Currently Funded Research Projects

The MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development has a number of funded research projects running at any given point in time.

All MARCS research projects aim to have a profound impact in their particular field and often involve collaboration with local and international researchers.

Below is a detailed list of each currently funded project, complete with a relevant problem and solution that gives a brief overview of the research.

Health (Biomedical Engineering)


Treatment of Vestibular Dysfunction using a Portable Stimulator

Researchers Funding
Prof. Jorge Serrador, Dr. Paul Breen, Michael Schubert, Scott Wood, Prof. Gearóid Ó Laighin             US Department of Defense (DMRDP) 2014 - 2018

Problem: Veteran soldiers have trouble maintaining balance and performing complex functions such as driving due to traumatic brain injury.
 Solution: Restore this function by stimulating the balance organs using a novel neural enhancement technique developed by researchers at Western Sydney University in the MARCS Institute.


Enhanced Sensory Perception via Jitter Reduction and Neural Synchronisation Evoked by Subsensory Electrical Noise Stimulation: 
Restoring Sensitivity in Peripheral Neuropathy

Researchers Funding
Dr. Paul Breen, Dr. Klaus Stiefel, Dr. Ingvars Birznieks, Dr. Stefania Penkala NHMRC Project 2014 - 2017
Problem: Loss of feeling in the feet and hands due to aging and diseases.
Solution: Enhance sensitivity by recoding native nerve signals using a new form of patented electrical stimulation we have developed.

Use of a Portable Stimulator to Treat Gulf War Illness

Researchers Funding
Prof. Jorge Serrador, Dr. Paul Breen, Michael Schubert, Scott Wood, Prof. Gearóid Ó Laighin US Department of Defense (CDMRP) 2014 - 2016

Problem: Gulf War Illness is a multi-symptom illness with nausea, headache and dizziness among them.
 
Solution: Impaired inner ear function is a likely cause of these symptoms and a patented stimulation technique we have developed could provide relief to the sufferers.

HeMo

Researchers Funding
Dr. Paul Breen, Dr. Gaetano Gargiulo Western Sydney University Innovation Fund 2013 - 2015

Problem: Early diagnosis of peripheral vascular disease is crucial for effective treatment; however, assessment is costly and highly specialised.
 
Solution: A new non-invasive hemodynamic monitor we have developed, called HeMo, calculates peripheral blood volume enabling fast, easy-to-use and cost-effective peripheral vascular assessment.

VitalCore (formerly Pneumocardiogram)

Researchers Funding
Dr. Gaetano Gargiulo, Dr. Paul Breen Western Sydney University Innovation Fund 2013 - 2015

Problem: Monitoring both heart function and respiration in a non-intrusive manner is difficult, but would be of great benefit to clinicians in diagnosing heart and lung diseases.
 
Solution: We have developed an inexpensive wearable solution to monitor both cardiac and respiration volume based on calibrated volumetric measurements of the thorax.

True unipolar electrocardiography

Researchers Funding
Dr. Gaetano Gargiulo Western Sydney University Innovation Fund 2013 - 2015 

Problem: Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of death in the developed world and massive preventative electrocardiographic (ECG) screening is needed. Current ECG systems are biased and may lead to misdiagnosis.
 
Solution: We have recently invented and patented a new ECG device that removes this bias.

Health (Ageing, Communication, Learning & Mental Wellbeing)


ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language

Researchers Funding
Prof. Anne Cutler, A/Prof. Paola Escudero, A/Prof. Caroline Jones ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language 2014 - 2020

Problem: What we know about language – how it is patterned, learned, processed and adapted – is disproportionately influenced by research into major languages like English in monolingual, Western cultural settings, yet Australia sits at the epicentre of the world's linguistic diversity.

Solution: The ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, led by ANU with partners Western Sydney University, UQ and UniMelb, will transform our understanding of the languages of the Indo- Pacific region and address challenges raised by language diversity for education, social access and well-being, and support the development of communication and learning technologies vital for a truly multilingual and future-proofed Australia.

