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The aim of this project is to understand the role of mechanical and thermal effects in signal propagation in nerve axons. The proposed study is mostly related to mathematical modelling and numerical experiments.

Research field: Physical Sciences
Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Andrus Salupere
Dr. Tanel Peets
Availability: This position is available.
Offered by: School of Science
Department of Cybernetics
Application deadline:Applications are accepted between November 15, 2021 00:00 and December 15, 2021 23:59 (Europe/Zurich)


Propagation of a nerve pulse is a complex process spiced with nonlinearities. Classically, the nerve function is understood in terms of electrical signals propagating along the nerve axons called the action potentials (AP). Over the past decades, it has become clear that the propagation of an AP is accompanied by mechanical and thermal effects, including a transverse deformation wave of an axon which means changes in axon diameter, a pressure wave in axoplasm and temperature changes.

While it is clear that there is strong experimental evidence about several effects accompanying the propagation of APs, there is no clear understanding whether these effects play an important role in axon physiology. However, in terms of axon diameter and biomembrane thickness, these small effects can be significant in neural signalling and can also play an important role in neural pathologies.

Recently, we proposed a mathematical model for nerve pulse propagation including the accompanying effects. The model is based on known equations of mathematical physics which are modified to reflect the physiological effects. The further development of the model must give testable predictions that allow evaluating the importance of the mechanical and thermal effects in nerve signal propagation.

Our research group is focused on mathematical modelling of nonlinear wave processes in advanced materials and performing in silico experiments. This beneficial approach gains a better understanding of the underlying physical processes from different viewpoints. The project is financed by a grant from the Estonian Research Council.

Responsibilities and tasks of the PhD student:

  • Participation in development of models and performing numerical experiments
  • Publishing obtained results and presenting them at scientific conferences
  • Participation in lab activities (lab seminars, science popularisation, etc)
  • Teaching undergraduate students

Applicants must fulfil the following requirements:

  • MSc degree in applied mechanics, physics, applied mathematics, or in a related field
  • knowledge in numerical methods
  • previous experience in programming using high-level object-oriented programming language
  • strong written and verbal English language skills
  • highly motivated and proactive individual with excellent communication skills

The following experience is beneficial:

  • knowledge in continuum mechanics
  • latex text preparation system
  • programming in Python and/or Matlab
  • familiarity with following Python modules/packages: numpy, scipy, sympy, matplotlib