Associate Professor / ARC Future Fellow
Adelaide Medical School
Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences
Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.
Associate Professor Steven Wiederman.
In the Visual Physiology and Neurobotics Laboratory (VPNL), we study how the brain processes visual information. Consider a human catching a ball, a dog leaping at a Frisbee or a dragonfly hunting prey amidst a swarm. Brains large and small evolved the ability to predictively, focus attention on a moving target, whilst ignoring distracters and background clutter. We use electrophysiological techniques to investigate how flying insects see the world and build autonomous robots that emulate these neuronal principles.
We investigate visual processing from behavioural, computational and physiological levels, with a multidisciplinary team covering fields of neuroethology, neurobiology, psychology, computer vision and engineering.
(1) Capture behavioral data with arrays of medium-speed video cameras.
(2) Use intracellular, recording techniques to characterize neuronal physiology.
(3) Use dye-filling to examine underlying neuronal architecture.
(4) Develop computational models that mimic complex biological behavior.
(5) Design autonomous robots based on bio-inspired sensory and control processes.
Insects have evolved a relatively simple and efficient solution to a task that challenges the most sophisticated robotic vision systems – the detection, selection and pursuit of moving features in cluttered environments.
Research Project: Target-detecting neurons in the dragonfly. We study a set of neurons from the brain of insects that achieve this visual target-detection task in spectacular fashion. Our most recent work suggests that the insects use sophisticated mechanisms of attention similar to those in primates, to aid in the selection of one feature even in the presence of distracters (e.g. feeding in a swarm).
How do dragonfly target-detecting neurons discriminate moving targets amidst visual clutter whilst in closed-loop pursuit?
How do neuronal responses enable ‘prediction coding’ (estimating target trajectories) and ‘selective attention’ (selecting one target amidst distracters)? In this project, we are applying pharmacological agents and conducting immunohistochemistry to investigate the cellular mechanisms that underlie these properties observed in target-detecting neurons. This project is suitable for Masters and PhD students, however we also have contributing projects for 3rd year and Honours students, for example, examining the effect of individual pharmacological agents on earlier visual processing pathways.
Research Project: Optic-flow neurons in the dragonfly. We recently discovered a set of neurons in the dragonfly optic lobes that respond to wide-field motion stimuli. Unlike their fly counterparts, these dragonfly visual neurons use adaptive processes to allow them to encode different velocity ranges. This likely underlies their ability to hover near stationary, yet pursue prey at speeds over 60 km/hr. In this project, we will use electrophysiological techniques to record from optic flow neurons and discover how they are able to respond to diverse visual stimuli in such a remarkable manner. This project is suitable for Masters and PhD students.
Research Project: Computational Modeling. Combining electrophysiological experiments with computational modeling permits us to address important question in neuroscience. We have projects modeling target and optic-flow neurons more suited to students with a computational background. Students can tailor their projects to include both wet and dry neurosciences. We have variants of these projects that are suitable for Honours, Masters and PhD students. We also host Engineering students in our laboratory to conduct projects in this field of research.
Research Project: Neurobotics: The physiological data obtained in our laboratory feeds into our robotics projects, as we implement neuronal processing onto an autonomous platform. This research involves computational modelling and hardware development, and is therefore suited to those with mathematical or engineering backgrounds. We work with collaborators in both Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Scineces on jointly supervised projects.
Research Project: Neuro-inspired Deep Learning: In collaboration with Computer Sciences, we are working on developing novel deep learning networks, suitable for the task of visual feature discrimination. These Defence funded projects for Honours, Masters and PhD students have special requirements, such as Australian Citizenship. Additional top-up scholarships may apply in some conditions.
Research Project: Nanoscale Biophotonics: We are investigating the in vivo application of fluorescent nanoparticles for the purpose of recording neuronal function in behaving organisms. This research combines life and physical sciences as we explore properties of the nanoparticles, the tapering of optical fibers and their interaction with nervous tissue. Additionally, we are developing optical sensing and stimulating tethers composed of new fibre optic bundles that will be applied to our in vivo model system. These projects are part of the ARC Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics and is in collaboration with the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS).
