Vision science program lures top science students to York University

Twenty-five students from Canada and around the world will attend a week-long vision science program at York University designed, in part, to recruit top graduate students to York’s Centre for Vision Research (CVR).

"We are interested in promoting the Centre for Vision Research to these high-calibre students who may be potential graduate school applicants in the following year," said York psychology Professor Jennifer Steeves, who organized the summer school with her colleague Richard Murray, also a professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health.

Third-year undergraduate students from universities across Canada, Scotland, Germany, France and the US, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Cornell University, will attend the all-expenses-paid summer school. They were chosen from more than 100 competitive applicants based on reference letters, transcripts and a written statement of interest.

Above: Students look through red-green glasses to see 3D images during a talk that was a part of last year’s Vision Science Summer School at York

"The quality is really high this year. We have students from MIT and other Ivy League schools and it’s really exciting the word has gotten out," said Steeves.  

"The students are coming here based on their own initiative and their interest in vision research, so they are extremely motivated," said Professor Laurence Harris, chair of the Department of Psychology in York’s Faculty of Health. "It’s a great chance to show them what the centre has to offer aspiring graduate students."

The program curriculum reflects on-going research projects at the centre, including studies on vision in humans, animals, and machines, as well as applied topics such as virtual reality, visual perception in low-gravity environments and clinical aspects of vision.

"We wanted to find students that would fit the whole span of disciplines we have at the Centre for Vision Research, from computer science to psychology, to kinesiology and more," added Steeves.

Students will be hands-on participants in CVR laboratories, studying a wide range of subjects, including the components of vision that determine our perception of orientation; how we reach out for things; how we see in three dimensions; and how we perceive faces, said Harris.

"Your perception of orientation depends on different senses, primarily vision, but also the sense of gravity through the inner ear and physical placement of your body," Harris said. "We’re interested in how those perceptual cues combine together to give you a sense of orientation. The Canadian Space Agency is very interested in our research concerning what happens when you take gravity away, for example."

Many of the sessions will highlight research and technology that most undergraduate science students will not have been exposed to before, Harris said.

One such piece of equipment is York’s Tumbling Room. The Tumbling Room lab is an 8-foot cube resembling a typical room except that it can be rotated around a stationary subject or a subject can be rotated within the stationary room. By manipulating various visual and gravitational cues, students will be able to quantify subjects’ perceptions of their own orientation.

Left: The sideways room separates sensory cues so researchers can study how each contributes to perception. Photo by Professor Laurence Harris.

In the virtual reality lab, students will use the Immersive Visual Environment at York (IVY) to simulate landscapes, such as the Martian environment, and orient objects and the structure of the visual world in ways that are unfamiliar or impossible in the real world.

The Vision Science Summer School, in its second year, is already a success for the CVR. Seven new students chose York for graduate studies based on their experiences at last year’s event.

The Vision Science Summer School is funded by a training grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, several Vice Presidents’ offices at York University and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

The summer school begins today and runs until Friday, June 6 on York’s Keele campus at the Computer Science & Engineering Building, on York’s Keele campus.