Associate Professor Ingvars Birznieks
Associate Professor

Associate Professor Ingvars Birznieks

Medicine & Health
School of Medical Sciences

Dr Ingvars Birznieks is a sensory neurophysiologist interested in sensory information encoding mechanisms. He received his PhD training at the Umeå University in Sweden and the University of Melbourne, Australia - the leading laboratories in the field of somatosensory research.

During his postdoctoral studies at the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute in Sydney, he broadened his research competence investigating proprioception, muscle pain mechanisms and function of the autonomic nervous system.

From 2011 to 2014 he held an academic position of Senior Lecturer (Physiology) at the School of Science and Health at the Western Sydney University where he engaged in Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience (BENS) research program at MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour & Development.

Since 2014 he is at the Department of Physiology, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW Medicine in Sydney. In the role of a Senior Research Fellow he leads the Tactile research group at the Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA).

His research primarily comprises range of studies related to the function of tactile receptors and sensorimotor control of the human hand. However, his ultimate goal is to use this fundamental knowledge and develop two branches of collaborative networks - one with clinicians, which would be aimed to develop new methods for evaluation of sensorimotor function in different groups of patients, while the second branch would be aimed to work with biomedical engineers to create artificial sensors and control algorithms for prosthesis and robotic manipulators resembling functionality of the human hand.

Research topic classification: tactile, tactile sensing, tactile sensors, touch, touch perception, vibro-tactile, sensory physiology, sensory, processing, sensory systems, haptics, neurobiology, neurophysiology, neuroscience, peripheral nervous system, prostheses, robotics, stroke, stroke rehabilitation, sensorimotor control, dexterity, hand, biomedical engineering, bionics, computational neuroscience.

