Steven Wiederman

Associate Professor Steven Wiederman

Associate Professor Level D

School of Biomedicine

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.

Lab Logo
(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. 

modelsResearch 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.

Brain sizeResearch 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. 

HTauResearch 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 Sciences 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.

Media Links:

The Advertiser (2017), SA universities join forces to win slice of defence dollars
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



  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2020 - ongoing Associate Professor University of Adelaide
    2016 - 2019 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
  • Education

    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
  • Research Interests

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
    2022 Principal Supervisor The Effect of Temperature on the Electrophysiological Properties of Dragonfly Small Target Motion Detecting Neurons Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Mahdi Hussaini
    2022 Co-Supervisor The Effect of Information Displays and Associated Latencies on Aspects of Human Performance Including Cognition, Perception, and Locomotion Biomechanics Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Lucy Jane Turner
    2021 Co-Supervisor How do we use visual information while walking? Implications for the use of virtual
    and augmented reality devices for training and deployment.
    Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Marlon Blencowe
    2021 Principal Supervisor Elucidation of the cellular mechanisms underlying small target motion detecting neurons (STMDs) in the dragonfly Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Katie Marie Skeen
    2021 Principal Supervisor Widefield Motion Adaptation Properties of Dragonfly Lobula Tangential Cells Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Mr Andrew McCauley
    2019 Principal Supervisor The neurophysiology of dragonfly optic flow encoding with applications to neurobotic engineering Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Mr Edward Luong
    2018 Principal Supervisor Neuronal Variability in Dragonfly Target-Detecting Neurons Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Mr Matthew Benjamin Schwarz
  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2019 - 2023 Co-Supervisor Lightweight and Motion Guided Neural Network Algorithms for Onboard Drone Detection and Flight Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Hamish Christopher Pratt
    2018 - 2022 Co-Supervisor Intracellular delivery and voltage sensitivity of nanomaterials for the optical imaging of neuronal activity Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Mengke Han
    2017 - 2022 Principal Supervisor An Electrophysiological Investigation into Selective Attention in the Dragonfly Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Mr Benjamin Horatio Lancer
    2016 - 2023 Principal Supervisor A Computational Investigation of Target Detection and Tracking by Insect Small Target Motion Detector Neurons Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time John Vincent James
    2015 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Neuronal Encoding of Natural Imagery in Dragonfly Motion Pathways Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Bernard Evans
    2015 - 2017 Co-Supervisor Microelectrophoresis of Semiconductive Quantum Dots Master of Philosophy Master Full Time Ms Mengke Han
    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
  • Position: Associate Professor Level D
  • Phone: 83134435
  • Email:
  • Fax: 83134435
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Helen Mayo South, floor 4
  • Org Unit: Medical Sciences

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