Wall Street Journal (2015), Scientists Tap Dragonfly Vision to Build a Better Bionic Eye
Australian Financial Review (2017), University of Adelaide test dragonfly neuron for artificial vision system
SAE (2017), Dragonfly study yields insight into vehicle autonomy
United Press International (2017), Dragonflies can predict their prey's next move
United Press International (2017), Honey bees have sharper eyesight than we thought
The Engineer (2017), Dragonfly inspires predictive vision for driverless cars
Daily Mail (2017), Dragonfly's brains can predict the movement of their prey
Gizmodo (2017), How the Dragonfly's Surprisingly Complex Brain Makes it a Deadly Hunter
Popular Science (2013), How Dragonflies Could Help Scientists Build Better Robots
New York Times (2013), Nature’s Drone, Pretty and Deadly
NBC News (2012), Dragonfly has human-like power of concentration
Science Daily (2012), Dragonflies have human-like 'selective attention
Science Daily (2013), Dragonflies can see by switching 'on' and 'off'
Science Daily (2015), Robot eyes will benefit from insect vision
Science Daily (2017), Dragonfly brains predict the path of their prey
Science Daily (2017), Honey bees have sharper eyesight than we thought
The Conversation (2012), Enter the dragonfly: insect shows human-like visual attention
Date Position Institution name 2016 Senior Lecturer University of Adelaide 2014 - 2015 Lecturer University of Adelaide 2013 - 2014 ARC Senior Research Associate University of Adelaide 2011 - 2012 Postdoctoral Researcher University of Adelaide 2009 - 2011 Associate Lecturer University of Adelaide
Date Institution name Country Title 2006 - 2007 University of Adelaide Australia Graduate Certificate In Education (Higher Ed) 2005 University of Technology, Sydney Australia Bachelor of Engineering (Comp Sys) 1st Class Hons 2005 University of Technology, Sydney Australia Bachelor of Medical Sciences 2005 - 2008 University of Adelaide Australia PhD
Date Title Institution Country 2015 - 2017 ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award University of Adelaide Australia
Year Citation 2019 Han, M. (2019). Intracellular delivery of nanoparticles via microelectrophoresis technique. Poster session presented at the meeting of Proceedings Volume 10893, Reporters, Markers, Dyes, Nanoparticles, and Molecular Probes for Biomedical Applications XI; 108930C (2019) https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2507707. San Francisco, California, United States. 2013 James, D., Steven, W., & David, O. (2013). Mapping predictive facilitation in a dragonfly target neuron. Poster session presented at the meeting of Frontiers in Physiology. Frontiers Media SA.
— David, O., & Steven, W. (n.d.). Contrast sensitivity and spatial inhibition in insect small target motion detectors. Poster session presented at the meeting of Frontiers in Physiology. Frontiers Media SA.
Report for External Bodies
Year Citation 2013 O'Carroll, D. C., Wiederman, S. D., & Shoemaker, P. A. (2013). Mechanism for Visual Detection of Small Targets in Insects. Defense Technical Information Center.
Year Citation 2009 Wiederman, S. (2009). A neurobiological and computational analysis of target discrimination in visual clutter by the insect visual system. (PhD Thesis, The University of Adelaide). — Wiederman, S. (n.d.). Wiederman SD, PhD Thesis.
Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, 2018-2022
Next Generation Technologies Fund, Counter Improvised Threats Grand Challenge, 2018-2020
Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, 2015-2017
Lecturer of Sensory Systems in the 3rd Year Course, Cellular & System Neurobiology
Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)
Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name 2020 Principal Supervisor The Effect of Natural, Extrinsic Factors on Electrophysiological Properties of Target-Detecting Neurons in the Dragonfly Master of Philosophy (Medical Science) Master Full Time Mr Mahdi Hussaini 2020 Principal Supervisor Optic Flow Neurons in Dragonflies Master of Philosophy (Medical Science) Master Full Time Mr Andrew McCauley 2019 Co-Supervisor Neurobiotics Inspired UAV Mountable Tracking Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Hamish Christopher Pratt 2019 Principal Supervisor The neurophysiology of dragonfly optic flow encoding with applications to neurobotic engineering Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Edward Luong 2019 Principal Supervisor Elucidation of the cellular mechanisms underlying dragonfly small target motion detector (STMD) neurons via pharmacological intervention. Master of Philosophy (Medical Science) Master Full Time Katie Marie Skeen 2018 Co-Supervisor Real-Time Monitoring of Neuronal Action Potentials using Voltage-Sensitive Quantum Dots Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Mengke Han 2018 Principal Supervisor Neuronal Variability in Dragonfly Target-Detecting Neurons Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Matthew Benjamin Schwarz 2017 Principal Supervisor Electrophysiological Investigation of Selective Attention in an Insect Target Detection Neuron Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Mr Benjamin Horatio Lancer 2016 Principal Supervisor Development and Evaluation of Biologically Inspired Closed Loop Tracking and Pursuit Models using Simulink and Ground Based Robot Q Platform Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time John Vincent James
Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)
Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name 2015 - 2017 Co-Supervisor Microelectrophoresis of Semiconductive Quantum Dots Master of Philosophy Master Full Time Ms Mengke Han 2015 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Neuronal Encoding of Natural Imagery in Dragonfly Motion Pathways Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Bernard Evans 2014 - 2017 Principal Supervisor A Neurobiological Investigation of Visual Target Detection and the Optic Lobe of Dragonflies Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Joseph Mahandas Fabian 2013 - 2017 Co-Supervisor An Insect-Inspired Target Tracking Mechanism for Autonomous Vehicles Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Zahra Bagheri 2010 - 2014 Co-Supervisor Facilitation in Dragonfly Target Motion Detecting Neurons Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr James Robert Dunbier
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