Colloquium Cognitive Systems

From application to research and back -  Application-inspired research in ZEISS Vision Science Lab

Dr. Katharina Rifai (Zeiss Vision Science lab - Aalen Institute for Ophthalmic Research, Tuebingen)


Abstract. The visual system is highly specialized to the environment it developed in. It is an active system, selectively assessing and processing information. Therefore, more and more of recent research focuses on the evaluation of vision in its actual surrounding, complementing existing psychophysical research in minimalistic visual environments. But, nowadays the human visual system does not only operate in conditions we would consider as “natural”. Instead, novel presentation technologies and optical devices alter visual input in various ways, and thereby challenge the visual system. Evaluating behavior of the challenged visual system in artificial surroundings brings two kinds of insights. On the one hand, it provides a model system opening up new perspectives onto the visual system’s properties. Susceptibilities and robustnesses against altered visual input reveal information on structure and function. Secondly, it provides precious information for the implementation of optical technologies optimized for the human agent. Two example applications will be presented, in which vision is exposed to an altered environment: progressive additional lenses, and a digital surgical microscope. In the first example, in which distortions and blur in the periphery challenge the visual system, plasticity to optical distortion reveals higher level processing of image properties. The second example provides insight into the contribution of the moving eye to 3D depth perception. Implications for product development will be discussed.  

Bio. Dr. Katharina Rifai is Team Leader of Visual Neuroscience at ZEISS Vision Science Lab, Ophthalmic Research Institute of the Medical Faculty in Tübingen. The goal of her research is to gain an understanding of the determining factors in visual processing, specifically the role of plasticity in the visual system as well as dynamic vision with the aim of enhancing vision in healthy and diseased individuals.
She did her PhD on the Specialization and Stabilization in Oculomotor Learning at the University of Münster. After a postdoc at Boston University she joined Zeiss in 2012 as a vision research scientist.