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Baby Vision Research

by Laser Mom

Written by Laser Mom
This post originally appeared on the Laser Mom Blog and is reproduced with permission from the author.

I am planning on attending Frontiers In Optics this October. Although I am taking some time off from research and teaching to be with daughter, I would like to keep up with current research for when I go back to work in optics. This conference seems like a perfect opportunity to do so

The conference is not for several more months, but they have already started posting information about speakers and special events online. One of the things I think is great about a big conference like this is that I get a chance to learn about a number of interesting topics that are not related to my own research (as well as many that are).

I was looking through the conference program and saw that there is a special symposium on Understanding the Developing and Aging Visual Systems. My own research is very different and I do not know that much about the eye, but I noticed that there are a couple of talks on infant eyes and vision. Ever since my daughter was born, I have been interested in the physics (and optics) of babies, so I immediately looked up some of the speakers.

Richard Aslin, from the University of Rochester, and Rowan Candy from Indian University both had the word infant in the titles of their talks, so I checked out their research web pages. I found out a lot about infant vision and some really fun links.

A few months ago, I wrote about what I can see in my daughter’s eyes. This Tiny Eyes website helps me to better understand what my daughter is seeing with those beautiful, inquisitive eyes. This site is so much fun – anyone with any interest in babies should go there to play. It let me upload a picture of one of my daughter’s toys (I chose her truncated icosahedron of course) and then showed me what this toy would probably look like to my daughter at different ages and different distances from her eye.

To give you an idea of how her vision develops over time, I looked at images of this toy held two feet away from her eyes, at different ages:

Photo: Comparison of what a baby sees at birth, 4 weeks, 8 weeks, etc.

You can see how her vision progresses from seeing just a fuzzy blob when she is first born (upper left) to starting to see details around 8 weeks (upper right) to being able to see the toy more like I see it now that she is 10 months old. My daughter became much more interactive and interested in her toys (and less fussy) around 3 months. Maybe this is because she was starting to really see things? Now she likes to roll (bounce, throw, etc.) the ball back and forth.

The research on infant vision is really amazing. Rowan Candy’s group looks at eye movements and the electrical activity in the brain in infants to study the difference between normal and abnormal eye development. Eye tracking and brain imaging using near infrared light help Richard Aslin’s group learn how infants use visual cues in their learning and development.

For those of you less interested in infants, there are many other talks on the imaging and research into eyes and vision (including a plenary talk by Richard Williams on “Imaging Single Cells in the Living Retina”). I have plenty of eye issues myself, being pretty severely near sighted and having two eyes that do not work together, so I find this area of research really fascinating for personal reasons as well as being amazed at the cool optics involved. Sadly, my daughter will likely inherit my (and her father’s) terrible eyes.

Eyes and vision are certainly not my main area of research, and likely never will be, but my main focus has always been teaching and my students love to hear about how optics is related to the human eye. These types of topics get them really excited and motivate them to want to learn more.

Posted: 25 Jun 2012 by Laser Mom