PhD Studentship: Mapping sensory brain circuit integration with ultra-high field MRI

University of Nottingham

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Location:  UK Other
Closing Date:  Thursday 30 November 2023
Reference:  SCI229

Supervisors: Dr Elisa Zamboni (University of Nottingham), Dr Denis Schluppeck (University of Nottingham), Dr Aneurin James Kennerley (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Subject Area:  Neuroscience, Psychology, Physics, MRI, fMRI, Signal Processing, Virtual Reality

Research Description:

An opportunity to complete a three-year, fully funded PhD at the School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, is available with Dr Elisa Zamboni and Dr Denis Schluppeck. 

The successful candidate will conduct impactful research into the neuronal/brain circuits integrating visual and tactile sensory information. You will explore how plastic changes to these circuits can be induced through illusory interventions (based in virtual reality), with application for pain relief in hand-osteoarthritis (OA). Altering the visually perceived shape of deformed limbs in OA patients has shown analgesic effects (Preston et al., 2020). However, the mechanisms underlying the pain relief effect are not understood.

In doing this you will help shape strategies and novel programmes for pain relief that can better the lives of over 8 million people currently living with OA in the UK alone. 

This original programme develops your skills in functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) at Ultra High Field (UHF) strengths, coupled with visuo-tactile illusions delivered through Virtual Reality technologies (e.g., Unity Platform programming) to map laminar-specific processing mechanism in the brain non-invasively. We aim to quantify modulations of feedforward/feedback connections across cortical layers (Zamboni et al., 2020) underlying visual and touch sensory integration, and how these relate to the neurorepresentation of individual fingers (Sanchez Panchuelo et al., 2018) in somatosensory cortex following a Virtual Reality-based digit-stertching illusion. The project will be completed in collaboration with Dr Aneurin Kennerley (Manchester Metropolitan University), world leading expert in biomedical imaging and neurovascular coupling.

The candidate must be passionate about multidisciplinary research. You will gain skills in brain imaging at high-resolution, using standardised acquisition protocols, and development of alternative techniques (e.g., Vascular Space Occupancy, VASO). In addition, there will be opportunity to gain and improve skills in signal processing, data analysis, dissemination and public engagement with science. 

Start Date: 01/02/2024

Terms and Conditions:  36 months funded.

Applicant Qualification Requirements

The successful candidate should have a good science/engineering based honours degree (minimum 2:1 or equivalent qualification) in a relevant discipline, including physics, neuroscience, computer science, psychology. An MSc in a relevant area is desirable but not essential.  Experience with Matlab/Python/Unity is desirable, and experience in analysing image data would be beneficial. The studentship is open to UK citizens; it will offer a stipend of £18,622 for a period of three years, subject to satisfactory progress.

The student will be part of the Visual Neuroscience group in the School of Psychology and will also be associated to the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre, providing a diverse, multidisciplinary, and highly stimulating environment. There are strong links to other departments, including to Sports Sciences and Medical Imaging through the Institute of Sport (Manchester Metropolitan University).

How to Apply

All applications are to be made directly to the University, selecting PhD Psychology (36 months duration) as the course. Please apply at:

In the research proposal section please only include “Elisa Zamboni’s advertised PhD position” in the title. Please note, the application will not be considered if you fail to do so. 

You are required to upload the following documents to your application:

  • A CV.
  • A cover letter.
  • Two references.
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