Cracking the code of successful language learning

Researchers Funding
Dr Mark Antoniou ARC DECRA Fellowship 2015 - 2017

Problem: It is not clear why some second language learners flourish, while many struggle in the same educational setting.

Solution: Identify the combination of factors that matter most in successful language learning, with the aim of tailoring training proactively to maximise learning outcomes

Elderly speech perception in noise

Researchers Funding
Prof. Chris Davis, A/Prof. Jeesun Kim ARC Discovery Project 2015 - 2017

Problem: Elderly listeners have great difficulties in understanding speech in a noisy environment. Difficulties in speech perception can be due to problems at the level of sensation, perception or cognition (or a mix of these).

Solution: This project provides a principled way to distinguish the source of these problems; this is an essential foundation for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Speech communication in older adults: an acoustic and perceptual investigation

Researchers Funding
Prof. Valerie Hazan, A/Prof.Jeesun Kim, Prof. Chris Davis ESRC-2014 - 2017

Problem: The impact of aging on speech communication is poorly understood.

Solution: This project will measure in young and older adults the speech adaptations made to counter adverse listening conditions; how cognitive load impacts these; the role of face-to-face communication and the perceptual benefits of 'clear speech' in order to better understand the impact of ageing on speech communication.

Explaining the native-language listening advantage by charting neural response and perceptual adaptation across languages - but within individuals

Researchers Funding
Prof. Anne Cutler ARC Discovery Project 2014 - 2016

Problem: Why do we listen to speech better in our native language?

Solution: This project investigates i) whether listeners better adjust to specific talkers' speech sounds, and more efficiently adjust how they recognise words, in their native than in their second language, and ii) how the brain might give native language its listening advantage.

I like you and I just can't help it: Explaining automatic affective responses

Researchers Funding
Dr. Gabrielle Weidemann, Prof. Kate Stevens ARC Discovery Project 2014 – 2016

Problem: Behaviour is not always the result of careful reflection, but is often driven by more immediate emotions or "gut reactions" to stimuli – automatic affective responses.

Solution: Investigate how automatic affective responses are acquired. We do this by examining the relative contribution of simple conditioning processes and complex cognitive processes to the acquisition of automatic affective responses.

Thinking Brains and Bodies: Distributed Cognition and Dynamic Memory in Australian Dance Theatre

Researchers Funding
Prof. Kate Stevens, Prof. Kim Vincs, Prof. James Leach, Prof. Michael Nicholls, Ms Elizabeth Old, Dr. Scott deLahunta, Prof. David Kirsh ARC Linkage Project, 2013-2016

Problem: What fosters creativity? How can it be studied and measured?

Solution: The dance studio offers an ideal setting to record and analyse behaviour that leads to creative outcomes distributed across a group. The time-course of generating ideas or "productivity function" can be traced and material generated in solo versus interactive improvisation conditions compared.

The seeds of literacy in infancy: empirical specification of the acoustic determinants of language acquisition

Researchers Funding
Prof. Denis Burnham, Prof. Usha Goswami ARC Discovery Project 2011 - 2015

Problem: Currently dyslexia cannot be diagnosed until reading instruction begins.

Solution: Devise diagnostic tests appropriate for 6-month-old infants, administer these to infants not-at-risk and at-risk for dyslexia (due to having a dyslexic parent), and follow them through until reading age.

Understanding speech in noise: Linking perception and computation

Researchers Funding
A/Prof. Jeesun Kim, Prof. Chris Davis, Prof. Martin Cooke ARC Discovery Project 2013 - 2015

Problem: Recognizing speech degraded by noise is a problem faced by humans and by computational algorithms (although humans do much better).

Solution: Using Prof Cooke's missing data speech recognition model and comparing it with human performance will feedback to influence model development and allow for a better understanding of processes in normal hearers that can then help pinpoint the underlying source of certain hearing impairments. 

Understanding different speakers vs. different accents: apples and apples or apples and pears?

