What's on the SLAB? - Building a Simple Living Artificial Brain

8 March 2013, 2.00 PM - 8 March 2013, 2.00 PM

Venue: NSQI ground floor seminar room. Speaker: Noah Russell -   University of Nottingham
The Neurophotonics Lab is a multidisciplinary research group at the University of Nottingham with the goal of understanding fundamental aspects of information processing in the brain.

In order to understand how information is encoded and processed by a network of neurons it is thought to be necessary to be able to monitor and control all action potential activity within the network for an extended period of time. Furthermore, the interaction between an organism and its environment is also essential for a meaningful description of information processing within the network. The continual flow of information from the network to the environment and back again allows the organism to explore, learn, and form a synergy with its environment.

Unfortunately, even in extremely simple organisms, it is not possible to monitor all the action potential activity, let alone the environmental signals, due to limitations in available technology. In order to overcome the complexities of real organisms the Neurophotonics Lab is developing a simple experimental system in which a small network of cultured neurons continuously exchanges information with a virtual environment implemented on a real-time computer; analogous to how a real organism interacts with its environment.

It is postulated that the resulting system, a Simple Living Artificial Brain (SLAB), contains the minimal, but essential, components required by a cognitive organism, while being technically feasible, experimentally accessible, mathematically formalisable and physiologically relevant to cognition at an elemental level.

This talk will cover the progress that has been made in developing the basic technology required to realise this ambitious goal.


Noah Russell´s research background is highly interdisciplinary. With the intention of pursuing a career in neuroscience research, he first obtained degrees in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Physics, Mathematics, Biology and then a PhD in Neuroscience. During this time he acquired research experience in biomedical electronics, laser optics, applied mathematics, in vivo electrophysiology and animal behaviour; and established a successful spin-out company. His research focus then shifted to in vitro electrophysiology, optical imaging and stimulation techniques for the investigation of synaptic plasticity in brain slices and cultured neurons. In 2006 he was awarded an RCUK Academic Fellowship in Functional Imaging at the University of Nottingham to develop novel imaging technology for investigating neuronal computation. He then obtained a Challenging Engineering Award in 2009, which has allowed him to establish a multidisciplinary research group. His research programme now includes optics, plasmonics, electrophysiology, microfluidics, cell biology, molecular biology, pharmacology, surface chemistry, applied mathematics, unconventional and real-time computing and camera development.

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