Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize

The Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize was established in 2012 by the Center for Visual Science, a research program of more than 30 faculty at the University dedicated to understanding how the human eye and brain allow us to see.  The prize is named for Walt Makous, who was Director of the Center for Visual Science at the University of Rochester throughout the 1980s, and his wife Bobbi. The prize honors the graduating senior who has made the most outstanding contribution to vision research at Rochester.



Reva Peer:

Reva PeerReva 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.

Reva has been involved in research since her junior year of high school, where she participated in several research opportunities. This research was conducted in a variety of fields such as chemistry and reproductive medicine at research facilities in the University of California, Davis, the Western Human Nutrition Research Center and the Cleveland Clinic. Reva has been working in the Majewska Lab during the school year and this past summer as a University of Rochester Summer Scholar.

Starting in June, Reva will continue working in the Majewska Lab as a DeKewitt Summer Fellow. Reva is looking forward to expanding her work on her project and hopefully seeing it to completion and eventual publication. Reva is extremely thankful to receive such a prestigious award. She is honored to receive the Makous Prize and be able to continue pursuing her passion for research.

JT Pirog:

JT PirogJT Pirog is an Optics major with minors in math and music. He is interested in using optics to study human visual processes. Currently, as a research assistant in Yoon Physiological Optics Lab with Dr. Yoon and Dr. Antoine Barbot, he is working on characterizing neural adaptation in keratoconus patients. Keratocnous is a disease that distorts the corneal surface leading to highly blurred vision that cannot be corrected with traditional lenses and contacts. His work has focused on identifying adaptation to spatial phase modulations caused by the disease which will contribute to the development of re-adapation training and exercises that aim to improve the visual quality of these patients. As a result of this research, he has written his senior thesis for his BS in optics and presented his findings as the first author in a paper presentation at the 2017 ARVO conference.

JT has been involved in Yoon Lab since the fall of 2016. Prior to that he worked at the L V Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, India where he was first exposed to vision science research. There he began developing a visual acuity testing paradigm for non verbal patients, assisted in a study that assessed performance of low vision patients in visual search tasks, and consulted in the development of The Pediatric Perimeter—a device used to measure visual field in infants.

This summer JT will complete his project in Yoon Lab as a Xerox fellowship recipient. He hopes to pursue a PhD in optics or vision science following graduation. JT would like to acknowledge Dr. Yoon and Dr. Barbot, for their consistent support, guidance and rapport during his time at Yoon Lab.


Emily Prentiss:

Emily PrentissEmily Prentiss is a Brain & Cognitive Sciences Major with a minor in Clinical Psychology. She is interested in studying how sensory information informs everyday activities. Currently, as a Research Assistant in the Concept, Actions, and Objects (CAOs) Lab with Dr. Brad Mahon, she is working on a project studying the role of different visual pathways using behavioral measures. She is conducting this experiment in healthy individuals and in patients who have suffered phenomenal vision loss as the result of a stroke (blindsight). As a result of this research, she completed an honors thesis, “The Role of the Parvocellular System in Fast Visuomotor Updating.”

Emily has been involved in research at the University of Rochester since her Sophomore year. Prior to working in the CAOs Lab, she was a research assistant for Professor David Knill in the Center for Visual Science from 2013 to 2014, assisting with data collection for a variety of behavioral experiments focusing on visual working memory and motor planning.

Beginning in June, Emily will be joining the CAOs lab as a full-time research assistant. She is excited to expand on current projects, explore new research techniques, and develop her research interests. In the future, she hopes to pursue a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. Emily is honored to receive the Makous Prize, and is very thankful that she gets to further her research experience at Rochester!


