Uncovering the Evolution of the Brain
February 13, 2019
Researchers have developed a new technique to study the development of human neurons compared to the neurons of nonhuman primates. The findings shed new light on the evolution of the human brain.
More than 300 Rochester-area children are participating in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). The federally funded project officially completed enrollment last month with 11,874 total children, ages nine and 10, participating nationwide.
Microscopic eye movements affect how we see contrast
January 22, 2019
It is often difficult for a driver to see a person walking on the side of the road at night—especially if the person is wearing dark colors. One of the factors causing this difficulty is a decrease in contrast, making it hard to segment an object, such as a person, from its background.
Researchers previously believed contrast sensitivity function—the minimum level of black and white that a person needs to detect a pattern—was mainly dictated by the optics of the eye and processing in the brain. Now, in a study published in the journal eLife, researchers, including Michele Rucci at the University of Rochester, explain that there is another factor at play: contrast sensitivity also depends on small eye movements that a person is not even aware of making.
The science of seeing art and color
December 13, 2018
Eight paintings from the series of London fogs are the centerpiece of the Memorial Art Gallery’s exhibition Monet’s Waterloo Bridge: Vision and Process. A recognized master of landscape painting, Monet was an integral founder of the Impressionist movement, which embraced the philosophy of expressing the fleeting sensory effects in a scene.
But how does Monet depict the same scene at different times of day and in various conditions? And how does a viewer see an artist’s brushstrokes of color as a cohesive image, and vastly different colors as the same bridge?
With each of the paintings in the series, Monet manipulates viewer perception in a way that scientists at the time did not completely understand. Today, research such as that conducted at the University of Rochester’s Center for Visual Science, founded in 1963, provides insight into the complexity of the visual system, illuminating Monet’s processes and the intricacies of his work.
Neurons in the Brain Work as a Team to Guide Movement of Arms, Hands
December 11, 2018
The apparent simplicity of picking up a cup of coffee or turning a doorknob belies the complex sequence of calculations and processes that the brain must undergo to identify the location of an item in space, move the arm and hand toward it, and shape the fingers to hold or manipulate the object. New research, published today in the journal Cell Reports, reveals how the nerve cells responsible for motor control modify their activity as we reach and grasp for objects. These findings upend the established understanding of how the brain undertakes this complex task and could have implications for the development of neuro-prosthetics.
“This study shows that activity patterns in populations of neurons shift progressively during the course of a single movement,” said Marc Schieber, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Neurology and the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience and a co-author of the study. “Interpreting these shifts in activity that allow groups of neurons to work together to perform distinctive and precise movements is the first step in understanding how to harness this information for potential new therapies.”
Attention Requires Balance in the Brain
October 29, 2018
The ability to focus attention is a fundamental challenge that the brain must solve and one that is essential to navigating our daily lives. In developmental disorders such as Autism this ability is impaired. New research published in the journal Nature Communications shows that nerve cells maintain a state of balance when preparing to interpret what we see and this may explain why the healthy brain can block out distractions.
Neuroscientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) have a powerful new state-of-the-art tool at their disposal to study diseases like Autism, Alzheimer’s, and traumatic brain injury. The Mobile Brain/Body Imaging system, or MoBI, combines virtual reality, brain monitoring, and Hollywood-inspired motion capture technology, enabling researchers to study the movement difficulties that often accompany neurological disorders and why our brains sometimes struggle while multitasking.
“Many studies of brain activity occur in controlled environments where study subjects are sitting in a sound proof room staring at a computer screen,” said John Foxe, Ph.D., director of the URMC Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience. “The MoBI system allows us to get people walking, using their senses, and solving the types of tasks you face every day, all the while measuring brain activity and tracking how the processes associated with cognition and movement interact.”
Krishnan Padmanabhan, assistant professor of neuroscience, who will use neural tracers, ontogenetic technology, and electrical recordings in the brain to understand how internal state, learning, and memory influence the neurons that shape the perception of smell. “The same cookie may smell and taste differently, depending on our emotional state, our experiences, and our memories,” he says. By interrogating a recently characterized connection between the hippocampus and the olfactory bulb, he aims to understand how perception is reshaped by experience. Read more about Padmanabhan’s NSF CAREER award here.
