What drives curiosity research?
November 5, 2015
Scientists have been studying curiosity since the 19th century, but combining techniques from several fields now makes it possible for the first time to study it with full scientific rigor, according to the authors of a new paper.
Benjamin Hayden and Celeste Kidd, researchers in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, are proposing that scientists utilize these techniques to focus on curiosity’s function, evolution, mechanism, and development, rather than on what it is and what it isn’t.
Can we unconsciously hear distance?
October 28, 2015
Because sound travels much more slowly than light, we can often see distant events before we hear them. That is why we can count the seconds between a lightning flash and its thunder to estimate their distance.
But new research from the University of Rochester reveals that our brains can also detect and process sound delays that are too short to be noticed consciously. And they found that we use even that unconscious information to fine tune what our eyes see when estimating distances to nearby events.
David R. Williams, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on human vision, has been named the recipient of Sigma Xi’s 2015 William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement. The prize is given annually since 1950 in recognition of “outstanding achievement in scientific research and demonstrated ability to communicate the significance of this work to scientists in other disciplines.” Past Procter Prize recipients have included Jane Goodall, Vannevar Bush, Margaret Mead, Murray Gell-Mann, and Rita Colwell.
David Williams, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on human vision, has been named the 2015 recipient of the Beckman-Argyros Award in Vision Research. Williams pioneered the use of adaptive optics technologies for vision applications. He serves as the William G. Allyn Professor of Medical Optics, director of the Center for Visual Science and dean for research in Arts, Science, and Engineering at the University of Rochester.
University of Rochester Medical Center scientist Ruchira Singh, Ph.D., received a grant from the Knights Templar Eye Foundation to investigate how neurodegenerative diseases, such as juvenile Batten disease, cause blindness.
Singh, assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Biomedical Genetics, will use the $60,000 grant to create a human model of Batten disease (CNL3) using patient’s own cells. The project may lead to better understand the disease mechanisms, aiding in the development of drug therapies to preserve vision in affected patients.
How understanding GPS can help you hit a curveball
June 22, 2015
Our brains track moving objects by applying one of the algorithms your phone’s GPS uses, according to researchers at the University of Rochester. This same algorithm also explains why we are fooled by several motion-related optical illusions, including the sudden “break” of baseball’s well known “curveball illusion.”
The new open-access study published in PNAS shows that our brains apply an algorithm, known as a Kalman filter, when tracking an object’s position. This algorithm helps the brain process less than perfect visual signals, such as when objects move to the periphery of our visual field where acuity is low.
During his remarks at the University of Rochester’s most recent endowed professorship installation on May 20, Mark Taubman, M.D., found the perfect word in which to ground his introduction.
He used it to make three points. “We are honoring two visionary individuals who have pushed the boundaries of science and medicine,” said Taubman, CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center and UR Medicine and dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “And they happen to be working in a field in which they are interested in improving vision. Simply put, they want to restore vision to those whose sight is severely impaired.”
A team of researchers at the University of Rochester is designing an optical system to image responses to light of large numbers of individual cells in the retina, with the objective of accelerating the development of the next generation of cures for blindness. The Rochester team and their partners will receive $3.8 million from the National Eye Institute over the next five years.
“The new instrumentation we are developing builds on technology we had developed previously to improve vision through laser refractive surgery and contact lenses, as well as to diagnose retinal disease,” said Rochester’s principal investigator David Williams, the William G. Allyn Professor of Medical Optics and director of the Center for Visual Science. “This is the first time we have designed instrumentation specifically to develop and test therapies to restore vision in the blind.”
The National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health, announced the awards as part of its Audacious Goals Initiative to tackle the most devastating and difficult to treat eye diseases. The central goal is to restore vision by regenerating neurons and neural connections in the eye and visual system. The initiative places special emphasis on cells of the retina, including the light-sensitive rod and cone photoreceptors, and the retinal ganglion cells, which connect photoreceptors to the brain via the optic nerve.
2015 Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize Awardees
April 30, 2015
This year's recipients of the 2015 Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize:
Zoe and Jenny will receive award certificates (and checks for $895) at a College-wide award ceremony on Saturday, May 16.
Below are descriptions of their research and other accomplishments.
Curious monkeys share our thirst for knowledge
February 12, 2015
Monkeys are notoriously curious, and new research has quantified just how eager they are to gain new information, even if there are not immediate benefits. The findings offer insights into how a certain part of the brain shared by monkeys and humans plays a role in decision making, and perhaps even in some disorders and addictions in humans.
The study, by researchers at the University of Rochester and Columbia University, shows that rhesus macaques have such robust curiosity that they are willing to give up a surprisingly large portion of a potential prize in order to quickly find out if they selected the winning option at a game of chance.
