Graduate Studies in the Emergence of Cognition from Fall 2016

The Cusack laboratory studies the emergence of cognition in the first year following birth. There is a tremendous demand from parents, educators, and policymakers for advice on how to best facilitate brain development in infants. Furthermore, there is a pressing clinical need for better ways to detect when development is progressing abnormally following brain injury, and how to best correct it. Finally, knowing how neurocognitive systems emerge is key to understanding their functioning for the rest of the lifespan.

To measure infant cognition, we use behavioural testing, and neuroimaging with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). This is an interdisciplinary endeavour, and we recruit students from many areas, including (but not limited to):

  • psychology
  • medical biophysics
  • physiology and pharmacology
  • computer science
  • biomedical engineering

The lab has productive collaborations with clinician scientists from the Children’s Health Research Institute. We are also engaged in applying our findings in the developing countries and scholarships are available from Western’s Africa Institute for students from, or travelling to, Africa.

The laboratory is part of the thriving Brain and Mind Institute at Western University, Canada.  The institute has state-of-the-art research facilities, including 3T/7T MRI, TMS, EEG, body tracking and sleep laboratories, non-human primate electrophysiology and imaging, and supercomputing.  It is situated on the attractive and dynamic campus of Western University, one of Canada’s largest, with excellent recreational and social opportunities. Graduate students enjoy diverse training, and are part of a strong community on campus.

We are looking for graduate students that are capable, enthusiastic, and driven. Non-Canadian residents can receive support from Western International Graduate Student Awards. For further information on our research see If you’d like to discuss an application, please send your CV, an unofficial transcript, and a paragraph or two describing your research interests to Rhodri by email: graduate [at]


Honours, Work-Study, and Volunteering Projects Available

Honour’s, Work-Study and Volunteer Projects are available, as part of the lab’s work to understand cognition in infants. We study neurocognitive systems such as language, vision, executive function, and motor function, which develop rapidly in the first year. Learning how these emerge is critical to understanding their function for the rest of the lifespan. There is also a pressing clinical need for better ways to detect when things are going awry following brain injury, and how to best remediate them. Furthermore, there is a tremendous demand from parents, educators, and policymakers for advice on how to best facilitate brain development in infants. Current advice – whether it be from parent websites, professional bodies, or government institutions – is largely guesswork, and there is an urgent need to identify best practices using scientific evidence, so that we can maximize the potential of our children.

To measure infant cognition, we use behavioural testing, and neuroimaging with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). We recruit both typically developing infants, and infants at risk of brain injury. This is an interdisciplinary project, and we recruit students from many disciplines, including (but not limited to):

  • psychology
  • medical biophysics
  • physiology and pharmacology
  • computer science
  • biomedical engineering

We’re looking for students that are capable, enthusiastic, and driven. To apply, please send an email to rhodri [ at ] cusacklab [dot] org with a paragraph or two saying why you’re interested in this area, what you can offer, and a copy of your CV and unofficial transcript.

Three Awards for Jordynne

It has been a great month for Jordynne Ropat, a Master’s student in the lab, who has won three awards.

The Athena Scholarship Fund Windsor identifies and provides scholarships to post secondary students who excel academically, get involved in their community and serve as outstanding leaders, while also assisting girls and women to achieve a better quality of life and reach their full potential as community leaders. This scholarship is valued at $5,000.

jordynne-hebb-prizeOntario Graduate Scholarships are merit-based scholarships funded by the Province of Ontario and Ontario Universities. The OGS award is valued at $15,000 for one year.

Finally, at the Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science, Jordynne was awarded second place for the Donald O. Hebb Award for best student or trainee oral presentation.

Congratulations, Jordynne!!!

Good luck at PAS!

Annika Linke, Conor Wild, Leire Zubiaurre-Elorza, and Rhodri Cusack will be attending the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting from April 25-28. The Cusack Lab is presenting in three poster sessions: Developmental/Behavioral Pediatrics, Neurology, and Neonatal Neurology.

Good luck!

Congratulations, Jordynne and Michelle!

Jordynne Ropat and Michelle Tran, first-year Masters students in the lab, have both received Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarships (CGS-M) in health research (CIHR).

These awards are valued at $17,500 each for 12 months. Only 25 of these scholarships are available at Western each year to students conducting health research.

Congratulations, Jordynne and Michelle!

“The Emergence of Cognition” at OHBM 2015

The lab is happy to announce a workshop at the Organization of Human Brain Mapping’s meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, with some fantastic speakers, from the US, UK, France and Canada.

This will be a great meeting for fetal and infant neuroimaging more generally as there is also another symposium organized by Veronika Schöpf. The program excerpts from both are below.


Monday 15 June, 8.00-9.00am

Organizer: Rhodri Cusack

Western University, London, Canada

There is growing evidence that many of the brain networks seen in adults have emerged by the typical age of birth. This includes not just sensory and motor networks, but those associated with higher-level cognition, such as the language, task-positive and task-negative networks. Establishing when these networks emerge, and their properties and initial functions, will enhance understanding of their roles throughout the lifespan. Furthermore, knowing the healthy trajectory of development is a prerequisite for early detection and characterization of the abnormalities that lead to developmental disabilities, which will in turn facilitate more effective earlier interventions.

