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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Neural basis of multisensory integration for spatial navigation

Research environment

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 150 PhD students working on projects in the biological and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.

Dr Guifen Chen group focuses on studying how sensory inputs are integrated at the neural network level to form spatial representation in the brain. Her long-term research interests lie in the network mechanisms of spatial cognition and episodic memory in healthy and diseased brains including Alzheimer's and Autism. See here for further details about Dr Guifen Chen's group and details on the co-supervisor, Prof Joshua Reiss. 

Training and development

Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

Project description

The ability to navigate is an essential skill required by animals including human beings. To navigate successfully in an environment, animals have to know where they are based on the integration of incoming sensory information perceived in the environment. State of the art artificial neural networks in autonomous cars are able to integrate streaming video from multiple cameras to produce a simplistic model of the world in real time and perform basic navigation using that model. However, it is clear that the current artificial systems lack the ability that their biological counterparts excel at, namely, integrating multisensory integration to perform complex terrain navigation.

Decades of research in rodents has made several significant discoveries, specifically various types of spatially-correlated cells are known to exist in and around the hippocampus. These cells exhibit specific representations of space as animals navigate in the space. This project aims to study how our brain integrates environmental information coming from different sensory modalities to give rise to the unified spatial representation. We will first construct a multi-sensory environment where both visual and auditory cues are presented and can be separately manipulated, building on a two-dimensional virtual reality system that I have recently developed.

We will then investigate and compare the sensory and spatial representations in both the parietal cortex and the hippocampus in the multi-sensory environment. Finally, we will study the bi-directional communication between the parietal cortex and the hippocampus. The primary techniques that will be used include in vivo electrophysiological single-unit recording using tetrodes and Neuropixel probes. Theoretical models will be constructed based on the experimental results, which will be used to explain experimental outcomes and make further predictions and hypotheses for future directions.

The outcome will provide biological inspiration to the development of artificial intelligence, especially for active learning and complex terrain navigation by robots and autonomous vehicles.

This is an interdisciplinary project, which will build a new cross-school collaboration. The student will be supervised by Guifen Chen and Joshua Reiss from QMUL and Andrej Bicanski from Newcastle University. You will learn skills across disciplines, including experimental neuroscience, audio engineering , data analysis and theoretical modeling.


This studentship is open to students applying for China Scholarship Council funding. Queen Mary University of London has partnered with the China Scholarship Council (CSC) to offer a joint scholarship programme to enable Chinese students to study for a PhD programme at Queen Mary. Under the scheme, Queen Mary will provide scholarships to cover all tuition fees, whilst the CSC will provide living expenses for 4 years and one return flight ticket to successful applicants. 

Eligibility and applying

Applicants must:

  • Be Chinese students with a strong academic background.
  • Students must hold a PR Chinese passport.
  • Applicants can either be resident in China at the time of application or studying overseas. 
  • Students with prior experience of studying overseas (including in the UK) are eligible to apply. Chinese QMUL graduates/Masters’ students are therefore eligible for the scheme.

Please refer to the CSC website for full details on eligibility and conditions on the scholarship.

Applications are invited from highly motivated candidates with a keen interest in neuroscience and with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree and a masters degree in an area relevant to the project (for example Neuroscience, Life Sciences, Medicine, Psychology, Physics, Maths or Computer Science). Candidates with programming skills such as Matlab, a good understanding of maths, and experience of rodent experiments are desirable.

Applicants are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details.

The deadline for applications to Queen Mary is 30th January 2022. Applicants will need to complete an online application form by this date to be considered, including a CV, personal statement and qualifications. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for a formal interview by the project supervisor. Those who are successful in their application for our PhD programme will be issued with an offer letter which is conditional on securing a CSC scholarship (as well as any academic conditions still required to meet our entry requirements).

Once applicants have obtained their offer letter from Queen Mary they should then apply to CSC for the scholarship by the advertised deadline with the support of the project supervisor. For September 2022 entry, applicants must complete the CSC application on the CSC website between 10th March - 31st March 2022.

Only applicants who are successful in their application to CSC can be issued an unconditional offer and enrol on our PhD programme.

Apply Online


  • Rowland, D. C., Roudi, Y., Moser, M.-B. & Moser, E. I. Ten Years of Grid Cells. Annu Rev Neurosci 39, 1–22 (2015).
  • Chen, G., Lu, Y., King, J. A., Cacucci, F. & Burgess, N. Differential influences of environment and self-motion on place and grid cell firing. Nat Commun 10, 630 (2019).
  • Chen, G., King, J. A., Lu, Y., Cacucci, F. & Burgess, N. Spatial cell firing during virtual navigation of open arenas by head-restrained mice. Elife 7, e34789 (2018).
  • Aronov, D., Nevers, R. & Tank, D. W. Mapping of a non-spatial dimension by the hippocampal–entorhinal circuit. Nature 543, 719–722 (2017).
  • Doeller, C. F., Barry, C. & Burgess, N. Evidence for grid cells in a human memory network. Nature 463, 657–661 (2010).
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