+61-2-9065 1598
Wallace Wurth Building 3NW, room 314
  • Journal articles | 2022
    Ng KKW; Tee X; Vickery RM; Birznieks I, 2022, 'The Relationship Between Tactile Intensity Perception and Afferent Spike Count is Moderated by a Function of Frequency', IEEE Transactions on Haptics, vol. 15, pp. 14 - 19,
    Journal articles | 2022
    Sharma D; Ng KKW; Birznieks I; Vickery RM, 2022, 'Perceived tactile intensity at a fixed primary afferent spike rate varies with the temporal pattern of spikes', Journal of Neurophysiology, vol. 128, pp. 1074 - 1084,
    Journal articles | 2021
    Khamis H; Afzal HMN; Sanchez J; Vickery R; Wiertlewski M; Redmond SJ; Birznieks I, 2021, 'Friction sensing mechanisms for perception and motor control: Passive touch without sliding may not provide perceivable frictional information', Journal of Neurophysiology, vol. 125, pp. 809 - 823,
    Journal articles | 2020
    Ng K; Olausson C; Vickery R; Birznieks I, 2020, 'Temporal patterns in electrical nerve stimulation: burst gap code shapes tactile frequency perception', ,
    Journal articles | 2020
    Ng KKW; Olausson C; Vickery RM; Birznieks I, 2020, 'Temporal patterns in electrical nerve stimulation: Burst gap code shapes tactile frequency perception', PLoS ONE, vol. 15, pp. e0237440,
    Journal articles | 2020
    Vickery RM; Ng KKW; Potas JR; Shivdasani MN; McIntyre S; Nagi SS; Birznieks I, 2020, 'Tapping Into the Language of Touch: Using Non-invasive Stimulation to Specify Tactile Afferent Firing Patterns', Frontiers in Neuroscience, vol. 14,
    Journal articles | 2019
    Birznieks I; McIntyre S; Nilsson H; Nagi S; Macefield V; Mahns D; Vickery R, 2019, 'Tactile sensory channels over-ruled by frequency decoding system that utilizes spike pattern regardless of receptor type', ,
    Journal articles | 2019
    Birznieks I; McIntyre S; Nilsson HM; Nagi SS; Macefield VG; Mahns DA; Vickery RM, 2019, 'Tactile sensory channels over-ruled by frequency decoding system that utilizes spike pattern regardless of receptor type', eLife, vol. 8,
    Journal articles | 2019
    Loutit AJ; Shivdasani MN; Maddess T; Redmond SJ; Morley JW; Stuart GJ; Birznieks I; Vickery RM; Potas JR, 2019, 'Peripheral nerve activation evokes machine-learnable signals in the dorsal column nuclei', Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, vol. 13, pp. 11,
    Journal articles | 2018
    Chen W; Khamis H; Birznieks I; Lepora NF; Redmond SJ, 2018, 'Tactile Sensors for Friction Estimation and Incipient Slip Detection - Toward Dexterous Robotic Manipulation: A Review', IEEE Sensors Journal, vol. 18, pp. 9049 - 9064,
    Journal articles | 2018
    Steel KA; Mudie K; Sandoval R; Anderson D; Dogramaci S; Rehmanjan M; Birznieks I, 2018, 'Can Video Self-Modeling Improve Affected Limb Reach and Grasp Ability in Stroke Patients?', Journal of Motor Behavior, vol. 50, pp. 117 - 126,
    Journal articles | 2017
    Birznieks I; Vickery RM, 2017, 'Spike Timing Matters in Novel Neuronal Code Involved in Vibrotactile Frequency Perception', Current Biology, vol. 27, pp. 1485 - 1490.e2,
    Journal articles | 2016
    Birznieks I; Logina I; Wasner G, 2016, 'Somatotopic mismatch of hand representation following stroke: is recovery possible?', Neurocase, vol. 22, pp. 95 - 102,
    Journal articles | 2016
    McIntyre S; Birznieks I; Vickery RM; Holcombe AO; Seizova-Cajic T, 2016, 'The tactile motion aftereffect suggests an intensive code for speed in neurons sensitive to both speed and direction of motion', Journal of Neurophysiology, vol. 115, pp. 1703 - 1712,
    Journal articles | 2015
    Hudson KM; Condon M; Ackerley R; McGlone F; Olausson H; Macefield VG; Birznieks I, 2015, 'Effects of changing skin mechanics on the differential sensitivity to surface compliance by tactile afferents in the human finger pad', Journal of Neurophysiology, vol. 114, pp. 2249 - 2257,
    Journal articles | 2015
    Khamis H; Birznieks I; Redmond SJ, 2015, 'Decoding tactile afferent activity to obtain an estimate of instantaneous force and torque applied to the fingerpad', Journal of Neurophysiology, vol. 114, pp. 474 - 484,
    Journal articles | 2015
    Nagi SS; Dunn JS; Birznieks I; Vickery RM; Mahns DA, 2015, 'The effects of preferential A- and C-fibre blocks and T-type calcium channel antagonist on detection of low-force monofilaments in healthy human participants', BMC Neuroscience, vol. 16,
    Journal articles | 2014
    Arabzadeh E; Clifford CWG; Harris JA; Mahns DA; Macefield VG; Birznieks I, 2014, 'Single tactile afferents outperform human subjects in a vibrotactile intensity discrimination task', Journal of Neurophysiology, vol. 112, pp. 2382 - 2387,
    Journal articles | 2012
    Birznieks I; Boonstra TW; Macefield VG, 2012, 'Modulation of human muscle spindle discharge by arterial pulsations - functional effects and consequences', PLoS One, vol. 7, pp. Article number e35091,
    Journal articles | 2012
    Chan GSH; Fazalbhoy A; Birznieks I; Macefield VG; Middleton PM; Lovell NH, 2012, 'Spontaneous fluctuations in the peripheral photoplethysmographic waveform: Roles of arterial pressure and muscle sympathetic nerve activity', American Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology, vol. 302, pp. H826 - H836,
    Journal articles | 2010
    Birznieks I; Wheat HE; Redmond SJ; Salo LM; Lovell NH; Goodwin AW, 2010, 'Encoding of tangential torque in responses of tactile afferent fibres innervating the monkey's fingerpad', Journal of Physiology: London, vol. 588, pp. 1057 - 1072,
  • Conference Papers | 2014
    Khamis HA; Redmond SJ; Macefield VG; Birznieks I, 2014, 'Tactile afferents encode grip safety before slip for different frictions', in Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC), 2014, Chicago, pp. 4123 - 4126, presented at 36th Annual International Conference of the IEEE, Chicago, 26 August 2014 - 30 August 2014,
    Conference Papers | 2013
    Rager DM; Alvares D; Birznieks I; Redmond SJ; Morley JW; Lovell NH; Vickery RM, 2013, 'Generating tactile afferent stimulation patterns for slip and touch feedback in neural prosthetics', in Hirooka Y; Ide T; Kishi T; Sugimachi M (eds.), 2013 35th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC 2013), IEEE, Osaka, Japan, pp. 5922 - 5925, presented at 35th IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society Annual International Conference, Osaka, Japan, 03 July 2013 - 07 July 2013,