An interdisciplinary team of University neuroscientists and neurosurgeons has used a new imaging technique to show how the human brain heals itself in just a few weeks following surgical removal of a brain tumor.
In a study featured on the cover of the current issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine, the team found that recovery of vision in patients with pituitary tumors is predicted by the integrity of myelin—the insulation that wraps around connections between neurons—in the optic nerves.
Playing action video games can boost learning
November 10, 2014
A new study shows for the first time that playing action video games improves not just the skills taught in the game, but learning capabilities more generally.
Red Effect sparks interest in female monkeys
October 17, 2014
Recent studies showed that the color red tends increase our attraction toward others, feelings of jealousy, and even reaction times. Now, new research shows that female monkeys also respond to the color red, suggesting that biology, rather than our culture, may play the fundamental role in our “red” reactions.
University mourns the sudden loss of David Knill
October 8, 2014
David C. Knill, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and associate director of the Center for Visual Science, passed away suddenly on October 6th at the age of 53.
Ben Hayden Receives Award from the John Templeton Foundation
August 21, 2014
Congratulations to CVS faculty member Ben Hayden who was awarded the Templeton Science of Prospection Award from the John Templeton Foundation!
Monkeys also believe in winning streaks, study shows
June 27, 2014
Ben Hayden wins Klingenstein Award
May 16, 2014
2014 Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize Awardees
May 14, 2014
This year's recipients of the 2014 Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize:
Brittany and Andrew will receive award certificates (and checks for $700) at a College-wide award ceremony on Saturday, May 17.
Below are descriptions of their research and other accomplishments.
David Williams, one of the world’s leading experts on human vision, has been named a member of the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of his distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The honor is one of the highest given to a scientist in the United States. Williams was one of 84 scientists selected for 2014.
Williams has pioneered new technologies that are improving the eyesight of people around the globe, from the legally blind to those with 20/20 vision. He is the University of Rochester’s William G. Allyn Professor of Medical Optics, dean for research and director of the Center for Visual Science.
Congratulations to CVS graduate students for being honored in the recent NSF Graduate Fellowship competition. Nicole Peltier (Advisor: Greg DeAngelis) was awarded an NSF fellowship, and Frank Garcea (Advisor: Brad Mahon) received an honorable mention.
Congratulations to Jannick Rolland, recipient of the 2014 OSA David Richardson Medal. The David Richardson Medal is given for significant contributions to optical engineering, primarily in the commercial and industrial sector. Jannick P. Rolland is being recognized for visionary contributions and leadership in optical design and engineering, enabling noninvasive, optical biopsy.
Associate Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Center for Visual Science, Department of Ophthalmology, University Of Rochester, NY, USA
Duje Tadin is the 2014 winner of the Elsevier/VSS Young Investigator Award.
Trained at Vanderbilt, Duje Tadin was awarded the PhD. in Psychology in 2004 under the supervision of Joe Lappin. After 3 years of post-doctoral work in Randolph Blake's lab, he took up a position at the University of Rochester, where he is currently an associate professor.
American Psychological Association Honors Richard Aslin
November 5, 2013
Seeing In The Pitch-Dark Is All In Your Head
November 1, 2013
A few years ago, cognitive scientist Duje Tadin and his colleague Randolph Blake decided to test blindfolds for an experiment they were cooking up.
They wanted an industrial-strength blindfold to make sure volunteers for their work wouldn't be able to see a thing. "We basically got the best blindfold you can get." Tadin tells Shots. "It's made of black plastic, and it should block all light."
Seeing in the Dark
October 31, 2013
Most People Can See Their Body's Movement In the Absence of Light
If the answer is a shadowy shape moving past, you are probably not imagining things. With the help of computerized eye trackers, a new cognitive science study finds that at least 50 percent of people can see the movement of their own hand even in the absence of all light.
"Seeing in total darkness? According to the current understanding of natural vision, that just doesn't happen," says Duje Tadin, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester who led the investigation. "But this research shows that our own movements transmit sensory signals that also can create real visual perceptions in the brain, even in the complete absence of optical input."
The second Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize has been awarded to: W. Spencer Klubben, a Biomedical Engineering senior working in Ania Majewska's laboratory. As a biomedical engineer, Spencer concentrated in medical optics and developed a strong interest in visual perception and development. Spencer's work has primarily focused on quantifying microglia's affect on neuroplasticity within the visual cortex and visual system. Most experimental methods have been focused around the utilization of optical imaging to analyze neuronal activity within mice cortex. Experiments were conducted on mice with a varying dosage of CX3CR1, a single allele genetic fractalkine receptor responsible for the mobility of microglia. Spencer received the Makous Prize at a College-wide award ceremony on Saturday, May 19, 2013.
