Into Sight, Into Mind With These Cutting-Edge Tools

With state-of-the-art facilities at their disposal, the VISTA program is collaborating and innovating to help improve the lives of Canadians.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

York University is home to the Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) program, providing the space and connections needed for interdisciplinary research that spans everything from visual neuroscience to computer vision.

Through strategic collaborations across labs and with industry, VISTA researchers build knowledge and real-world technologies that improve health, safety, and productivity.

“One of the reasons that we can do such advanced research here at York University is the incredible facilities that we’ve built up for vision research,” says neuroscientist Doug Crawford, Scientific Director at VISTA.

Those facilities include cutting-edge tools that help researchers take their research to the next level.

“Within VISTA we have access to a range of technologies to support both science and engineering,” adds human/computer vision scientist James Elder.

“We have, for example, state-of-the-art behavioural science facilities, including eye tracking and very special display systems. On the computational side we have access to the shop facilities and the expertise to build very specialized camera systems and computational systems for our applications.”

Advanced medical imaging facilities are also available, providing high-resolution insight into the biology of visual perception. Having everything under one roof makes it easy to use multiple tools together.

“We are really fortunate here, in that we have a 3T-MRI system in the very building that I have my own laboratory,” says neuroscientist Jennifer Steeves.

“That actually has allowed us to do some really novel brain stimulation because we can take my entire brain stimulation suite over to the MRI and look at real-time effects of brain stimulation.”

The team also has access to virtual reality equipment that helps them present visual stimuli in an immersive way. These projects may ultimately find their way in hospital or training settings, providing new technologies to areas like diagnostics, rehabilitation, or education.

“Of course, our focus is on vision, but vision doesn’t work alone,” explains Crawford.

“It works with other senses, like the sense of balance, hearing and so on, and one of the places that that becomes disrupted is in space, where the gravity is no longer the same. So the experiments that we design here at VISTA, we can repeat in space and use those to test why it is that astronauts become disoriented, dizzy, and in some cases even sick.”

Understanding these many layers and complexities is challenging, but the goal of improving Canadian lives keeps researchers at VISTA motivated.

“One thing that’s important to us, we’re receiving funds from the Canadian taxpayer,” adds Crawford. “It’s our responsibility to bring our research back to benefit those taxpayers, make sure that we improve the quality of their life.”

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