Brain Sciences UNSW is quickly building a first-class reputation among the country's top research students.

In its first offering of scholarships, the institute has attracted five leading PhD students.

Among the new scholars is Stewart Heitmann who hopes his work will one day help to "build a brain".

A former software engineer, he did honours in psychology before starting his PhD this year.

The 41-year old science fiction fan is currently investigating the workings of the brain through looking at physiology and trying to replicate the findings in a robotic hand.

"I have a foot in both areas and I want to keep it that way. The cross-disciplinary approach of Brain Sciences UNSW encourages that," he says.

"If we can make a model of the brain, we can unlock so many of its secrets."

The other PhD scholars are: Benjamin Cheah, who is investigating the link between exercise and motor neurone disease; Jingjing Zheng who is looking at whether changes in the brain prompt falls in older people; Genevra Hart on the extinction of conditioned fear; and Emma Campbell-Smith on "the love drug" (oxytocin) and emotional learning.

For more information about Brain Sciences UNSW go to the website