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NASA scientist to discuss the limitations of human vision

Dr Andrew Watson, Senior Scientist for Vision Research at NASA

Press release issued: 4 November 2014

How do people view the visual world, what are the limitations of human vision and what are the implications of these for technology development? These questions will be explored by NASA’s Senior Scientist for Vision Research at a free University of Bristol public lecture next week.

Dr Andrew Watson, from the NASA Ames Research Center, will give this year’s annual Richard Gregory Memorial Lecture, held in memory of the great interdisciplinary thinker and University of Bristol academic, Professor Richard Gregory.  The lecture, entitled The windows of visibility: limits to human vision and their application to visual technology, will take place on Monday 10 November at 6 pm in Lecture Room 1, School of Chemistry, Cantock’s Close, Bristol.  The event is organised by the Bristol Vision Institute (BVI).

Dr Watson has been a pioneer in vision science, enhancing our understanding of how we perceive the world and he has applied this to film and television formats as well as to space exploration. His talk will focus on this work, taking the audience on a journey around our vision system and explaining how, through this greater understanding, we can engineer better solutions to vision-related problems.  He will explain how, remarkably, understanding these limitations is key to designing better visual display technology and he will demonstrate this idea with examples from video compression, display inspection and high frame-rate movies.

Dr Watson is the author of over 100 scientific papers on human vision, visual neuroscience, image quality, digital imaging and display technology. He has five patents in image compression, video quality, and detection of artefacts in display manufacturing.

Dr Watson said: “We do not see the world as it is but only as fragments provided by our sensory apparatus. During my talk I will explore the many narrow “Windows of Visibility” through which we view the visual world.  Through these limitations, the eye reduces the infinitely complex whirring, buzzing confusion of reality to a finite sample of information that our brain can manage.”

Professor David Bull, Director of BVI and Professor of Signal Processing in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, added: “Many technology developments in the modern world are driven by visual interactions and consumption. In order to produce the most efficient designs we must better understand the perceptual processes that underpin them.   Andrew’s work has led the way in this field.”

Dr Watson will join an exciting list of speakers to have delivered this prestigious lecture in previous years, including Vilayanur Ramachandran, from the University of California – one of the world’s leading visual neuroscientists; David Sproxton, co-founder and Executive Chairman of Aardman Animations and the BBC Controller of Research and Development, Matthew Postgate.

Admission is free but advance booking is essential at Eventbrite.  For further information about the lecture contact Jen Hawkins at or tel 0117 331 5759.

Further information

The 2014 Richard Gregory Memorial Lecture entitled The windows of visibility: limits to human vision and their application to visual technology by Dr Andrew Watson, Senior Scientist for Vision Research at NASA, will take place on Monday 10 November 2014 at 6 pm at the University of Bristol, Lecture Theatre 1, School of Chemistry, Cantock’s Close, Bristol BS8 1TS.

About Bristol Vision Institute (BVI)

The University of Bristol is a world leader in vision science. Bristol has a long and rich tradition at the forefront of the study of human and animal vision, artificial vision systems and imaging more generally.

The University has identified vision science as one of its core “research themes” and underlined this with the creation, in 2007, of the Bristol Vision Institute (BVI). BVI currently functions as a virtual research institute and has been highly successful in stimulating research interaction and collaboration.  It is built on the belief that interdisciplinary research is central to the future development of the field. BVI brings together engineers and scientists from a range of academic disciplines (from 14 departments) including electrical and electronic engineering, computer science, biological sciences, experimental psychology, mathematics, biochemistry, anatomy, together with local partners such as the Bristol Eye Hospital, the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and UWE’s Machine Vision Group. It has a high international profile with collaborations across the world.

BVI currently represents a grouping of around 36 permanent academic staff and some 70 researchers at Bristol working on vision and imaging research and its engineering applications.

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