Richard T. Libby Ph.D., professor of Ophthalmology and of Biomedical Genetics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and a member of the University’s Center for Visual Science, has been named Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA), pending approval of the University Board of Trustees. Beginning Sept. 1, Libby will direct the School of Medicine and Dentistry’s Ph.D., postdoctoral and master’s degree programs. He succeeds Edith M. Lord, Ph.D., who served a decade in the role and is shifting her focus to microbiology and immunology research.
Three University of Rochester faculty members—Thomas Eickbush, John Tarduno, and James Zavislan—have been awarded honorary professorships for excellence in teaching.
Rianne Stowell, a fourth year NGP graduate student, has been awarded a two year NIH Fellowship award (F31) for her project titled, “Noradrenergic modulation of microglial dynamics and synaptic plasticity”. Rianne works in the laboratory of Ania Majewska, Ph.D.
The purpose of the Kirschstein National Research Service Award program is to enable promising predoctoral students with potential to develop into a productive, independent research scientists, to obtain mentored research training while conducting dissertation research.
Well done Rianne!
Kevin Mazurek Receives CTSI Career Development Award
June 15, 2018
The University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute has selected the recipients of its Career Development Award, which provides two years of support to help early career scientists transition to independent careers as clinical and translational investigators. This year’s awardees will study suicide prevention among Hispanic populations and how the brain controls voluntary movements.
Kevin A. Mazurek, research assistant professor of neuroscience, whose project is “Determining how Cortical Areas Communicate Information to Perform Voluntary Movements.” Mazurek, whose primary mentor is John Foxe, professor of neuroscience, received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Brown University in 2008 and his doctorate in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. He studies the neural control of voluntary movements in order to develop rehabilitative solutions that can restore function to individuals with neurologic diseases by effectively bypassing impaired or damaged neural connections.
Monique S. Mendes, a neuroscience Ph.D. student, is the first University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) graduate student to receive a prestigious diversity award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders in Stroke (NINDS). Mendes works in the laboratory of Ania Majewska, Ph.D. and studies the role that the brain’s immune cells play in development, learning, and diseases like Autism.
“Oh my goodness – do you see that?” It was the wave of a hand, but William Heidt was in tears. For the first time in more than 15 years, the Wyoming County man saw something, thanks to a “bionic eye” provided by UR Medicine’s Flaum Eye Institute.
His wife, Rebecca, stepped toward her husband of 50 years, and Heidt immediately recognized she was there. His family and doctors cheered.
“Every day I’ll become clearer and clearer to you,” she said, beaming with joy. The Heidts recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. And after all those years, you could say Heidt is seeing his wife in a whole new way.
Our brains are made up of an intricate network of neurons. Understanding the complex neuronal circuits—the connections of these neurons—is important in understanding how our brains process visual information.
Farran Briggs, a new associate professor of neuroscience and of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, studies neuronal circuits in the brain’s vision system and how attention affects the brain’s ability to process visual information.
Brain signal indicates when you understand what you’ve been told
February 22, 2018
During everyday interactions, people routinely speak at rates of 120 to 200 words per minute. For a listener to understand speech at these rates – and not lose track of the conversation – the brain must comprehend the meaning of each of these words very rapidly.
“That we can do this so easily is an amazing feat of the human brain – especially given that the meaning of words can vary greatly depending on the context,” says Edmund Lalor, associate professor of biomedical engineering and neuroscience at the University of Rochester and Trinity College Dublin. “For example, ‘I saw a bat flying overhead last night’ versus ‘the baseball player hit a home run with his favorite bat.’”
Now, researchers in Lalor’s lab have identified a brain signal that indicates whether a person is indeed comprehending what others are saying – and have shown they can track the signal using relatively inexpensive EEG (electroencephalography) readings taken on a person’s scalp.
A professor and his robot study how we see
February 21, 2018
Vision and art have always played a large role in Michele Rucci’s life.
“Visual arts is a big component of where I come from,” says Rucci, a native of Florence, Italy, and a new professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. “I’ve always been interested in how light gives rise to subjective experiences and how humans interpret it.”
