John Semmler

Associate Professor John Semmler

Associate Professor

Adelaide Medical School

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.

I am a teaching and research academic with expertise that spans Neuroscience, Physiology and Exercise Science disciplines. My research involves detailed human physiological studies on the mechanisms responsible for changes in motor performance throughout the lifespan. This research is regularly supported by major funding bodies, is presented at numerous national and international conferences, and is published in the best journals in the field. I have a long history of successful research supervision and training, which includes mentoring externally funded research fellows, graduating numerous PhD students, and regularly supporting honours and undergraduate placements in the laboratory. I have also held numerous senior University administrative roles, such as the Convenor of the University of Adelaide Human Research Ethics Committee, and I serve on the editorial board of the Journal of Applied Physiology.


I am an experienced neurophysiologist and Director of the Neurophysiology of Human Movement group. Research within this group focuses on the neural mechanisms responsible for changes in human movement throughout the life span. We specialise in the use of brain stimulation techniques to painlessly and non-invasively measure and modify the brain’s control of skeletal muscles under diverse conditions, such as ageing, exercise, training, fatigue and mild traumatic brain injury. The overall goal is to understand how the healthy nervous system functions to control movements in different situations, and how it may adapt in conditions involving neurological or neuromuscular injury.


Project 1

Title: Brain plasticity and motor function in older adults

Description: Recent studies from our group show that specific brain circuits important for motor system plasticity are altered in older adults. Do changes in these circuits contribute to impaired motor performance and learning in older adults? Can we modify plasticity and learning by strengthening these circuits in older adults? Several studies using brain stimulation and electroencephalography (EEG) in human participants are planned to address these research questions. These projects are funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Projects available for: Honours and HDR

Location: Helen Mayo Building (Frome Rd)

Research project start: Semester 1 and 2

Special Requirements: None.


Project 2

Title: Neurophysiology of Exercise

Description: It is now well accepted that physical activity and exercise is capable of providing benefits to the central nervous system (CNS) that can maintain or enhance brain and motor function. However, it is not known how different types of exercise (aerobic, fatiguing, eccentric) influences brain and motor function. Several studies using brain stimulation, electroencephalography (EEG) and motor skill learning will be performed to examine the neural mechanisms that influence brain and motor function with different types of exercise in humans.

Projects available for: Honours and HDR

Location: Helen Mayo Building (Frome Rd)

Research project start: Semester 1 and 2

Special Requirements: None.


Project 3

Title: Factors Influencing Motor Skill Learning in Humans

Description: The ability to learn new motor skills is a fundamental requirement for participation in modern society, but this ability often deteriorates with neurological injury. Many factors are known to influence motor skill learning even in healthy individuals, such as practice structure, fatigue, handedness, exercise, gender and advancing age. The aim of this project is to explore one or more of these factors in an effort to understand the parameters that produce the optimum conditions for improved motor skill learning in humans.

Projects available for: Undergraduate

Location: Helen Mayo Building (Frome Rd)

Research project start: Semester 1 or 2

Special Requirements: None.



