Kinesiology professor wins Polanyi Prize for sensorimotor research

Denise Henriques, a professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Sciences, is a recipient of a 2006 Polayni Prize, awarded by the government of Ontario to recognize the province’s brightest young researchers. Henriques, one of four recipients honoured at a ceremony held in Toronto yesterday, was awarded the prize for physiology/medicine.

Denise Henriques“In celebrating the research excellence of one of Canada’s most distinguished scientists, we are also recognizing the achievements of four of our brightest young researchers who are helping to create a culture of innovation in Ontario,” said Chris Bentley, minister of training, colleges and universities. “Investing in research today not only encourages the best and brightest to stay here in Ontario, but also strengthens our province’s economic advantage.”

Right: Denise Henriques

Each year, up to five Polanyi Prizes are awarded to outstanding researchers in the early stages of their career who are planning to continue post-doctoral studies at an Ontario university. The prizes have a value of $15,000 each and are awarded in the fields of chemistry, literature, physics, physiology or medicine, and economics.

Henriques studies the brain and how it performs one of its main jobs: using sensory information to control the body’s physical action. Her team at York’s Centre for Vision Research looks at coordination and how multiple senses, including vision, touch and body-position sense, cooperate to steer multiple body parts. They also study how information can be represented in various ways – such as locating an object relative to the eyes, head or trunk – and how a well-chosen representation can simplify certain brain computations. The research also involves a look at how the brain learns to adapt when we grow, age or are injured.

In the lab, Henriques’ research team simulates sensorimotor systems on computers to identify issues and to reveal the implications of different theories. They then test competing theories using neuroimaging and behavioural experiments: presenting human subjects with multisensory stimuli and recording their responses – eye, head and limb movements – at high-resolution in 3D.

Henriques received her PhD in psychology from York in 2002 after receiving an LLB from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 2001. She did post-doctoral work at both the University of Western Ontario and the University of Minnesota before joining York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering last year.