Researchers Funding
A/Prof. Paola Escudero ARC Discovery Project 2013 – 2015

Problem: Speech perception is possible because humans are able to normalize the variability in the speech signal. To date, we do not know whether the underlying skills to cope with different speakers and accents are uniquely human and specific to certain languages.

Solution: Our researchers will use innovative technology to unveil the details of an important component of human cognition, namely speech comprehension. The findings will lay foundations to advance both automatic speech recognition systems and hearing aids for human communication.

How we know who's talking: talker-distinctiveness in speech timing

Researchers Funding
Dr. Jason Shaw ARC DECRA Fellowship 2012 – 2014

Problem: How does a listener disentangle from the same physical dimensions of speech both the identity of the speaker and the words being spoken?

Solution: Model the temporal dimension of speech as the interaction between a phonological component, specified as relational invariance between phonetic parameters, and an indexical component, specified as talker-specific distributions over the same phonetic parameters.

You came TO DIE?! Perceptual adaptation to regional accents as a new lens on the puzzle of spoken word recognition

Researchers Funding
Prof. Catherine T. Best, Dr. Jason Shaw, Prof. Gerry Docherty, Prof. Jen Hay, Prof. Paul Foulkes, A/Prof. Bronwen Evans ARC Future Fellowship 2014 – 2018

Problem: How do we achieve stable word recognition across the pronunciation differences of unfamiliar accents?

Solution: Studies will offer crucial insights into how listeners relate variations in a word's spoken form to its underlying constant identity. Sensitive perceptual tests and computational modelling of cross-accent word recognition by speakers of Australian, New Zealand, and UK English will provide new insights for theories of spoken word recognition, and improve understanding of why unfamiliar accents pose problems for automatic speech recognisers, second language learners and listeners with language impairments and comprehension limitations.

Children's generalisation and adaptation to unfamiliar regional accents reveal the path of early word learning

Researchers Funding
Prof. Catherine T. Best, Dr. Christine Kitamura Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation 2013 – 2015

Problem: Young children recognise that unfamiliar people may speak with a different accent than they hear in their homes. What is not yet understood is how they learn to recognise words spoken in unfamiliar accents.

Solution: Our studies of infants' and toddlers' early word-learning will track the emergence of flexible word recognition, from early dependence on the accent they hear in their homes, to gradual improvement in generalisation to words spoken in unfamiliar accents.

Real-life Impact of Hearing Disorders

Researchers Funding
Prof. Christopher Davis ARC Extension to the HEARing CRC 2014 – 2016

Problem: Although audiometric tests provide an index of hearing impairment in elderly adults, it is unclear how impairment impacts on communication ability in real-world listening situations or how such communication is affected by cognitive abilities.

Solution: In a large group of elderly listeners we will assess hearing ability and model how working memory, comprehension skills and attention affects speech perception in difficult listening conditions.

Early precursors of linguistic development

Researchers Funding
Prof. Denis Burnham ARC Extension to the HEARing CRC 2014 – 2016

Problem: Delayed or deficient linguistic abilities can be particularly debilitating, but such problems are not evident until children are two to three years of age, and in the case of written language, until they are five or six years.

Solution: Conduct longitudinal studies from early infancy (six months) through to onset of school across different language backgrounds investigating brain functions, auditory skills, parental speech input, and how the infant brain reacts to hearing aids and cochlear implant input in order to identify critical developmental factors & plan for intervention procedures.

Understanding bilingual language acquisition in northern Indigenous Australia: phonological, lexical, orthographic, and family factors

Researchers Funding
A/Prof. Caroline Jones ARC Future Fellowship 2014 – 2017

Problem: How do young Indigenous children in northern Australia grow up bilingual in English and in Kriol, an English-based creole language?

Solution: This research will establish the linguistic, educational, and family factors in successful language acquisition for these children, with implications for long-term health, social inclusion, education and employment.

