UCL EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Intelligent Integrated Imaging in Healthcare


4 Year Funded Studentship: The Influence of Fragrances on Brain Activity and Brain Health

Now Closed

Title: The Influence of Fragrances on Brain Activity and Brain Health

10 November 2020

We are inviting applications for an exciting new PhD studentship in the development of multi-modal integra-tive approaches that incorporate electroencephalography (EEG), functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and behavioural information, into models of the perception of olfactive and gustatory stimuli. In a series of studies, you will examine and map olfactive and gustatory responses to brain functional responses and cortical locations. You will need to develop statistical and/or signal processing techniques to relate brain electrical (EEG) and brain haemodynamic (fNIRS) signals in responses to fragrances and flavours. In addi-tion, you will need to develop and use computational approaches for the modelling of brain activity in reaction to the aforementioned stimuli, which might include the use of brain imaging analysis software. One of the big neuroscience scopes of the project is to map the cortical activity of olfactory bulb stimulation in naturalistic settings. 

This PhD studentship is jointly funded by industry and the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Intelligent, Integrated Imaging In Healthcare (i4health) at UCL. The successful candidate will join the i4health CDT in the department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering and the MultiModal Spectroscopy group led by Prof. Ilias Tachtsidis in the Biomedical Optics Research Laboratory. 

Project Description:
At the anatomical level, the structures deputed to the perception and processing of olfactive stimuli have a privileged access to the subcortical structures composing the limbic system: this constitutes a unique case in the human senses, as only odours are processed firstly in the subcortical structures and then at the cortical level, unlike what happens for all other senses (Wilson and Sullivan, Neuron, 2011). Fragrances and flavours are also known to shape human behaviour: for example, past studies underlined how pleasant smells can positively influence sleep quality (Perl O. et al, J Neurophysiol, 2016). However, past research has not fo-cused on the mapping of the cortical activity of olfactory bulb simulation in naturalistic settings. Moreover, there is currently limited evidence of the brain correlates that can explain the effects of olfactive and gustato-ry stimuli on human activities like sleep.

Although conventional neuroimaging approaches such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) provide fundamental insight into the organization of the human brain, both techniques are limited to stationary conditions for the participants, without the benefit of live and interactive behaviour due to the presence of high magnetic fields (fMRI). Recent developments in mobile neuroimaging with EEG and fNIRS (see review Pinti P. et al Jpn Psychol Res. 2018), enable the acquisition of neural responses in naturalistic environments and within relevant contexts to enhance the participants’ perceptual experience. Together, the integration of these modalities contributes to the creation of a novel foundational framework to understand the links be-tween neuronal and haemodynamic brain responses in olfactive, gustatory stimuli and human behaviour. 

Person specification:
 Applicants should have achieved (or are predicted) a first class or upper second class honours undergradu-ate degree (or equivalent international qualification or experience). Our preferred areas are Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology. Applicants with degrees in Physical Sciences, Social Sciences and Engineering are welcome but applicants must be able to demonstrate strong basic knowledge in Neurosci-ence and/or Psychology.

Essential skills: hands-on experience with brain imaging techniques (EEG and fNIRS are strongly preferred and highly valued), experience with data and signal analysis, hands-on experience of running brain imaging experiments with human subjects, experience with research with olfactory and/or gustatory stimuli, excellent analytical and research skills, experience of communicating scientific research (in project reports and talks).

Desirable skills: high grades on relevant courses at BSc/MSc level related to behaviour or cognitive neuro-science, experience of human behaviour research (sleep research strongly preferred), exposure to data and signal processing (preferably with Matlab, XLStats or SPSS is considered beneficial).

Funding will be for 4 years at atleast the UCL minimum. Stipend details can be found here

Eligibility UK national & EU. Funding is only available for Home/EU students with standard research council restrictions. Note that EU students are normally only eligible for a full studentship if they have lived, worked or studied within the UK for 3 years prior to the funding commencing, although this might be relaxed for exceptional candidates. More information can be found on the EPSRC website. 

How to apply
To apply please send a cover letter a current CV with at least TWO suggested referees to Prof. Tachtsidis i.tachtsidis@ucl.ac.uk

 Deadline for applications: 4th December 2020