Training brains—young and old, sick and healthy—with virtual reality
February 13, 2018
An accidental discovery by Rochester researchers in 2003 touched off a wave of research into the area of neuroplasticity in adults, or how the brain’s neural connections change throughout a person’s lifespan.
Fifteen years ago, Shawn Green was a graduate student of Daphne Bavelier, then an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University. As the two created visual tests together, Green demonstrated exceptional proficiency at taking these tests himself. The two researchers hypothesized that it might be due to his extensive experience playing first-person, action-based video games. From there, Green and Bavelier demonstrated that, indeed, action-based video games enhance the brain’s ability to process visual information.
The complex biology, networks, and symphony of signals that underlie human cognition are a font of endless mystery and wonder to those who study it. For Rianne Stowell, a graduate student in the lab of URMC neuroscientist Ania Majewska, Ph.D., these questions are also a source of artistic inspiration which has led to the creation of striking paintings of the brain’s inner workings.
Stowell’s most recent creation (above) is based on research which has recently been published in the journal Developmental Neurobiology and sheds new light on the role that immune cells called microglia play in wiring and rewiring the connections between nerve cells.
Knox elected fellow of National Academy of Inventors
December 12, 2017
As a teenager, Wayne Knox ’79, ’84 (PhD) “sometimes filled the house with smoke” while building short wave radios and other electronic gadgets from scratch.
This week the University of Rochester professor of optics is among the latest fellows to be elected to the National Academy of Inventors for demonstrating a “highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.”
Knox has been awarded 50 US patents, and another 150 or so worldwide, starting with one he received for work that he did as an undergraduate at the University. Most recently, he co-invented a potentially game-changing way of noninvasively correcting vision using femtosecond lasers.
The brain’s complex network of neurons enables us to interpret and effortlessly navigate and interact with the world around us. But when these links are damaged due to injury or stroke, critical tasks like perception and movement can be disrupted. New research is helping scientists figure out how to harness the brain’s plasticity to rewire these lost connections, an advance that could accelerate the development of neuro-prosthetics.
A new study authored by Marc Schieber, M.D., Ph.D., and Kevin Mazurek, Ph.D. with the University of Rochester Medical Center Department of Neurology and the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, which appears today in the journal Neuron, shows that very low levels of electrical stimulation delivered directly to an area of the brain responsible for motor function can instruct an appropriate response or action, essentially replacing the signals we would normally receive from the parts of the brain that process what we hear, see, and feel.
A 71-year-old woman blinded by an inherited disease recently thrilled University of Rochester doctors by reaching out and grabbing her ophthalmologist’s hand after receiving a “bionic eye.” The device allows her to distinguish light and motion, which she hasn’t been able to do in decades.
“I saw his hand – I couldn’t miss that,” said Khaleda Rahman, a Syracuse-area resident who once competed in the Olympics.
She is the first person in New York to receive the FDA-approved Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System. There are fewer than 100 people in the U.S. that have the device, designed for people who have lost their vision as a result of retinitis pigmentosa.
Even simple movements require the integration of information from multiple areas of the brain. This process breaks down when brain damage occurs, resulting in neurological disorders.
But what if researchers could find a way to bypass those damaged areas and maintain the flow of information?
Kevin Mazurek, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Marc Schieber, professor of neurology, described how the lab is making progress in doing just that. He finished in first place and took the audience prize as well in the Meliora Weekend competition for the Steadman Family Postdoctoral Associate Prize in Interdisciplinary Research.
Quadcast: Rebooting the brain for better vision after a stroke
September 14, 2017
Maybe you’ve recently suffered a stroke and are now starting therapy, trying to regain speech, motor functions, and possibly improve memory. But your vision is damaged, too, and there’s no therapy available.
Krystel Huxlin, director of research and the James V. Aquavella Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Flaum Eye Institute, has been working in her lab over the last ten years to change that. Here’s how she sums up her latest results, published earlier this year in the journal Neurology.
