Over the last 40 years physicists, mathematicians, engineers and computer scientists have developed many new ways of studying the living brain. First came structural imaging instruments followed by a new generation of systems that could image brain function. One of the most recently developed of these, magneto-encephalography MEG, is able to image brain activity dynamically and is making an increasingly prominent contribution in unravelling complex cognitive processes.
The lecture will start by introducing the range of functional imaging methods and explain the particular power and relevance of MEG. Its potential will be illustrated by recent studies on the neuro-physiological basis of autism and the neural processes involved in real-life decision making, aka shopping. These studies have revealed significant new insights into how the brain operates.
About the speaker
Recently, Stephen Swithenby has begun MEG studies of the neurophysiology of algebraic reasoning. He will present data which appears to show startling differences in the brain systems employed by experts and non-experts. These data might offer insights into the ways in which we help students to acquire expertise and may eventually offer diagnostic information at the individual level.
Professor Swithenby has a background in experimental physics. After an early career at Oxford and Sussex Universities, he joined the Open University where he pioneered the development of biomagnetic instrumentation in the UK. After an extended period of building instruments and devising analytical approaches, he shifted his main attention to applications in cognitive science. Areas studied over the last decade, in collaboration with colleagues in Oxford, Helsinki and Aston, include autism, face processing, language processing and decision making. Professor Swithenby has combined this research with senior management roles in the OU, including Dean of Science, involvement in the development of distance learning overseas and an interest in pedagogical research. He has recently begun a new strand of work on the neurophysiology of learning and the acquisition of expertise.