2018 News

The science of seeing art and color

December 13, 2018

The Memorial Art Gallery's exhibit Monet's Waterloo Bridge: Vision and Process

The Memorial Art Gallery's exhibit "Monet's Waterloo Bridge: Vision and Process" features eight paintings that Impressionist painter Claude Monet created at the turn of the 20th century. With each of the paintings in the series, Monet manipulates viewer perception in a way that scientists at the time did not completely understand. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

During three trips to London at the turn of the 20th century, Claude Monet painted more than 40 versions of a single scene: the Waterloo Bridge over the Thames River. Monet's main subject was not the bridge itself, however; he was most captivated by the landscape and atmosphere of the scene, with its transitory light, fog, and mist.

Eight paintings from this 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.

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Jim Zavislan named fellow of National Academy of Inventors

December 12, 2018

Jim Zavislan in the Fabrication Lab in Rettner Hall

Institute of Optics associate professor in the Fabrication Lab in Rettner Hall. (University of Rochester photo / Bob Marcotte)

Jim Zavislan's optical systems have protected the integrity of the ballot box, helped preserve great works of art, and allowed surgeons to determine on the spot if they've successfully removed a skin cancer.

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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."

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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.

The new research, which was co-authored by Adam Snyder, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University of Rochester Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and UR Medicine Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, marks a departure from the established view of how the brain tackles the task of identifying what is important.

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Researchers Harness Virtual Reality, Motion Capture to Study Neurological Disorders

September 5, 2018

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."

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Krishnan Padmanabhan receives the NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award

August 30, 2018

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.

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Richard Libby to Lead Graduate Education at School of Medicine and Dentistry

August 22, 2018

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.

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Honorary professorships awarded for excellence in teaching

August 2, 2018

Three University of Rochester faculty members—Thomas Eickbush, John Tarduno, and James Zavislan—have been awarded honorary professorships for excellence in teaching.

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NGP Student Receives Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award

June 21, 2018

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.

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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.

Neuroscience Grad Student Awarded NIH Diversity Fellowship

June 12, 2018

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.

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'Bionic Eye' Helps Wyoming County Man See His Bride Again

June 11, 2018

William Heidt received the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, cutting-edge technology designed to restore some vision for people who suffer with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary disease that causes progressive degeneration of the light-sensitive cells of the retina. It leads to blindness and affects 1.2 million people worldwide. There is no treatment or cure.

The Argus II device, made by Second Sight, works by converting images captured by a miniature video camera mounted on the patient's glasses into a series of small electrical pulses, which are transmitted wirelessly to an array of electrodes implanted on the surface of the retina. These pulses are intended to stimulate the retina's remaining cells, resulting in the perception of patterns of light in the brain. The patient then learns to interpret these visual patterns, thereby regaining some visual function.

The optoelectronic device restores vision by allowing people to see contrast, such as a doorway or light-colored dish on a table, in addition to motion. Following activation of the system, patients undergo months of vision training to maximize their ability to interpret the signals and what they are seeing.

"This device changes lives for patients who are nearly or completely blind," Ajay Kuriyan, M.D., a retinal specialist, said. Flaum Eye Institute is the only location to offer the technology in Upstate New York. "When your vision is very low, it can lead to a lot of isolation because they have difficulty getting around."

Ophthalmologists Mina Chung, M.D., and Ajay Kuriyan activated the "bionic eye" May 22.

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Professor studies complex brain networks involved in vision

March 12, 2018

Farran Briggs

Farran Briggs, associate professor of neuroscience and of brain and cognitive sciences. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

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.

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Brain signal indicates when you understand what you've been told

February 22, 2018

EEG scalp tool

University of Rochester professor Edmund Lalor, along with colleagues at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, has developed a new method for using relatively inexpensive EEG scalp readings to assess how well people understand what they are hearing. In one experiment, researchers used just the electrical activity on the scalp's surface to compare brain signals while subjects listened to Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea played forwards and then backwards. (University of Rochester photo / courtesy Edmund Lalor)

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.

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A professor and his robot study how we see

February 21, 2018

Michele Rucci with robot

University of Rochester Brain and Cognitive Sciences professor Michele Rucci with "Mr. T," a robot he and former students developed for use in their research into computational mechanisms responsible for visual perception. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

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."

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Training brains—young and old, sick and healthy—with virtual reality

February 13, 2018

Brenna James in VR experiment

Brenna James '20, a member of the women's basketball team, suffered a concussion in high school. Rochester researchers are using virtual reality to study how concussed patients' eyes track and move across the visual field. The goal is to create therapeutic treatments that can be used at home by patients. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

If we know that action-based video games enhance visual attention, might VR games do the same (and perhaps to a greater degree) because of the increased level of immersion?

That's the question a current group of Rochester researchers—Duje Tadin, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences; Jeffrey Bazarian, professor of emergency medicine; and Feng (Vankee) Lin, assistant professor in the School of Nursing—hope to answer.

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Rochester team casts light on a hidden problem in domestic violence cases

January 18, 2018

Researchers at the University's Susan B. Anthony Center and the Institute of Optics have received a $200,000 grant from the School of Medicine and Dentistry's Scientific Advisory Committee's (SAC) Incubator for pilot programs. The two-year, community-based study brings together experts across a variety of fields.

Primary investigator Catherine Cerulli, a professor of psychiatry and director of the University's Susan B. Anthony Center (SBAC), and the Laboratory of Interpersonal Violence and Victimization, heads up the team. Co-primary investigator is Andrew Berger, an associate professor of optics and biomedical engineering. They are joined by co-investigators John Cullen, assistant director of the SBAC, and director of diversity and inclusion for the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at the Medical Center, and James Zavislan, associate dean for education and new initiatives at the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and associate professor of optics, biomedical engineering, and ophthalmology. Together they are working to take skin color out of the equation when it comes to processing these interpersonal domestic violence cases.

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The Art of Science: Grad Student Finds Inspiration in Images of the Brain

January 16, 2018

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.

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