James Bennett


By the end of my first degree in Physics at the University of Warwick, the topics that most interested me where complex systems and statistical mechanics. I had taken an optional course in theoretical neuroscience, was fascinated by consciousness, and how we could understand it, and had bought a neuroscience text book to begin quenching those interests. At that point, thinking that I'd be hard-pressed to find a system more complex than the brain, I decided to pursue a postgrad degree in Neuroscience at the University of Oxford. After attending a conference on consciousness, and learning about the biological mechanisms of the brain, I came to the conclusion that "consciousness", as a focus of research, would not amount to much until a concise and useful definition of it could be agreed upon, which I sincerely doubt. Nevertheless, the physical mechanisms underlying the brain's control of perception and action fascinated me, and has guided my research since. I completed a DPhil in Neuroscience at Oxford under Wyeth Bair (now at U. Washington), studying the interaction of spontaneous neural activity with mechanisms of synaptic plasticity, and how that interaction may instruct the development of computational circuits for visual perception. While I tied up loose ends from my DPhil, I undertook a postdoc with Kristine Krug and Andrew Parker for two years, analysing resting state fMRI data from macaques, writing software for psychophysics experiments, and collaborating with Tim Vogels in my spare time on a project about sparse coding in the humble fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. I then moved to the University of Sussex, where I am today, to undertake a postdoc in computational neuroscience with Thomas Nowotny. Here, I am developing computational models of perception, learning, and decision-making in insects, in particular the fruit fly, on the EPSRC funded Brains on Board Project (see Research for more details).

I also try to do a lot of public engagement work to bring the wonders of the natural world -- especially the brain -- to children and adults alike, to encourage everyone to always try to look at the world from another point of view, and to demonstrate that science is a humble, human endeavour, fraught with imperfection, seeking only to understand the world in new ways, and not to "prove" anything (a common misconception, in my opinion). More on that in Public Engagement.

My attempts in amateur photography are documented in my Gallery, and useful tips I have learned so as to be a better steward of our planet are provided in Environmentalism.