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults, but scientists have long struggled to study and replicate key elements of the disease in the lab. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is the first to demonstrate hallmarks of macular degeneration in a new human stem cell model developed by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Patient Plays Saxophone While Surgeons Remove Brain Tumor
August 25, 2017
Music is not only a major part of Dan Fabbio’s life, as a music teacher it is his livelihood. So when doctors discovered a tumor located in the part of his brain responsible for music function, he began a long journey that involved a team of physicians, scientists, and a music professor and culminated with him awake and playing a saxophone as surgeons operated on his brain.
Fabbio’s case is the subject of a study published today in the journal Current Biology that sheds new light on how music is processed in the brain.
In the spring of 2015, Fabbio was serving as substitute music teacher in a school in New Hartford, New York. He was in a small office at the school working on the capstone project for his Master’s degree in music education when he began to suddenly “see and hear things that I knew were not real.”
In a recent paper in Light: Science & Applications, University of Rochester researchers Jannick Rolland and Jacob Reimers describe an optical device with potential applications ranging from improved satellite and diagnostic imagery to more precisely matching the paint color on a living room wall.
The device is a type of spectrometer—an optical instrument that takes light and breaks it down into components to reveal a catalogue of information about an object.
Unlike traditional spectrometers, however, this one is designed using freeform optics, a relatively recent advance that upends more than a century of optical design.
Surviving a Stroke Propels Career in Brain Research
July 26, 2017
On a warm day in July 2005, Frank Garcea’s soccer playing days came to an abrupt end when he suffered what could have been a deadly stroke during a practice with his teammates. Instead, the events of that day and his subsequent treatment – which serve as the basis for a review published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) – set him on a career path that would ultimately lead to a Ph.D. studying how the brain recovers from injury.
Garcea, who was about to begin his senior year at the Aquinas Institute in Rochester, was in the middle of a training session when he started experiencing a pounding headache. He first suspected he might just be dehydrated on that hot summer day, but soon after his limbs began to tingle and grow numb, his eyes became sensitive to the bright sunlight, and he had difficulty walking. Very quickly it became obvious that something was wrong and someone called 911.
Eye Movements Might Be A Diagnosis Test For Autism
July 24, 2017
Could you diagnose autism by looking into someone’s eyes? New research suggests that certain rapid eye movements could be a tell of the developmental disorder.
These rapid eye movements the research investigates are not the well-known kind that are within the human sleep cycle, but rather are the movements our eyes make as we shift focus to another location in our field of vision. The saccades, as they are officially called, are an important neurological function that helps us interact with people and objects around us. “They are crucial for navigating, and also for orienting visual attention to spatial locations containing pertinent information,” according to a study in the European Journal of Neuroscience, and in that way they may also provide some insight into autism.
Eye Test Could Help Diagnose Autism
July 24, 2017
A new study out in European Journal of Neuroscience could herald a new tool that helps physicians identify a sub-group of people with Autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The test, which consists of measuring rapid eye movements, may indicate deficits in an area of the brain that plays an important role in emotional and social development.
“These findings build upon a growing field of research that show that eye movement could serve as a window into a part of the brain that plays a role in a number of neurological and development disorders, such as Autism,” said John Foxe, Ph.D., director of the University of Rochester Medical Center Del Monte Neuroscience Institute and co-author of the study.
When ferrets get a rabies shot in a neurobiology lab, they don't get infected with the virus—or even inoculated against it. They get a brain hack that might just explain how your brain handles vision, and maybe even your other senses, too.
If you’re at the age where you need reading glasses to see your phone or read a menu or computer screen, UR Medicine’s Flaum Eye Institute today introduced a way to toss them aside: the new Raindrop vision procedure.
2017 Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize Awardees
May 17, 2017
This year's recipients of the 2017 Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize:
Reva Peer is a Molecular Genetics Major with a minor in Psychology as a Social Science. She is interested in studying how plasticity and learning can be affected in the developing and adult brain. She has been a Research Assistant in the Majewska Lab since her Sophomore year, and has been working on a project studying the impact of the neurotoxin 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin on microglia morphology in the brain. She has conducted research on the impact of this neurotoxin in adolescent mice and is currently studying the impact of this neurotoxin in adult mice. She plans to continue her research as part of a Senior Honors Thesis.
Two University of Rochester start-up companies are among those singled out in a new report from the Science Coalition. The report, “American-Made Innovation Sparking Economic Growth,” identifies 102 companies that trace their roots to federally-funded university research.
