European Research Council Awards €3 million to leading Neuroscientist at Trinity

Posted on: 06 April 2018

The Thomas Mitchell Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Rhodri Cusack, at Trinity College Dublin has been awarded an EU European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant valued at €3 million. These highly prestigious awards allow exceptional researchers to pursue ground-breaking research. This is the seventh ERC Advanced Grant award to Trinity College Dublin, out of a total of 14 ERC Advanced  Grants to Ireland.

The award will see Professor Cusack and his team at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience (TCIN) conduct a world-leading research project that will for the first time use neuroimaging to measure the hidden changes in mental representations during infancy and compare them to predictions from deep neural networks, the technology that has been responsible for recent dramatic advances in artificial intelligence. He will investigate the importance of pre-training, the learning that doesn’t manifest in behaviour until much later. Professor Cusack’s efforts to understand how pre-training during infancy shapes neural representations could revolutionise developmental neuroscience, lead to new advances in artificial intelligence, and help us understand why brain injury in infants sometimes affects mental development, but sometimes does not.

Explaining his research and its impact, Professor Cusack said: “How many parents have held their baby and wondered what is going on in that tiny mind? I am excited to be able to bring together recent advances in neuroimaging and in artificial intelligence, to address this question.”

“This could make a real difference for infants from the neonatal intensive care unit. Currently, it is difficult for paediatricians to know which infants with neurological injury will develop cognitive and behavioural problems, and which will not. By understanding the development of mental representations in early infancy, we aim to improve diagnosis and identify new interventions.”

Congratulating Professor Cusack on his success, the Dean of Research, Professor Linda Doyle said: “We are extremely proud of Professor Cusack’s achievement. ERC Advanced Grants are only awarded to the most outstanding researchers, and give them the freedom to work on their best and most creative ideas for the benefit of science, society and the economy. Professor Cusack’s work focusing on changes in mental representations during infancy will bring a new level of understanding of how the brain works, and open up new possibilities for how we respond to neurological injury. Professor Cusack’s achievement not only recognises the significance of his research, but also builds on Trinity’s strong track record of ERC success. It is our seventh ERC Advanced Grant, bringing our total number of ERC grants across all categories, including Advanced, Starter and Consolidator to 42.”

Professor Rhodri Cusack inspects a brain with a helping hand from his son, Calin Cusack.

Notes to Editor

About the European Research Council

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the first European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. The ERC has three core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants and Advanced Grants across all disciplines and career stages. The ERC awards have been made under the EU research and innovation programme, FP7  followed by  the current  Horizon 2020 programme. Ireland has received 8 Advanced Grants under FP7 and 6 to date have been awarded under H2020, bringing it to a total of 14. A total of 77 ERC awards have been made across all categories to Ireland. Trinity has been awarded 42 grants across all categories, including 7 Advanced Grants.

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