Birznieks I. The secret of tiny hand movements to feel and manipulate objects. ARC discovery project grant. App Id: DP230100048 $418,703; Funding for 2023-2025

Birznieks I., Vickery R.M., Potas J.R., Shivdasani M., The role of spike patterning in shaping human perception of tactile stimuli. ARC Discovery Project grant. App Id: DP200100630 $550,000 Funding for 2020-2022 

Birznieks I. Sensory mechanisms underlying human dexterity in object manipulation. ARC discovery project grant. App Id: DP170100064 $365,500; Funding for 2017-2019

Breen P., Stiefel K., Birznieks I., Penkala S. A novel electrical device to restore sensory feeling lost due to disease and ageing. NHMRC Project Grant Funding Round. App Id: APP1067353 $308,247; Funding for 2014-2016

Birznieks I., Khamis H. Sensorimotor control of hand movement and dexterous object manipulation. 2013 UWS School of Science and Health Strategic Research Investment grant. $30,000

Birznieks I., Redmond S.J., Macefield V.G. The encoding of friction by tactile mechanoreceptors – the key to fingertip force control during dexterous object manipulation by humans. ARC discovery project grant. App Id: DP110104691 $290,000; Funding for 2012-2014

Birznieks I., Vickery R.M., Macefield V.G., Krishnan A.V. Information encoding by temporal structure of afferent spike trains evoked by complex vibrotactile stimuli. NHMRC Project Grant Funding Round. App Id: APP1028284 $231,175; Funding for 2012-2014

Macefield V.G., Birznieks I. The effects of tonic muscle pain on the sympathetic and somatic motor systems in human subjects. NHMRC Project Grant Funding Round. App Id: APP1028284 $447,350; Funding for 2012-2014

Seizova-Cajic T., Birznieks I. Adaptation and aftereffects in perception of tactile motion. ARC discovery project grant. App Id: DP110104691 $160, 000; Funding for 2011-2013

Our research comprises a range of studies related to the sense of touch in various contexts being it clinically relevant like for example stroke, pain, diabetic neuropathy, loss of limb or solving engineering problems by borrowing ideas from biological systems to build dexterous robotic manipulators and prosthesis which can also feel.

Our research program is interdisciplinary and relies on innovative platform capabilities linking the neurosciences, medicine and engineering disciplines.


  • Neural code – the language of the nervous system; how to eavesdrop and understand neural communication and how to send our own messages through this channel

Touch receptors in the fingertips communicate with the brain using short electrical impulses also called spikes. My research is about how those impulses encode information and how it is interpreted by the brain. To address these questions we have learned to create those exact patterns of spikes in touch neurons using non-invasive mechanical stimuli. This technology is unique to our laboratory and has been developed over several years of tight collaboration between Dr Richard Vickery and me. We have gained unprecedented access to neural communication at the level of single neurons and the ability to investigate how spiking activity in those neurons influences perceptual experience. With this knowledge of neural code and non-invasive access to the communication channel we can “trick” the brain into thinking it is touching objects that are our artificial constructs.


  • Dexterity of the human hand – how hand movements are controlled by sense of touch and how this knowledge could be used to build a robotic or bionic hands

The dexterity of the human hand still remains unmatched by the most advanced artificial devices - largely because it is not understood how relevant sensory information is extracted and utilised. My research builds upon interdisciplinary technologies integrating sensory and computational neuroscience and biomedical engineering. It is directed to gain understanding of the sophisticated sensory and motor control mechanisms underlying the unique human ability to manipulate objects and use tools. Extending beyond the fundamental scientific focus of understanding sense of touch, this research is aimed to inform the development of next generation sensory-controlled bionic systems and tele-sensory haptics devices including telesurgery robots.


  • Stroke - distorted touch perception after stroke

Recovery of hand dexterity after stroke cannot be achieved in the absence of tactile sensory information, but the interpretation of this input requires that orderly somatotopic representation of hand’s skin has to be preserved. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case after substantial reorganization of neural connectivity following brain tissue damage due to stroke. This research is important as without tactile sensory information, functional use of the hand is hardly possible, even when motor system is intact. Rehabilitation efforts that do not address this can bring only limited improvements.


You can read more about the research projects and research team [here]


My Research Supervision

Our lab and students in 2019


Tactile Research Lab 2019

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