Zoe Pruitt:

Zoe PruittZoe's research investigates how we learn to attend. Specifically, she is interested in how we develop category knowledge and use this knowledge to guide our attention. In one study, she showed that people who diet more have stronger representations of healthy vs unhealthy food (because dieting necessitates strict boundaries). Moreover, consistent dieters activate these category representations by 200ms even when the categories are irrelevant, such as when searching for a specific food item. In another study, she showed that we can use feature regularities, such as correlation, to bind features into novel objects and objects into novel categories, and use these unitized novel object and category representations by 200ms. Both of these studies have resulted in two manuscripts under review in high-ranking academic journals, and two conference presentations. She is now interested in investigating how this ability develops from childhood and how it potentially declines in aging adults.

Broadly speaking, "learning to attend" is related to "learning to see", an interesting skill often developed when learning fine art. Zoe merges her major in Studio Art with her major in Brain and Cognitive Science and her minor in Psychology to better understand the underlying mechanisms involved in finding relevant information. During her junior year, she studied graphic design at the Danish School for Study Abroad to better understand how visual designers purposefully direct the viewer's gaze.

Zoe has been recognized on the Dean's List every semester of her college career and receives multiple merit-based scholarships. Beyond academics, she dances in the Sihir Belly Dance Ensemble- performing in biannual shows, choreographing, and designing posters. She is also a purple belt and trains with the University's Tae Kwon Do club.

Zoe is honored to receive the Makous Prize and extends thanks to the Center for Visual Science for making the award available. She is also grateful for her supervisor, Dr. Rachel Wu, whose guidance makes Zoe's research possible.

Jungeun (Jenny) Won:

Jenny WonJungeun (Jenny) Won is a biomedical engineering major with a minor in optics. She is interested in interfacing technologies with medicine and contributing to the improvement of human health using light. She has been deeply intrigued by the development of high-resolution imaging techniques that would extend the range of early diagnosis and primary care. Since her sophomore year, she joined Dr. Jannick Rolland’s lab at the Institute of Optics, and started several optical diagnostic projects that employed Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT). The projects include skin cancer diagnosis, optimization of Gabor-Domain Optical Coherence Microscope (GD-OCM) system, and corneal imaging.

During the summer of 2014, Jenny had a prestigious opportunity to completely immerse herself in research as a Xerox Engineering Fellow. In addition, she was also a part of the Center for Visual Science undergraduate summer research program, where she learned recent researches in neuroscience, cognitive science, and biomedical optics from faculty members. Her research explores the effect of edge-thickness of soft contact lens in comfort by providing precise measurement of the edge-thickness using GD-OCM. She has developed an automated algorithm that accurately computes the edge-thickness of contact lens and displays the thickness profile. During her senior year, she was chosen to present a poster on her research at Frontiers in Optics (FiO) in Tucson, AZ, and the annual meeting of Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) in San Antonio, TX. Currently, she prospects to submit her first co-authored publication that elaborates her findings.

Jenny has had a strong academic career, and also served as a tutor and teaching assistant for various courses at the biomedical engineering department. She is looking forward to continuing her research career and achieving her next goal. In the fall, she will enroll in University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for bioengineering PhD program. Upon completion of the degree, she would like to look into academia.


Brittany Hopkins: 

Brittany HopkinsBrittany's research explores animal models that are used to study the behavior of microglia which are the brain's immune cells. Microglia have recently been shown to be very dynamic in the brain in the absence of an immune challenge and may contribute to non-immune brain processes such as learning and memory. To explore this dynamic role microglia need to be labeled with a fluorescent protein that can be imaged in the intact brain. While it is largely assumed that these fluorescent microglia behave like normal microglia, few studies have tried to assess this. Brittany has shown that fluorescent microglia in two different transgenic lines of mice are very similar to normal microglia. This allows the imaging of the microglia in these mice to further understand new and exciting roles that microglia may play in the brain. 

Brittany is a neuroscience major with a minor in Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Brittany has had a strong academic career, she is on the Dean's List and has received a Dean's scholarship for her studies. Brittany also has many interests outside of academics and has been heavily involved in Campus Activities Board (CAB), which is responsible for planning campus wide events, like the community weekends and comedians, for the River Campus. She also gives back to the university community as a teaching assistant.