Children with autism see simple movement twice as quickly as other children their age, and this hypersensitivity to motion may provide clues to a fundamental cause of the developmental disorder, according to a new study.
Such heightened sensory perception in autism may help explain why some people with the disorder are painfully sensitive to noise and bright lights. It also may be linked to some of the complex social and behavioral deficits associated with autism, says Duje Tadin, one of the lead authors on the study and an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester.
"We think of autism as a social disorder because children with this condition often struggle with social interactions, but what we sometimes neglect is that almost everything we know about the world comes from our senses. Abnormalities in how a person sees or hears can have a profound effect on social communication."
Duje Tadin Promoted to Associate Professor
May 1, 2013
Congratulations to Dr. Duje Tadin, who has been promoted to Associate Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Dr. Tadin investigates neural mechanisms of human visual perception using a multi-disciplinary approach that includes human psychophysics, special populations work, transcranial magnetic stimulation, neuroimaging and computational modeling. Ongoing research in Dr. Tadin's laboratory is comprised of several lines of inquiry, most of which are built around a longstanding focus on the mechanisms of visual motion processing.
Richard Aslin elected to National Academy of Sciences
April 30, 2013
Richard Aslin, the William R. Kenan Professor of brain and cognitive sciences and director of the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging at the University of Rochester, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
Membership in the academy is one of the highest honors given to a scientist or engineer in the United States. Aslin will be inducted into the academy next April during its 151st annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Steven E. Feldon, M.D., M.B.A., director of the Flaum Eye Institute at the University of Rochester Medical Center, was named president of the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology. The organization is dedicated to advancing the education, research and clinical care provided by academic medical center’s ophthalmologists. He will serve a one-year term.
Feldon takes the helm of the organization with a broad understanding of the many challenges that academic ophthalmologists face balancing clinical, educational and scientific responsibilities. He is an internationally recognized clinical and basic scientist specializing in orbital disease and neuro-ophthalmology, an inventor of ophthalmic instruments, and an entrepreneur and business executive.
Among his career accomplishments, he has invented ophthalmic instruments and an electronic medical record-keeping system and subsequently built companies to manufacture and market them. As the founding director of the Flaum Eye Institute, Feldon has grown the institution dramatically, adding more than 25 basic scientists and clinical faculty in just 12 years.
Richard Aslin Elected Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society
November 13, 2012
Richard Aslin, the William R. Kenan Professor of brain and cognitive sciences and director of the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging at the University of Rochester, has been elected a fellow of the Cognitive Science Society.
Aslin, whose theory of "statistical learning" has helped to revolutionize the field of cognitive science, was recognized for the "sustained excellence and . . . sustained impact" of his work. He is one of only nine scholars elected to the position in 2012.
The Marshmallow Study Revisited
October 11, 2012
For the past four decades, the "marshmallow test" has served as a classic experimental measure of children's self-control: will a preschooler eat one of the fluffy white confections now or hold out for two later?
Now a new study demonstrates that being able to delay gratification is influenced as much by the environment as by innate ability. Children who experienced reliable interactions immediately before the marshmallow task waited on average four times longer—12 versus three minutes—than youngsters in similar but unreliable situations.
Patent Issued for Technology that Improves Eyesight Dramatically
September 27, 2012
A U.S. patent has been issued to the University of Rochester for technology that has boosted the eyesight of tens of thousands of people around the world to unprecedented levels and reduced the need for patients to undergo repeat surgeries.
The patent issued this week for work done by Scott MacRae, M.D., director of the Refractive Surgery Center at the Flaum Eye Institute and Manoj Venkiteshwar, Ph.D., formerly a post-doctoral researcher at the University’s Center for Visual Science.
Pasternak Elected Officer of Society for Neuroscience
September 24, 2012
Tatiana Pasternak, Ph.D., professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has been elected secretary of the Society for Neuroscience, one of the largest science societies in the world with more than 41,000 members.
Pasternak is one of three people elected this year to help lead the organization, together with a small group of elected councilors and other officers elected in the two past years. She will assume her post as secretary-elect at the organization’s annual meeting Oct. 12 in New Orleans and will be part of the group’s leadership for three years.
David Williams, a faculty member of the University of Rochester's Institute of Optics, director of its Center for Visual Science, and dean for research in Arts, Science, and Engineering, will receive the António Champalimaud Vision Award at a ceremony today in Lisbon, Portugal. The ceremony, chaired by the president of Portugal, will recognize Williams' work on adaptive optics technologies as a "major breakthrough in the understanding and/or the preservation of vision." Williams is widely regarded as one of the world's leading experts on human vision.
