Hot off the press: A new TMS paper in NeuroImage!

In it, we show that TMS stimulation of motor cortex disrupts verb learning.
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Hello! I'm Nikola Vukovic,

a neuroscientist at UC San Francisco. I research how our brain, the most complex object in the universe, does what appears to us the simplest and most natural of things: human language.

  • About Me

    I've always been fascinated by the richness and complexity of our meaning-making consciousness. How is it that the brain lets us turn arbitrary bursts of sound, or inarticulate symbols on a piece of paper, into means of conjuring and transmitting an infinite array of thoughts and impressions? As a scientist, I apply my creativity and problem-solving skills to uncover the mechanistic basis of these processes.

Why research language & the brain?

Because the world inside our head can be even more complex and fascinating than the one outside, and its currency is language. It defines us and is the foundation of culture, education, and economic development. Unsurprisingly, impairments of language can be devastating for the affected individuals and their families, and costly for society. Studying its neural basis is thus beneficial at many levels.

  • Curiosity

    We are not particularly strong, fast, or agile animals - what sets us apart is our reasoning & language. Learning about these unique human traits is intrinsically satisfying.

  • Medicine

    Language deficits are a debilitating consequence of many clinical conditions. A mechanistic understanding of language is a prerequisite for successful therapy.

  • Technology

    Science can tell us how language is acquired & processed, how best to teach it in schools, or model using computers or AI - areas often based on anecdotal evidence.

  • Research Questions

    My neuroscientific research programme addresses these broad topics and questions.

    • Language Network
    • Language Comprehension
    • Language Learning
      • Where in the brain is the linguistic system? Early work with patients identified key structures in the frontal and temporo-parietal lobes: the so-called Broca's and Wernicke's areas. Since, we have discovered that many other areas contribute to language processing, including some "unlikely candidates", which were previously treated as separate domains. However, given this complex network, a significant challenge we have to solve is to characterise precise functions and contributions of different structures, and the neural mechanisms by which language is represented and processed.

      • How is it possible that reading or speaking lets us communicate and share thoughts with others? Importantly, words are not just sounds or symbols on paper - they are tools and triggers which lead the brain to behave in a certain way. Central to my research on comprehension is the idea that the brain simulates word meaning by reactivating perceptual, motor, and emotional states which mimick those we had when we first acquired (or subsequently used) the word. I study the neural dynamics of this semantic system using fMRI and MEG scanners, TMS stimulation, as well as computer-based tests.

      • What consequences does speaking multiple languages have on cognition? How are these learned and stored, and how do we contextually switch between them? While most current research suggests that the brain represents languages in a shared network, bilinguals also seem to draw upon additional resources, which require more study. In an increasingly globalised and technological world, understanding multilingualism has become very important, as is the question of how we can use neuroscientific principles to better teach language to our children, and even our computers.

Scientific Output

Below are some of my recent publications, presentations, and data. These are provided to ensure timely and unbiased dissemination of academic work. Copyright resides with the respective copyright holders, as stated in each publication.


A scientist’s duty is not only to produce rigorous and high-quality research, but also to take an active part in disseminating it, encourage debate and educate the public, thus maximising the transparency and impact of academic work in the community.

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    Skype a Scientist

    Q&A with a K-5 Classroom about brain science.

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    I am SciComm

    Week-long online science communication campaign.

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    Neuroscience Day

    "Brain Matters!" 2016 outreach event in Aarhus.

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    Summer School

    Interdisciplinary Summer School on Neuroimaging.

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    TV Interview

    Science Talk on national TV in Montenegro.

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    Cambridge Events

    CU Language Sciences Initiative workshops.

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    PhD Clinic

    Cambridge "PhD Clinic" graduate workshops.

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    Open Science Days

    Talk at the Montenegrin Open Science Days 2014.

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    Science Podcast

    Podcast interview on "Growing up Bilingual".

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    LingSoc Lectures

    Cambridge Uni Linguistic Society lecture series.

I’m passionate about science and science communication.

If you are a fellow researcher, journalist, or simply an interested individual, I’d love to hear from you.

Say hello