Brittany now adds another honor to her list of accomplishments. She has been awarded the Walt and Bobbi Makous undergraduate research prize for her unwavering commitment to scientific research. Since her junior year, Brittany has worked in the department of Neurobiology and Anatomy on an independent research project in the lab of Dr. Ania Majewska. She was also awarded the prestigious Center for Visual Science undergraduate summer research fellowship to continue her work full-time during the summer. During her senior year she wrote and successfully defended a Senior Thesis to earn a Distinction in Research on her degree. She was also chosen to present a poster on her research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research this spring. During the last few years Brittany has worked on characterizing two transgenic mouse lines that label microglia, the CX3CR1-GFP line and the YA line. The Majewska lab, along with many other labs that study microglia in the brain, utilizes these transgenic lines for in vivo imaging studies. Thus, Brittany's project was critical in determining if the microglia in these transgenic lines mimic wild-type microglial behavior. She showed that both of the transgenic lines have an unchanged microglial density in primary visual cortex. She used microglial morphology as a way to assess microglial behavior in fixed tissue and found that both lines had some morphological deviation from normal morphology but that these changes were small in magnitude. She was also able to characterize how well the fluorescent genetic label represents microglia. Overall she was able to show that both of the transgenic lines are great tools for fluorescently labeling microglia and are extremely useful for in vivo imaging, although for different purposes. For her study, Brittany has to master numerous scientific techniques, including immunohistochemistry, confocal and epifluorescent imaging and fluorescent analysis. Her work culminated in a first-author manuscript that is current being prepared for publication. Brittany is looking forward to her next challenge. In the fall she will enroll in the Northwestern University's Interdepartmental Neuroscience PhD program.

Andrew Bui:

Andrew BuiAndrew Bui is a neuroscience major and just finished his third year at the University of Rochester. Andrew is heavily involved in the university and this is seen through his extracurricular activities. He is Co-President of the Brain and Cognitive Science and Neuroscience Undergraduate Council, as well as a study group leader for organic chemistry I and II through the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and an organic chemistry laboratory teaching assistant. He is also a McNair Scholar and was accepted into the Ronald E. McNair Achievement Program in the summer of 2013. Outside the university, he also finds the time to give back to the community whenever he can. He volunteered as a tutor through the Upward Bound Program, helping low-income students who are enrolled in the Rochester City School District become the first members of their families to attend college as well as volunteered at Strong Memorial Hospital in the Emergency Department. To share his joy for neuroscience, he also volunteered in the Brain Awareness Campaign where he traveled to local elementary schools to teach students about the brain through fun and interactive games and activities during the month of March.

Andrew now adds another honor to his list of accomplishments. He has been awarded the Walt and Bobbi Makous undergraduate research prize for his unwavering commitment to scientific research. Since his freshmen year he has been working in the department of Ophthalmology in the lab of Dr. Lin Gan. In December 2013, he was published as a second author for his work in the expression of LIM-homeodomain transcription factors in the developing and mature mouse retina. His research centered on the expression of LHX9. Little is known about the expression of LHX9, other than a brief report of it being expressed in the inner nuclear layer of the developing Xenopus retina. Using in-situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry, he demonstrated that LHX9 is expressed exclusively in a subset of amacrine cells. This was a remarkable discovery since the expression of LHX9 in the mammalian retina has not been further characterized until now. Andrew is looking forward to his final year at the University of Rochester and hopefully will have one more publication under his belt before he graduates.


William Spencer Klubben III:

William KlubbenThe 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.


James Eles:

James ElesThe 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.

His finding is novel and exciting as it suggests instead that glial cells can respond to sensory activity by altering glutamate processing which can in turn affect the function of neurons. For his study, James has to master numerous scientific techniques, including immunocytochemistry, imaging, fluorescent and electron microscopy analysis. His work culminated in a first-author manuscript that is currently submitted for publication. James is looking forward to his next challenge. In the fall he will enroll in the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program at the University of Pittsburgh.