  • Priming Brain Stimulation in Older Adults (Opie, Hand, Coxon, Ridding, Ziemann, Semmler).  To investigate the effect of different priming brain stimulation protocols for improving the response to motor training in older adults.
  • Exercise and Motor Skill Learning (Opie, Semmler).  To examine the effect of different types of exercise on motor cortical excitability, plasticity and motor skill learning.
  • Multisession Brain Stimulation and Learning in Older Adults (Opie, Pourmajidian, Semmler). To determine if priming brain stimulation over multiple days can improve motor function in older adults.
  • Motor Cortex Excitability and Lower Limb Muscles (Hand, Opie, Sidhu, Semmler). To investigate the TMS parameters for optimal stimulation of cortical representations to lower limb muscles.
  • Brain Plasticity and Learning in Endurance Athletes (Hand, Opie, Sidhu, Semmler). To examine the effect of chronic endurance training in elite athletes on motor cortical plasticity and motor skill learning.
  • Ageing and TMS-Induced I wave Facilitation (Opie, Hand, Semmler). To quantify characteristics of late I-waves and their relationship with motor performance in young and old adults.
  • Predicting Brain Plasticity in Older Adults (Fujiyama, Hinder, Vallence, Sidhu, Opie, Semmler). To assess the validity of two different screening procedures for predicting the response to transcranial direct current stimulation in older adults.
  • Fatigue and Brain Function (Opie, Otieno, Poumajidian, Semmler, Sidhu). To quantify the change in cortical inhibition after fatigue using TMS-EEG in older adults.
  • Time-dependent effect of mTBI on motor cortical plasticity (Opie, Foo, Vo, Gatley, Semmler). To investigate if the hyperplasticity previously observed within motor cortex following mTBI varies over time, and to assess relationships with functional deficiencies.
  • Neurophysiological and functional effects of mTBI within cognitive and psychological domains (Opie, Foo, Killington, Semmler). To assess effects of mTBI on neuroplasticity and intracortical function within premotor cortex, and to investigate how physiological alterations contribute to functional deficits.
  • Age-related changes in cerebellar-motor connectivity (Opie, Semmler). To investigate if the ageing process alters the magnitude or modulation of cerebellar-cortical connectivity, and to assess if such changes contribute to reductions in cortical plasticity and motor learning.   

I have enjoyed regular support from major funding bodies since 2002. I have been awarded 1 NIH RO1 grant (Co-Principal Investigator), 3 NHMRC Project grants (2 as CIA, 1 as CIB), 3 ARC Discovery Project grants (2 as CIA, 1 as CIB), and numerous external competitive and intramural infrastructure and equipment grants; total of > $2 million in external competitive support.

Over the last 15 years I have been teaching a wide variety of courses in Neuroscience, Exercise Science and Physiology. My teaching experience includes subject coordination, curriculum development, preparation and delivery of lectures, tutorials and laboratory classes, student assessment and mentorship. In these roles, I have developed and implemented a teaching philosophy that supports engaging students in the science, and teaching techniques involving blended learning and flipped classrooms to promote life-long learning. My current teaching responsibilities include the development, coordination and delivery of a third year course that contributes to a major in Neuroscience and Medical Sciences, and teaching in second year Physiology, and first year Medicine and Dentistry.

  • Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2019 Principal Supervisor Brain Rhythms and Cognition in Healthy Ageing Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Sabrina Sghirripa
    2018 Principal Supervisor Impact of Fatigue on Corticospinal Excitability and Motor Skill Learning in Young and Old Adults Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Lavender Achieng Otieno
    2018 Principal Supervisor Examining the Effect of Exercise on Brain Function and Plasticity with TMS-EEG Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Brodie Hand
  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2012 - 2015 Principal Supervisor Investigating Intracortical Inhibitory Mechanisms Contributing to Age-related Deficits in Motor Function Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr George McKenzie Opie
    2010 - 2012 Principal Supervisor Human Motor Cortex Plasticity Induction is Influenced by Multiple Factors Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr John Cirillo
    2006 - 2008 Co-Supervisor High Protein Dietary Patterns and Type 2 Diabetes Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mrs Karma Louise Pearce
    2006 - 2010 Principal Supervisor Motor Unit Activity and Neuromuscular Function after Exercise-Induced Damage to Elbow Flexor Muscles Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Tamara Dartnall
  • Committee Memberships

    Date Role Committee Institution Country
    2013 - 2014 Chair Human Research Ethics Committee University of Adelaide Australia
    2006 - 2014 Member Human Research Ethics Committee University of Adelaide
  • Editorial Boards

    Date Role Editorial Board Name Institution Country
    2006 - ongoing Board Member Journal of Applied Physiology
  • Position: Associate Professor
  • Phone: 83137192
  • Email:
  • Fax: 8313 4362
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Helen Mayo, floor 4
  • Room: S430
  • Org Unit: Medical Sciences

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