Long before babies understand the story of Goldilocks, they have more than mastered the fairy tale heroine's method of decision-making. Infants ignore information that is too simple or too complex, focusing instead on situations that are "just right," according to a new study to be published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE on May 23.
Dubbed the "Goldilocks effect" by the University of Rochester team that discovered it, the attention pattern sheds light on how babies learn to make sense of a world full of complex sights, sounds, and movements. The findings could have broad implications for human learning at all ages and could lead to tools for earlier diagnosis of attention-related disabilities such as ADHD or autism, says Celeste Kidd, lead author on the paper and a doctoral candidate in brain and cognitive sciences at the University.
With the aid of eye-tracking devices and statistical modeling, the research is the first to provide both a theory and quantifiable measures of what keeps a baby's attention, says coauthor Richard Aslin, the William R. Kenan Professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University.
James Eles Wins Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize
May 21, 2012
The first-ever Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Vision Research was presented to James Eles during the senior awards ceremony during commencement weekend.
James Eles is a neuroscience major currently in his fifth-year in the Take-5 program where he is studying the history and psychology of warrior codes. James has had a remarkable academic career and has been on the Dean’s list every single semester. He has received a Dean’s scholarship for his studies and has been elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
Since his junior year he has worked in the department of Neurobiology and Anatomy on an independent research project in the lab of Dr. Ania Majewska. He was also awarded the prestigious Center for Visual Science undergraduate summer research fellowship to continue his work full-time during the summer. During the last few years James worked on a glutamate transporter, GLT-1, which is expressed exclusively in glial cells in the mouse cerebral cortex. He showed that GLT-1 expression can be modulated by sensory experience. This was an unexpected finding since glia are largely expected to play supportive roles to neurons and not necessarily participate in responses driven by changes in the sensory environment.
Neuroscientist Benjamin Hayden Named 2012 Sloan Research Fellow
February 22, 2012
Benjamin Hayden, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester who is helping to unravel the mysteries of how humans make decisions, has been selected as a 2012 Sloan Research Fellow.
Awarded annually by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation since 1955, the fellowships are given to early-career scientists and scholars whose achievements and potential identify them as rising stars. Each fellowship carries a $50,000, two-year award to help support the recipient's research.
"Today's Sloan Research Fellows are tomorrow's Nobel Prize winners... These outstanding men and women are responsible for some of the most exciting science being done today," says Paul L. Joskow, president of the Sloan Foundation.
Professor James Fienup Elected to National Academy of Engineering
February 12, 2012
James R. Fienup, the Robert E. Hopkins Professor of Optics at the University's Institute of Optics within the Hajim School of Engineering, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering.
Election to the National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. Academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature," and to the "pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education."
Fienup was selected for his work in the development and application of phase retrieval algorithms.
Nerve Cells Key to Making Sense of Our Senses
November 21, 2011
The human brain is bombarded with a cacophony of information from the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin. Now a team of scientists at the University of Rochester, Washington University in St. Louis, and Baylor College of Medicine has unraveled how the brain manages to process those complex, rapidly changing, and often conflicting sensory signals to make sense of our world. The answer lies in a relatively simple computation performed by single nerve cells, an operation that can be described mathematically as a straightforward weighted average. The key is that the neurons have to apply the correct weights to each sensory cue, and the authors reveal how this is done.
The study, published online Nov. 20 in Nature Neuroscience, represents the first direct evidence of how the brain combines multiple sources of sensory information to form as accurate a perception as possible of its environment, the researchers report.
The discovery may eventually lead to new therapies for people with Alzheimer's disease and other disorders that impair a person's sense of self-motion, says study coauthor Greg DeAngelis, professor and chair of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. This deeper understanding of how brain circuits combine different sensory cues could also help scientists and engineers to design more sophisticated artificial nervous systems such as those used in robots, he adds.
Envisioning Better Eyesight
January 1, 2010
Sometimes, even in vision research, the key to moving forward is seeing things in a new way.
That’s what happened about four years ago, when Wayne Knox ’79, ’84 (PhD), a professor of optics and physics and the director of the Institute of Optics, was presenting his work on using ultrafast lasers to change optical materials like intra-ocular lenses to a group of scientists discussing lasers, optics, and human vision.
Krystel Huxlin, an associate professor of ophthalmology at the Flaum Eye Institute, chimed in with a question: “Have you ever tried this in living materials?”
By doing a set of vigorous visual exercises on a computer every day for several months, patients who had gone partially blind as a result of suffering a stroke were able to regain some vision, according to scientists who published their results in the April 1 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
Such rigorous visual retraining is not common for people who suffer blindness after a stroke. That’s in contrast to other consequences of stroke, such as speech or movement difficulties, where rehabilitation is common and successful.