The University of Southampton

UOSM2032 Making Sense out of senses: How the Brain Works

Module Overview

“My brain: it’s my second favourite organ.” Woody Allen (Sleeper, 1973). One central question of neuroscience is how can a bunch of interconnected neurons make sense out of the chaotic stream of information that hits it in incredible numbers every second? At present, no one can answer this question. This module gives an introduction about how the brain works and how it makes sense out of the sensory input, particularly the visual and the auditory senses. Functional neuroscience is fundamentally an interdisciplinary subject that links the diverse fields of neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology with electrical engineering, computer science, mathematics, and physics. Research in this area is becoming increasingly relevant for future technologies from pacemakers to mobile phones. We aim to introduce students to the highly interdisciplinary goals and methods of neuroscience, covering the architecture, function, and properties of basic classes of neurons, neural networks and learning. We will work from two different perspectives: a 'top-down' view explores how neurons encode and decode sensory information; a ‘bottom-up’ approach looks at single neurons and simple models. You will not only learn about neuroscience, but also learn about the importance of working in interdisciplinary teams and how to communicate across discipline boundaries.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• To introduce you to fundamental concepts how neurons and networks of neurons can be modelled in a biomimetic (inspired by nature) way, and how a systematic simplification of these models can be used to gain deeper insight into structure and function of sensory systems • To introduce the basic function of sensory systems (primarily vision and hearing) • To introduce neuroscience in an interdisciplinary context • To help you develop skills in collaborative, interdisciplinary working.

Learning Outcomes

Disciplinary Specific Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate fundamental neuroscience literature, such as in terms of strengths and limitations of different theoretical and methodological approaches
  • Demonstrate ability to communicate neuroscience within an interdisciplinary context
  • Explain the organisation of sensory systems and related brain structures, and the ways in which they are functionally integrated in terms of appropriate computational and biological principles
  • Demonstrate awareness of the benefits and challenges of working in an interdisciplinary team


Basics of neurobiology: • The evolution of the nervous system • What are neurons and why do we need them? • How can we read neural activity? The brain in its environment: senses: • the visual and the auditory system as examples of senses The thinking brain: • Basics of consciousness, thoughts and emotions • What can go wrong? Neuronal dysfunction • What are the exciting research topics of today and tomorrow?

Special Features

*How is this module innovative in delivery? Students from different backgrounds will work in interdisciplinary teams and will communicate with each other in order to solve a complex problem that cannot be derived from one subject area alone. The module might be doable via distance learning, after experience is gained in the first year. *How is this module innovative in assessment? The group assignment must be completed in interdisciplinary groups bringing together people from various backgrounds in order to solve a complex tasks that is only possible by interdisciplinary communication.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching will be provided by weekly lectures and tutorials. Additionally there will be interactive learning material on blackboard for working in your own time. Lectures will be recorded on Panopto and made available on blackboard. Lecturer adopts an open-door policy and gives appropriate feedback to students when needed. Thus, a wide range of learning styles will be supported. Formative feedback will be given in the tutorials, and in feedback to summative assessment. Two formative assignments will inform discussions during tutorials and on which you will receive feedback during tutorials. Three types of assessment (one written assignment, one group presentation and three short essays) takes notice of different learning styles.

Completion of assessment task30
Wider reading or practice70
Follow-up work6
Preparation for scheduled sessions20
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Reference material. A list of references will be supplied to you at the beginning of the module. All books available in library and published papers available in library or online.





MethodPercentage contribution
Assignment 50%
Assignment 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework assignment(s) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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