William James Heitler


  • KY16 9JP

    United Kingdom

Personal profile

Research overview

Biological Sciences; Neuroscience; central pattern; crayfish; Crustacea; escape behaviour; locust jumping; neuronal circuit; neurophysiology; pattern generator ; simulation; c++

Research interests

Computer-Based Simulation and Data Analysis

Computer simulation is an important tool for both teaching and research in neuroscience. Neurones and neural circuits are highly dynamic entities that work through a multiplicity of interacting feedback and feedforward control mechanisms. Simulation affords the possibility of rapidly exploring the parameters of such systems, of pre-screening apparently plausible ideas, and of generating hypotheses that can be tested in real experiments. In teaching, simulation allows students to bypass the multitude of technical problems that preclude performance of complex experiments. Instead, students can simulate such experiments and thus concentrate on the fundamental conceptual issuesof the subject. I developed the neural simulation programme Neurosim (published by Biosoft) primarily as a teaching tool. Neurosim can simulate sophisticated and detailed aspects of neural function, but has an intuitive and simple user interface. I have also developed the analysis programme DataView which integrates with Neurosim, but which is also available for analysis of research data.

Cellular and circuit aspects of simple-systems neurobiology

The escape jump and defensive kick of the locust are "mission critical" behaviours requiring a multi-stage motor programme in which the correct timing and sequencing of the stages is essential. The relative importance of peripheral feedback from sensory systems, as opposed to centrally programmed circuit elements, in the control of the behaviours is being investigated. Dye-mediated laser photoaxotomy in combination with sensory manipulation and conventional electrophysiological techniques are used. The rectifying electrical synapses between crayfish giant fibres and motor giant neurons are being investigated, with the emphasis on extrinsic and intrinsic modulation of information transmission across the synapse. Computer simulations of neuronal events are being developed as a tool to aid teaching and research.

Other expertise

Programming in Visual C++

Industrial relevance

data processing; programming consultant

Academic/Professional Qualification

Ph.D., University of Oxford; Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education; Society of Experimental Biology; Society of Neuroscience


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