Retraining the Brain to See After Stroke
April 12, 2017
Patients who went partially blind after suffering a stroke regained large swaths of rudimentary sight after undergoing visual training designed by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Flaum Eye Institute.
Richard Libby awarded 2017 Shaffer Prize
February 2, 2017
From Ophthalmology Times:
For his research efforts to better understand the molecular pathways that are responsible for axonal degeneration in glaucoma, Richard Libby, PhD, was awarded the 2017 Shaffer Prize for Research during Thursday night’s Glaucoma 360 annual Gala.
The project could result in the identification of novel molecular targets that would allow clinicians to slow or halt axonal degeneration in retinal ganglion cells and stop the progression of glaucoma.
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center have developed a new imaging technique that could revolutionize how eye health and disease are assessed. The group is first to be able to make out individual cells at the back of the eye that are implicated in vision loss in diseases like glaucoma. They hope their new technique could prevent vision loss via earlier diagnosis and treatment for these diseases.
Researchers explore regeneration in critical layer of cornea
December 9, 2016
On the backside of the cornea is a single layer of cells that play an all-important role, maintaining just the right fluid balance to keep the cornea transparent so light can enter the eye.
Until recently, it was believed this layer, called the corneal endothelium, is incapable of replacing its damaged cells. As more cells become damaged, the cornea becomes opaque, leading to loss of vision and, ultimately, to as many as 30,000 endothelium transplants a year in the United States alone.
A team of University researchers is exploring the possibility that stem cells on the outer edges of the cornea, given the right stimulation, can migrate into the endothelium to replace damaged cells. (Undifferentiated stem cells develop into specialized cells.) The work raises the possibility of restoring vision without the need for transplants.
Study: Autism Brain Response Theory a Dead End
December 6, 2016
A new study out today in the journal Cerebral Cortex challenges the hypothesis that nerve cells in the brains of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders do not reliably and consistently respond to external stimuli.
“Our findings show there is no measurable variation in how individuals with Autism respond to repeated visual and tactile stimuli,” said John Foxe, Ph.D., the chair of the University of Rochester Medical Center Department of Neuroscience and senior author of the study. “Consequently, the concept that the symptoms of Autism may arise from unreliable brain activity in response to the senses is in all likelihood a scientific cul-de-sac.”
Brain training video games help low-vision kids see better
November 28, 2016
Studies going back several years have shown that playing action video games (AVG) can help improve visual acuity. A new study by vision scientists at the University of Rochester and Vanderbilt University found that children with poor vision see vast improvement in their peripheral vision after only eight hours of training via kid-friendly video games. Most surprising to the scientists was the range of visual gains the children made, and that the gains were quickly acquired and stable when tested a year later.
“Children who have profound visual deficits often expend a disproportionate amount of effort trying to see straight ahead, and as a consequence they neglect their peripheral vision,” said Duje Tadin, associate professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at Rochester. “This is problematic because visual periphery—which plays a critical role in mobility and other key visual functions—is often less affected by visual impairments.”
Jesse Schallek has been awarded the David Mahoney Neuroimaging award from the Dana Foundation. Dr. Schallek and his team will use newly developed imaging techniques to identify the earliest stages of vascular changes that can damage the retina and impair vision (retinopathy) in people with diabetes.
People with diabetes have high levels of blood sugar (hyperglycemia) because their bodies produce too little insulin or do not use insulin efficiently to metabolize sugar. If inadequately controlled, high blood sugar eventually narrows blood vessels throughout the body, including tiny vessels called capillaries that bring oxygen and remove waste from cells. Capillaries are about 1/10th the size of a human hair. When they narrow in the retina, located at the back of the eye, the flow of red blood cells slows and capillaries can swell and bleed. This situation can produce “diabetic retinopathy,” creating blurred vision and even blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy can best be prevented, or contained, by adequate blood sugar control. In more advanced disease, lasers or surgery can help contain diabetic retinopathy but, even so about 10,000 people a year in this country become blind due to this condition. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential but until recently techniques for visualizing the earliest stages of capillary narrowing and reduced red blood cell flow have been inadequate. Current imaging techniques do not have enough resolution because the eye’s optics blur the image of capillaries and blood cells within.
