krogh, A., and Palmer, R. G. (1991). Perseus, Reading, MA. [Technical, but very thorough book.]

Current Research

Mark van Rossum started his computational neuroscience research after obtaining a PhD in theoretical physics. He has since worked across a wide number of topics in neuroscience, including, retinal function, synaptic plasticity and homeostasis, memory formation, noise in neurons and sensory coding. In addition, he has developed a number of data analysis methods for neuroscience, including the 'Van Rossum' spike distance measure.

For his research he mainly uses computer simulations and theoretical analysis, and of course extensive conversations with fellow scientists. He is always interested in setting up new collaborations.

Current research includes the study of schema and rule extraction from memory events, and the role of metabolic constraints on neural computation.

The most up-to-date list of publications can be found on Google Scholar.

School of Psychology

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