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The University of Ulster’s Computational Neuroscience Research Team at the Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) in the Faculty of Computing and Engineering at the Magee campus has received international recognition.  

Dr Damien Coyle, a lecturer in the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems, was awarded the International Neural Network Society’s Young Investigator of the Year 2011 award for his outstanding contributions in the field of neural networks at the International Joint Conference on Neural Networks (IJCNN) in San Jose while his colleague, Research Fellow Dr Kongfatt Wong-Lin, picked up the award for Best Paper at the same conference.  

IRSC Director, Professor Martin McGinnity said the awards illustrated the outstanding, world-class research being produced at the Magee based Research Centre. Neural networks are mathematical algorithms inspired by the way the brain processes information. Dr Coyle’s research has focused on developing and applying new neural network based algorithms for signal processing, prediction and classification, in particular, for improving brain computer interface (BCI) technology.  

He explains: “BCI technology enables people to interact with computers using their brainwaves and has applications in assistive technologies for the physically impaired, rehabilitation after stroke and Guillain Barré syndrome and in non-medical applications such as games and entertainment.”  

This is the second time Dr Coyle’s innovative research has been internationally recognised.  In 2008, he travelled to Hong Kong to collect the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society’s Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award at the IEEE World Congress on Computational Intelligence - IEEE is the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology.  

Damien said he was both delighted and honoured to receive the award from the International Neural Network Society (INNS).  “Both the International Neural Network Society and the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society are the leading societies in the field so it is a humbling experience to have now received prestigious awards from both societies.”  

Dr Wong-Lin’s research, which involves constructing biologically realistic computational models of neurons, could lead to a better understanding of complex brain disorders.  

He explains, “Neurons in a brain region called the dorsal raphe nucleus emit an important brain chemical, serotonin, throughout various parts of the brain, modulating their neuronal activities and network functions, and also regulating mood, cognition and behaviour. Dysfunctions in the serotonergic system can cause debilitating and devastating neuropsychiatric disorders such as major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and schizophrenia.  

Dr Wong-Lin says the model can easily include other brain regions and neuronal types, which will facilitate the building and simulating of biologically realistic large-scale neuronal network models of the serotonergic system and related neuronal circuits modulated by serotonin.  

“This may in turn provide deep insights into the complex and heterogeneous functions of serotonin and could be a first step towards eventually providing better understanding of related brain and behavioural disorders, and perhaps accelerate the pace while reducing the cost of the discovery and development of antidepressant drugs.” 

The other authors of the paper were Dr. Girijesh Prasad, Reader ISRC and Professor T. Martin McGinnity.  Dr. Wong-Lin is due to take up a lecturing post in the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems this autumn.