Brain tune-up from action video game play
June 14, 2016
Over the past 15 years numerous studies have found that playing action video games such as “Call of Duty” helps cognitive functioning. In an article for Scientific American, brain and cognitive sciences professor Daphne Bavelier and alumnus C. Shawn Green, now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explain how shooting zombies and fending off enemy troops virtually can enhance brain skills such as visual acuity, reaction time, and multitasking.
A new study suggests that human intelligence may have evolved in response to the demands of caring for infants.
Steven Piantadosi and Celeste Kidd, assistant professors in brain and cognitive sciences, developed a novel evolutionary model in which the progression of high levels of intelligence may be driven by the demands of raising offspring. Their meta-analysis study is available online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ Early Edition.
2016 Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize Awardee
April 29, 2016
This year's recipient of the 2016 Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize:
Emily will receive an award certificate (and check for $1800) at a College-wide award ceremony on May 14.
Below are descriptions of her research and other accomplishments.
UR Medicine Flaum Eye Institute Director Steven Feldon, M.D., M.B.A., will be honored by the Association for Blind and Visually Impaired during its 2016 Visionary Gala: Sea Great Things Saturday, April 9.
“Dr. Steven Feldon’s support of, and interest in, the work of ABVI are truly distinguished and genuinely appreciated,” said Gidget Hopf, ABVI’s president and CEO. “His passion for ABVI’s work led him to become a board member. While on the board, he helped develop and grow our person-centered programs and services. It is for these reasons we honor Dr. Feldon this year.”
Seeing deeply into the living eye could improve our understanding of one of the leading causes of vision loss. FEI Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology Jesse Schallek, PhD, is using a special camera equipped with adaptive optics to see tiny blood vessels in the retina that are less than 1/10th the thickness of a human hair. Schallek's research investigates how blood flow, structures and cells inside the retina are affected by diabetes. Understanding this may help us diagnose and treat diabetic eye disease before it damages the visual system and may also help to determine the effectiveness of treatments in the battle to prevent related vision loss.
Recently, Dr. Schallek received a $300,000 Career Development award from Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) to further his work. In a letter, RPB’s trustees expressed their enthusiasm and confidence in Schallek.
Reposted from UR FEI Insight, Issue 47, January 2016. Contributed by Steve Kofron, Director of Marketing, Flaum Eye Institute.
A new study out today in the journal Nature Communications shows that cells normally associated with protecting the brain from infection and injury also play an important role in rewiring the connections between nerve cells. While this discovery sheds new light on the mechanics of neuroplasticity, it could also help explain diseases like autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, and dementia, which may arise when this process breaks down and connections between brain cells are not formed or removed correctly.
CVS mourns the passing of John Krauskopf
February 10, 2016
With great sadness I report that John Krauskopf passed away on Feb. 3, 2016 at the age of 87 following a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
John Krauskopf received a bachelor's degree from Cornell University in 1949 and a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin in 1953 under the mentorship of M.E. Bitterman. From 1953 to 1955 he was a research psychologist (1st Lieutenant) in the U.S. Army Medical Research Lab in Ft. Knox, KY. In 1956, he joined Lorrin Riggs’ laboratory at Brown University as a postdoctoral fellow and then an assistant professor. In 1959, he assumed an assistant professorship at Rutgers University until 1962 at which point he became a research associate at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. In 1966 he joined Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, as a member of the technical staff, a position he held until 1986. In 1959 and 1967, John was a visiting professor at Bryn Mawr College. From 1974-1975, John was a visiting scholar in St. John's College, Cambridge. Beginning in 1983, he held an adjunct professorship in the Center for Visual Science at the University of Rochester, which he maintained until 2009. In 1986 he left Bell Labs and moved to New York University where he was research professor of Neural Science until 2003.
John received the 1999 Verriest Medal from the International Color Vision Society and was elected to the Society of Experimental Psychologists in 2000. That same year he became an Optical Society of America Fellow. He won the OSA Tillyer Award in 2004.
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.
Miscellaneous: Jack Gallant, Psychology, UC Berkeley
April 18, 2019