Alveo: Human communication science virtual laboratory

Researchers Funding
Prof. Denis Burnham, Dr. Dominique Estival NeCTAR Grant 2013 – 2015

Problem: It is difficult for a researcher from one discipline to apply the tools and techniques of another discipline, or to explore data collected under one paradigm via a completely different analytical perspective. Moreover, research conducted in isolation entails inefficient repetition of analysis of local data sets.

Solution: The Alveo Virtual Laboratory provides easy access to a variety of databases and the integrated used of a range of analysis tools, from linguistics, natural language processing, speech science, psychology, as well as music and acoustic processing. It will foster inter- disciplinary research and facilitate the discovery of new methods for solving old problems or the application of known methods to new datasets facilitate discovery of new methods for solving old problems or applying known methods to new data sets.

Advanced Technology


Optimisation of Supporting Circuits for High-Density SPAD Arrays

Researchers Funding
Dr. Tara Hamilton, Dr. Denis Delic Western Sydney University Partnership Project 2016

Problem: Single-photon avalanche diode (SPAD) cameras require specialised circuits within each pixel on a chip. The physical size of these specialised circuits reduces the number of pixels that can be successfully integrated onto a single chip.

Solution: Using custom layout techniques we will reduce the physical size of the specialised circuitry paving the way for higher-density SPAD arrays.

Hardware Acceleration for Neural Systems

Researchers Funding
Prof. André van Schaik, Dr. Mark Wang ARC Discovery Project 2014 – 2016

Problem: To really understand how brains work, we need to simulate neural networks of a size larger than possible on standard computers. Several expensive electronic systems are being developed world wide to allow this but the output from these projects will only be accessible to a few researchers at the Universities where this work is being done.

Solution: Our researchers are developing such an electronic system using cheaply available commercial hardware and they will make their design and software available for free, so that many brain researchers worldwide may benefit from this capability to enhance their understanding of the brain.

Braincubator

Researchers Funding
Dr. Yossi Buskila, Dr. Paul Breen, James Wright Western Sydney University Innovation Fund 2013 – 2015

Problem: Neuroscientists use brain slices in their research, but these slices have very short lifespans of only 6-8 hours, so that only a few slices can be used per animal.

Solution: Our researchers have developed a novel incubation system that can keep brain slices viable for 36+ hours reducing the number of animals needed for brain research. 

HeMo

Researchers Funding
Dr. Paul Breen, Dr. Gaetano Gargiulo Western Sydney University Innovation Fund 2013 – 2015

Problem: Early diagnosis of peripheral vascular disease is crucial for effective treatment; however, assessment is costly and highly specialised.

Solution: A new non-invasive hemodynamic monitor we have developed, called HeMo, calculates peripheral blood volume enabling fast, easy-to-use and cost-effective peripheral vascular assessment.

VitalCore (formerly Pneumocardiogram)

Researchers Funding
Dr. Gaetano Gargiulo, Dr. Paul Breen Western Sydney University Innovation Fund 2013 – 2015

Problem: Monitoring both heart function and respiration in a non-intrusive manner is difficult, but would be of great benefit to clinicians in diagnosing heart and lung diseases.

Solution: We have developed an inexpensive wearable solution to monitor both cardiac and respiration volume based on calibrated volumetric measurements of the thorax. 

True unipolar electrocardiography

Researchers Funding
Dr. Gaetano Gargiulo Western Sydney University Innovation Fund 2013 – 2015

Problem: Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of death in the developed world and massive preventative electrocardiographic (ECG) screening is needed. Current ECG systems are biased and may lead to misdiagnosis.

Solution: We have recently invented and patented a new ECG device that removes this bias. 

Bayesian Inference with Spiking Neurons

Researchers Funding
Dr. Travis Monk, Prof. André van Schaik Endeavour Research Fellowship 2015

Problem: The perceptual performance of humans and animals on many tasks is well explained by a form of statistical inference called Bayesian Inference. But how is it that neurons in a brain perform the necessary signal processing operation to perform Bayesian Inference?

Solution: We build mathematical models and computer simulations based on first principles on how neurons may have evolved to perform this function.