Research Associate

Job summary

Neural interfaces that record the activity of neurons in brain and the spinal cord activity have allowed us to improve our understanding of how these structures work, the changes they undergo due to disease/injury, and how technology may allow us to reverse neurological deficits. All the technologies that can detect the activity of single neurons in the brain require invasive procedures, which currently imposes a barrier to their broad...

Job listing information

  • Reference ENG01356
  • Date posted 31 July 2020
  • Closing date 31 August 2020

Job description

Job summary

Neural interfaces that record the activity of neurons in brain and the spinal cord activity have allowed us to improve our understanding of how these structures work, the changes they undergo due to disease/injury, and how technology may allow us to reverse neurological deficits. All the technologies that can detect the activity of single neurons in the brain require invasive procedures, which currently imposes a barrier to their broad adoption in healthcare. In this collaborative project, we seek to develop and validate in animal experiments minimally invasive or even non-invasive neural interfaces for single neuron recording. These new neural interfaces will be engineered by our project partners, and will comprise: (1) new biocompatible electrodes (Dr. Rylie Green’s group); (2) novel beyond-state-of-art noise performance miniaturized amplifier chips (Prof. Emm Drakakis’ group); and (3) new unsupervised blind source separation algorithms that extract single neuron activity from simultaneous recordings of many thousands of electrodes (Prof. Dario Farina’s group).

You will be leading the experimental validation of the neural interfaces developed by our project partners in experiments in rodents. After pilot validation of the interfaces under anaesthesia with the assistance of the PDRAs from our partner groups, you will evaluate the novel interfaces in two scenarios that are central to rehabilitation, augmentation, and neuroscience applications: 1) “decoding” naturalistic movements from brain activity using state of the art computational approaches, and 2) close-loop brain machine interfacing. In this validation, you will perform direct comparisons between the developed interfaces and both Neuropixels probes and high-density electrocorticography grids in the two scenarios described above. If successful, we expect these new technologies to accelerate the translation of neural interfaces out of the laboratories.

The position is funded through a recently awarded EPSRC Transformative Healthcare Technologies for 2050 grant that seeks to bring neural interfaces for single neuron recordings out of the laboratories and ultimately into clinical practice. The PDRA will join the group currently comprised of Dr. Juan Alvaro Gallego (PI), two PhD students from different disciplines, and several undergraduate students, at the Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London. Juan’s multidisciplinary group studies how the brain controls behaviour, and how this knowledge can be applied to develop neurotechnologies for motor restoration. The group uses a combination of behavioural experiments, high-yield neural recordings, data analysis methods, and computational models. More details can be found in the group’s website at https://gallego.bg.ic.ac.uk/

Duties and responsibilities

You will:

  • Lead validation tests to demonstrate that the neural interfaces developed in the project enable accurate recordings under anaesthesia
  • Design and perform experiments to “decode” behavioural variables (e.g., muscle activations or joint kinematics) from brain activity while rats move freely on a large arena
  • Lead (offline) decoding analyses, using dimensionality reduction methods to characterize brain activity and machine learning techniques for decoding
  • Perform brain-computer interface (BCI) experiments in which mice control a virtual cursor using a setup that will be available in the lab
  • Compare decoding accuracy and BCI performance with the electrodes developed in this project and and state-of-the-art Neuropixels probes and high-density ECoG grids

Note that these activities span the five years covered by the project, and that in many you will collaborate/co-supervise postgraduate students in the lab.

You will also have the opportunity to supervise MEng/MSc students and to be actively and officially involved in the supervision of PhD candidates through Imperial’s “Assistant supervisor” scheme. Where desired, experiences in other teaching roles, including lecturing, will be enabled as part of the broad range of career development opportunities that Imperial College makes available to its postdoctoral research staff. There are several opportunities to visit laboratories across the world for collaborative work.

Essential requirements

Skills, knowledge and experience:

We seek to hire a motivated, critical and independent candidate with a PhD (or equivalent) in neuroscience, biomedical engineering or a related field, and who has a background/interest in behaviour, the brain, and engineering. Candidates with a background in engineering/physical/computer sciences are encouraged to apply, but need to be willing to develop a solid grasp of animal physiology and behaviour.

The ideal candidate will have experience in working with awake animals (ideally rodents), electrophysiological techniques, and neural and behavioural data analysis in Python, or equivalent programming language. Experience in stereotactic surgery techniques and electrical/mechanical engineering for building experimental setups are preferable.

Candidates need to be able to conduct work with rodents, possess excellent organisational skills, the ability to work toward deadlines with minimal supervision, and have strong written and oral communication skills. They will be engaging, supportive and motivating in all interactions with other researchers and students in the group and across the Department, and provide mentorship where appropriate. They have to be interested in being part of a collaborative and inclusive research group

Further information

This is a fixed term position for 30 months (2.5 years) initially, with the possibility to extend for another 30 months (to a total of 5 years).

Informal queries relating to the position should be directed to Dr Juan Álvaro Gallego at jgallego@imperial.ac.uk.

Our preferred method of application is via our website. Please click “APPLY NOW” to go through to the online application form. Should you have any queries regarding the application process please contact: Jo Adam (i.adam@imperial.ac.uk). For technical issues when applying online please email recruitment@imperial.ac.uk Please ensure that you include the job reference number in any correspondence.

The Department of Bioengineering leads the bioengineering agenda both nationally and internationally, with its staff coming from diverse academic disciplines, including all main branches of engineering, physical sciences, life sciences and medicine, to create a rich collaborative environment. More information about staff benefits, including generous annual leave entitlements and excellent professional development opportunities, can be found here: http://www.imperial.ac.uk/job-applicants/staff-benefits/

Closing date: 4 weeks after posting

The College is a proud signatory to the San-Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which means that in hiring and promotion decisions, we evaluate applicants on the quality of their work, not the journal impact factor where it is published. For more information, see https://www.imperial.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/about-imperial-research/research-evaluation/

The College believes that the use of animals in research is vital to improve human and animal health and welfare. Animals may only be used in research programmes where their use is shown to be necessary for developing new treatments and making medical advances. Imperial is committed to ensuring that, in cases where this research is deemed essential, all animals in the College’s care are treated with full respect, and that all staff involved with this work show due consideration at every level. http://www.imperial.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/about-imperial-research/research-integrity/animal-research/

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About Imperial College London

Imperial College London is the UK’s only university focussed entirely on science, engineering, medicine and business and we are consistently rated in the top 10 universities in the world.

You will find our main London campus in South Kensington, with our hospital campuses located nearby in West and North London. We also have Silwood Park in Berkshire and state-of-the-art facilities in development at our major new campus in White City.

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Additional information

Please note that job descriptions cannot be exhaustive and the post-holder may be required to undertake other duties, which are broadly in line with the above key responsibilities.

All Imperial employees are expected to follow the 7 principles of Imperial Expectations: 

  • Champion a positive approach to change and opportunity
  • Communicate regularly and effectively within, and across, teams
  • Consider the thoughts and expectations of others
  • Deliver positive outcomes
  • Encourage inclusive participation and eliminate discrimination
  • Develop and grow skills and expertise
  • Work in a planned and managed way 

In addition to the above, employees are required to observe and comply with all College policies and regulations.

Imperial College is committed to equality of opportunity, to eliminating discrimination and to creating an inclusive working environment. We are an Athena SWAN Silver award winner, a Stonewall Diversity Champion, a Disability Confident Employer and work in partnership with GIRES to promote respect for trans people.