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I am a neuroscientist interested in the key architectural principles behind the anatomical and functional organisation of the brain.

By abstracting high-order rules, we can obtain a parts list and blueprint for how to build a brain that go beyond the idiosyncrasies of any particular species. This will allow us to better understand not only our own brains and behaviour, but also those of other lifeforms - and perhaps one day build Artificial General Intelligences.

Background

I was originally trained as an Experimental and Clinical Psychologist at Universidade do Minho, in Portugal. I took my first steps in research during my undergrad, analysing factors that could explain Home Advantage in the Portuguese Football League. As a Master’s student at Minho, I carried out a human study offering a radical (and anti-climatic) re-interpretation of a major finding on the neuroscience of free will. I was also trained as a Clinical Neuropsychologist and spent a year assessing and training different cognitive functions in neurological patients.

I began my career in Neuroscience by studying development, in particular the formation of connections between excitatory and inhibitory neurons of the cerebral cortex. In my doctoral work at Oxford, I mapped how connections between neurons change over the first few weeks of life and examined the critical role that sensory input plays in the maturation and correct formation of neural circuits.

In my early post-doctoral work at King’s College I studied the role that genes play in instructing neurons to form the right connections. I focused especially on inhibitory neurons since these cells show the highest level of specificity. Inhibitory neurons form exquisitely specific connections that target particular sub-regions - often less than 10 µm across - of their partner neurons.

Current Work

In my current research, funded by a Sir Henry-Wellcome Fellowship, I am studying how a deep-set hub in the brain - the thalamus - may play a role in reversibly setting the efficacy of communication between brain areas without modifying synaptic weights. This could constitute an important neural architectural principle which may find application in helping address the AI problems of continual learning and catastrophic forgetting.

I am based at the Sainsbury-Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour, a state-of-the-art institute in London bringing together experimental and theoretical neuroscientists.