This workshop brings together four methodologies that have recently yielded exciting advances. We report the structural emergence of networks using diffusion tractography and graph theory, revealing early network organisation already present in the preterm brain. With resting-state fMRI, we find these structural networks are active around the normal time of birth. The functions of two networks are then studied using auditory and visual stimulation with fMRI and EEG, showing that complex sound classification, and an elementary form of conscious-level processing, are operative in the first months. Taken together, these converging results reveal that a rich set of neurocognitive functions has emerged in young infants, which was largely inaccessible to investigation before infant neuroimaging.

Our aim is that attendees of the workshop will be able to summarize the emergence of cognition in young infants, the relevance of this to cognitive and clinical neuroscience, and the methodological advances that have made infant neuroimaging possible.

Learning Objectives:
This morning workshop is designed to develop participants’ understanding of:

  1. Enhanced understanding the ontogenesis of cognitive functions in the human brain
  2. Enhanced understanding of the emergence of networks in the developing brain and their potential role in neurodevelopmental outcomes.
  3. Improved knowledge of techniques for testing cognitive functions using neuroimaging in non-verbal and non-compliant subjects

Target Audience:
Our target audience comprises those interested in cognitive neuroscience, neurodevelopmental outcomes, or methods for neuroimaging acquisition and analysis in non-compliant populations.

Structural Connectivity and Network Development in the Preterm Brain
Gareth Ball, King’s College London, London, United Kingdom

Resting fMRI During Infancy: Exploring the Emerging Functional Organization of the Developing Brain
Christopher Smyser, Washington University, St Louis, MO, United States

The Emergence of Auditory-Language Function from Birth to Nine Months
Rhodri Cusack, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada

Hierarchical Processing in the Infant Brain
Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz, Neurospin, Gif/Yvette, France 


Wednesday 17 June, 14.45-16.00pm

Organizer: Veronika Schöpf

Institute of Psychology, Section Neuropsychology, University of Graz; Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-guided Therapy, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

Observing the fetal and infant brain offers unique insights into early development of cerebral structures. Furthermore, research progress in this area will pave the way for defining imaging biomarkers as reference points for disease progression or therapeutic success. Recently, we begin to be able to integrate functional and structural information from imaging modalities such as magnetic resonance imaging and magnetoencephalography data of fetuses and infants. In addition to image acquisition and multiple layers of physiological artifacts, we face a number of challenges specific to studying the developing brain such as rapid development over time and corresponding variability not only in space but also with regard to tissue properties and individual timing. Due to those reasons preprocessing strategies, computational models and paradigm designs cannot be transferred directly from adult studies. This symposium will explore methodologies that contribute to capturing and understanding the fetal and infant brain, the emerging connectome, pre-processing strategies and modeling approaches.

Learning Objectives:
This symposium is designed to develop participants’ understanding of:

  1. State of the art structural and functional neuroimaging of the fetal and infant brain
  2. Understanding the approaches applicable to research questions that tackle fetal and infant brain development
  3. Expand the discussion on how knowledge of normal brain development can help to provide information on pathologies or malformations to offer therapeutic options at the earliest point possible

Target Audience:
Neuroscientists and clinicians interested in computational methods for fetal MRI/MEG and infant MRI and acquisition of such images. Computer scientists working on methods for analyzing neuroimaging data.

An overview of the Developing Human Connectome Project
Daniel Rückert, Department of Computing, Imperial College London, United Kingdom

Image processing tools for infant brain MRI
Lilla Zöllei, Martinos Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States

Perturbations as a tool to investigate the fetal brain
Hubert Preissl, MEG Center, Tuebingen, Germany

Linking the development of fetal brain morphology and function
Georg Langs, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

Visit the OHBM 2015 website.

Postdoctoral and graduate student awards available

cusacklab_infantneuroimagingWould you like work in the lab in an area such as these?

  • The emergence of cognition in the first 1000 days
  • The development of neuroimaging methods for newborns and infants
  • The effects of perinatal brain injury

If you have had a PhD for no more than three years, please consider applying for a Western Cognitive Neuroscience Postdoctoral Fellowship.

If you are interested in graduate studies (Masters or PhD), please apply through Psychology, Neuroscience, or Medical Biophysics. If you are a student from outside Canada you may also be eligible for a Western International Graduate Student Award

Please contact rhodri@cu**** for more information.

Time to wave goodbye to phase scrambling

skatesBobby Stojanoski’s paper came out in the Journal of Vision this week. When investigating the recognition of visual objects with neuroimaging, it is often necessary to have control stimuli matched in visual features, but lacking meaning. Using the HMAX model of early visual processing, we show that three ways commonly used to create control stimuli, phase-, box- and texture- scrambling are poorly matched, even at the earliest stages of the visual system. We propose an alternative using diffeomorphic transformations, that yields visually well matched control stimuli while removing meaning. wavegoodbyehmax

Unlike other scrambling methods, diffeomorphic stimuli were found to yield a similar overall level of activity in the simulated neurons of the HMAX model, with a pattern and a distribution for objects and scrambled objects that could not be distinguished by a linear discriminant classifier.