Angus McMorland

email: angus

I joined the Motor lab in February of 2008, after completing my PhD in Physiology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, entitled "Shining New Light on Motoneurons: Characterization of Motoneuron Dendritic Spines Using Light Microscopy and Novel Analytical Techniques". My PhD work involved construction of a 2-P laser scanning microscope, and characterizing dendritic spines, which are small structures potentially involved in communication between neurons, and which are found during developmental stages on motoneurons that innervate the tongue muscle. To allow better measurement of spine morphology than had previously been possible, I developed a novel method of interpreting microscope images, by fitting models of generic dendritic spines to the image data.


My interest in neuroscience comes firstly from a desire to know how things work, and liking a challenge: human brains are perhaps the most complex objects we know of, and are responsible for determining how people 'work', physically and socially. In this way, neuroscience offers a means to answer some of the big philosophical questions of life: do we have free will, what determines human behaviour, and what is consciousness? I am also interested in the development of new technologies, and recent neuroscience progress is now allowing us to understand and interact directly with brains as never before, soon providing opportunities for medical treatment, and some day allowing enhancement of neural capabilities, through the addition of electronic devices.

At a more technical level, my particular interest is in how networks of interacting units (neurons, in the case of the brain) with relatively simple outputs (all-or-none action potentials), can combine in networks to produce much more complex, emergent outputs.

In my current research I have moved on a step or two up the organizational ladder in the brain, from the individual neurons that were the topic of my PhD topic, to now looking at how networks of neurons in the brain function to control volitional movement. Specifically, I am examining how information is transferred between pre-motor and primary motor areas of the brain, and also investigating the relationship between firing of individual neurons in the primary motor cortex and movement parameters such as direction, position and movement trajectory.

I have a keen interest in the wider context of science in society, in particular in science education, ethics, policy, and philosophy. I believe scientists have a duty to communicate their science and discuss the issues, not only with their peers, but also with non-specialist public.