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Neurobiological Rhythms: A Computational Approach

Module titleNeurobiological Rhythms: A Computational Approach
Module codeNEU3027
Academic year2022/3
Module staff

Dr Jamie Walker (Lecturer)

Dr Joel Tabak-Sznajder (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

In 1931, the reformed bank robber Wiley Post became the first man to experience jet lag through being the first person to fly around the world, a distance of 15,474 miles in 8 days. Jet lag, which many of us have now experienced, highlights the existence of a circadian clock - and that problems arise when this clock becomes out of phase with its environment. It is now known we have many other biological clocks, acting on different scales of time and space. Regardless of their scale, all these clocks allow us to anticipate changes in our environment, and co-ordinate our interacting bodily functions.

This module will explore these rhythmic processes of nervous systems, in both health and disease. You will use computational techniques to investigate the basic mechanisms that produce these rhythms as well as examining those which allow these rhythms to coordinate with each other. You will also learn about Dynamic Diseases, the pathological states which arise from the dysfunction of these rhythms.

This module will require you to use mathematical techniques such as differential equations. It is recommended that students taking this module have completed an A Level or equivalent in Mathematics. CSC2020 Coding for Medical Scientists is recommended for students of Medical Sciences or Neuroscience. NEU1006 (formerly CSC1006) is recommended but not essential for students of Medical Sciences and Biological Sciences.

This is an optional module for students studying BSc Neuroscience. This module is also open to students from BSc Medical Sciences (Neuroscience), BSc Mathematics, BSc Natural Sciences, or BSc Biological Sciences.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module demonstrates the importance of rhythmic behaviours in the nervous system, explaining both their roles and their mechanisms. You will see first-hand that the apparently contrasting patterns of fast electrical activity, produced by a single neuron, and the slow oscillations generated by large networks of neurons can actually arise from common mechanisms. From this observation you will develop your intuition for how oscillations are controlled, by manipulating them within mathematical models. The module will also describe how oscillators are entrained by periodic stimuli, illustrating how oscillators can therefore coordinate their activities, and what might happen when this coordination is disrupted. These concepts will be demonstrated with reference to phenomena such as rhythmic spiking in single neurons, theta and gamma oscillations in the cortex, and the circadian and sleep cycles.

Mathematical modelling is an important tool to explore biological oscillators. You will learn and apply basic concepts of mathematical modelling of biological systems during this course.

Where possible, Neuroscience students will be paired with students from other disciplines, for example Mathematics and Natural Sciences, in order to help each other learn. This innovative approach is based on compelling evidence that this near-peer approach to interdisciplinary study supports the learning of all participants (Evans and Cuffe 2009; Naeger et al. 2013)

Evans, Darrell J. R., and Tracy Cuffe. 2009. ‘Near-Peer Teaching in Anatomy: An Approach for Deeper Learning’. Anatomical Sciences Education 2 (5):227–33.

Naeger, David M., Miles Conrad, Janet Nguyen, Maureen P. Kohi, and Emily M. Webb. 2013. ‘Students Teaching Students: Evaluation of a “Near-Peer” Teaching Experience’. Academic Radiology 20 (9):1177–82.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Explain the basic neuronal mechanisms that produce rhythmic behaviour
  • 2. Describe oscillators in the nervous system and their mechanisms
  • 3. Find the key parameters that control oscillator frequency in a neural oscillator
  • 4. Understand the concept of stability and instability in relation to a steady state
  • 5. Explain how oscillators can be entrained and how they can synchronise
  • 6. Demonstrate how EEG signals result from synchronisation between neurons
  • 7. Describe the concept of dynamical disease and give some examples
  • 8. Explain jet lag in relation to the concept of oscillator phase

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Show an understanding of how systems made of different components may operate through common principles
  • 10. Evaluate the role of computational models in understanding the nervous system
  • 11. Explore the behaviour of mathematical models through numerical experiments

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 12. Work effectively as part of a multidisciplinary team
  • 13. Evaluate information and summarise it accurately
  • 14. Communicate ideas clearly and concisely

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module’s precise content will vary from year to year, but the following information gives a detailed description of the typical overall structure.

The module begins with an introductory lecture and workshop to outline its broad aims, weekly structure, and assessment processes; this session also introduces the scope of using computational models for neuroscientific research.

Most weeks there will be student-led inter-disciplinary small group sessions. In these, for example, Neuroscience students will explore key mathematical concepts under the instruction of students with a background in mathematics. Mathematical students will improve their biological knowledge by working with Neuroscience students. To ensure that all students benefit and have similar learning opportunities, optional Q&A sessions with academic staff will be available for those who need further support.

Every week there will be a one-hour pre-recorded lecture and a three-hour in-person computer workshop during which students use computational models to explore concepts developed in the lecture.

The final week of the module has a consolidation lecture and workshop, in which students can choose which topic areas they would like to re-visit.

During the module, to help students develop presentation and literature evaluation skills there will be two formative workshops focused on reading and presenting critical summaries of scientific papers.

Students will work in groups of 3-4 students, with at least one Neuroscience and one quantitative student per group. Each group of students will present one paper and perform a project together.

For their summative assessment, students will choose a project at the end of week 6, from a list of  covering the full range of topics explored in the module. They may also propose their own project, though must check with the module convenor that it is appropriate.  Groups of students will then spend 6 weeks working on their project, at the end of which each member of the group will complete a 2,000 word report interpreting their results. Each group member will receive the same project grade.


Indicative lectures topics: 

  • 1. Welcome and introduction to the module
  • 2. Circadian rhythms
  • 3. Pulsatile hormone release
  • 4. Entrainment and synchronisation of oscillators
  • 5. Action potentials in neurons
  • 6. Multi-rhythm oscillations and pacemaking
  • 7. Central pattern generators
  • 8. Spontaneous activity in developing networks
  • 9. Alpha, beta, gamma, theta rhythms
  • 10. EEG and epilepsy
  • 11. Parkinson tremors
  • 12. Wrap up: unity of mechanisms

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching5Presentation workshop (1 x 2h) and student presentations (1 x 3h)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Computer-based workshops (11 x2hr)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching10Small group student-led tutorials (10 x 1hr)
Guided Independent Study12Online lectures (12 x1hr)
Guided Independent Study51Further reading and group studies
Guided Independent Study50Research project


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group oral presentation of a selected paper10 minutes presentation; 5 minutes questions1-14Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Research project report502,000 words1-14Written
Short Answer Written Examination502 hour1-10Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Research project report (50%)Research proposal (2,000 words)1-14Ref/def period
Short Answer Written Examination (50%)Short Answer Written Examination (2 hour)1-10Ref/def period

Re-assessment notes

Please refer to the TQA section on Referral/Deferral:


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Calculus Made Easy, by Silvanus Phillips Thompson (for Neuroscience students)


Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain, by Mark Bear, Barry Connors, Mike Paradiso (for Mathematics and Natural Sciences students – read Part 1 Foundations)



Modeling Life, by Alan Garfinkel, Jane Shevtsov, Yina Guo


Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Rhythm, synchronisation, computational neuroscience, dynamical disease

Credit value15
Module ECTS


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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