Mantid photos

Lisa’s been taking more fab photos of the mantids. They are so cool!

Fantastic close-up of a mantis that has jumped onto the CRT!

Mantid striking at image on computer screen

Eyeball to eyeball

Here are some photos showing our experimental set-up.

Mantis watching simulated bug on the CRT

Close-up of mantis watching a simulated bug on a CRT

Top-down view. You can see the mantis leaning out to the right to try and pursue the bug.

Welcome Ghaith!

Ghaith Tarawneh is the second person to accept one of the M3 positions. Ghaith is just writing up his PhD in Microelectronic Circuit Design in the Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering department here at Newcastle. He also has a MSc in Mechatronics from Newcastle (where he was the highest-ranking student), and a BSc in Computer Engineering from Princess Sumaya University for Technology in Jordan (where he was the highest-ranking student – spot the pattern). He has skills in just about everything electronic, computer or programming-related. In the initial phase of the project, Ghaith’s technical wizardry is going to be essential for key challenges like automated recognition of mantis behaviour and displaying 3D images to insect eyes. Longer-term, Ghaith is keen to move into the computational neuroscience aspects of the project, figuring out the circuits which underlie mantis vision. Given the “machine” aspect of the M3 project, it’s an intriguing thought that Ghaith has the skills to implement these computations in hardware as well as in software if he so desires.
Ghaith will be the first RA to start work on the project, with a start date of 1st June if all goes well.

Welcome Vivek!

Delighted to welcome Vivek Nityananda as the first of the three Leverhulme-funded research associates working on the “Man, Mantis and Machine” project. Vivek currently holds a Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship from the European Union. For this, he’s working on visual search and attention in bumblebees with Prof Lars Chittka at Queen Mary, London. Previously, he’s worked on acoustic communication in frogs and bush-crickets at the University of Minnesota and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. Vivek will be starting work on the M3 project once his Marie Curie fellowship has finished in September. I’m delighted he’ll be joining us, and look forward to a highly productive time together.

Michael at Centre for Life

In February, physiology undergraduate Michael Widdall ran a “Meet the Scientist” event at Newcastle’s Centre for Life, in which members of the public carried out a stereo psychophysics experiment.

Proud PI

We just hosted a lab tour of shortlisted applicants to Newcastle’s Wellcome-Trust-funded 4-year neuroscience PhD theme. We only had half an hour, but in this time Paul, James, Zoltan, Parto and Lisa each gave a dynamic and lucid summary of their work, its motivation and important, and showed off their stimuli / insects / smartphones (delete as appropriate). On the way out one of the applicants said to me, “And what do YOU do?” I just waved a hand airily and said, “Oh, I supervise, you know…” Frankly with this team I’m fairly redundant but I like to think I look decorative.

Ars magna…

A mixed morning. Am trying to write a review, which I’d really like to get off my desk. Am enjoying the opportunity to read around the literature, revisiting old papers, discovering new ones, and thinking deep thoughts about the entire structure of stereo vision. Am coming up with all sorts of experiments which “wouldn’t take long to do” and “could be interesting”. But this is not helping me write the review, and I’m busy all afternoon! Argh!


Had most of the lab round to our house last night, except for poor old Paul and Parto who have been smitten by a classic start-of-academic-year lurgy (hope you are both feeling better). It was a nice opportunity to get to know the new lab members better, and bid farewell to Fredrik and Iwo. I was a very lazy host, doing a Tesco online shop for stacks of pizza rather than creating something amazing in the kitchen :-). Definitely have to do that again soon.

A trip to Leeds

The rest of the week will be very different. Yesterday, Parto and I and one of her other supervisors, Andrew Trevelyan, travelled down to her funder, Epilepsy Action. We had an interesting morning undergoing epilepsy awareness training, and then met various staff members and learnt more about the work of Epilepsy Action. It was an interesting and informative day, and I hope Parto’s project will prove successful and help make a difference to people with the condition.

The trip also had the beneficial side-effect of demonstrating to Parto the fallibility of at least one of her supervisors, as I confidently bustled her on to completely the wrong train at Newcastle. Fortunately it was going south, so we just had to hop off at Durham ten minutes down the line and onto our train when it came past shortly thereafter. I did notice that Parto was checking every train & platform for herself after that — a very wise move!

Productive meetings

Had a good day yesterday, just the sort of day I like. Had very productive meetings with my collaborator Claire, PhD student Paul and research assistant James. And in between, I even managed to do some more on my paper.

With Claire, we did some maths to figure out how Claire wants luminance to vary in her stimuli, and then managed to get that happening on her CRS Visage system. It’s the first time I’ve played with a CRS system, and it took me out of my Psychophysics Toolbox comfort zone, but it was very satisfying that we managed to get it doing what we wanted, and just in time for lunch at that.

Later on, Paul and I sat down and started sketching out some experiments which might be good for his MRes project. I’ve always really liked Vishwanath, Girshick & Banks (2005) “Why pictures look right when viewed from the wrong place.” Nat Neurosci 8(10): 1401-1410, and was lucky enough to get Marty up here a couple of years ago giving a seminar on it and other work. So I suggested to Paul last week that we might start kicking some ideas around in that general area. It’s always fun to start sketching out a new set of experiments – the bright shiny optimistic time before the inevitable disillusionment sets in after you’ve been working on them for months and just encountering one difficulty after another!

Finally, James showed me his latest work on his 3D smartphone app. It’s looking really good and it seems that we may be able to get around the need to figure out how to do anti-aliasing on an Android phone, which would be handy.

It’s great to have such stimulating people to work with.

A productive start to the week

A nice window in the diary with nothing else on, so I’ve been able to spend Monday and Tuesday just… working! I’ve been cracking on with one of the many papers on my “need to write up” list, and have also had a welcome chance to sit down with Parto and talk psychometric functions, staircases and so on as we figure out a sensible data analysis. Right now I have Turisas turned up high on Spotify, Matlab windows all over one monitor and Word showing the paper in 2-page view all over the other — gonna be a productive day :-).