Travel Grant: Maartje C. de Jong (Nashville)

Lab Visit to Vanderbilt Vision Research Center

With support of the Dutch Society for Biophysics & Biomedical Technology (VvB-BMT) I visited the lab of Randolph Blake in Nashville, Tennessee. Randolph Blake has published many influential investigations into the way the visual system handles the perceptual conflict that is raised by ambiguous visual input. His research has led to important insights in the transformation of the physical input into the visual system (light) to the subjective experience we consciously perceive (visual awareness). The goal of my visit to his lab was to work on an electro-encephalography (EEG) study into the neural correlate of perceptual memory, specifically memory for ambiguous images. I had already done all the measurement in Utrecht, so the focus of the visit was on data analysis and discussing the implications of the findings.

During my week at Vanderbilt I spend most time with Randolph’s postdoc Jan Brascamp. Together Jan and I went through the EEG data in detail. Because we were most interested in gradual changes in the EEG signal over time we decided that the conventional EEG data analysis methods that average large chunks of data were not sufficient. We designed an alternative analysis method that focuses on long-term trends in the data. Also we worked on a mathematical model that could describe the data, in order to get more insight into the underlying mechanisms. Jan was of great help in this process. His background knowledge and creative thinking were essential. If I should not have had to opportunity to work with him in Nashville I would have lost a lot of time in trying to figure things out on my own. Also, I would have missed the in-depth discussions that gave me a much clearer view of my data. Because Jan has published several articles on exactly the same topic he could easily pinpoint the most valuable aspects of the data and the potential pitfalls as well.

During my visit I interacted with all the people in Randolph’s lab, but also Frank Tong’s lab, which is in the same building. I attended the lab meetings of both these labs and I gave a talk where both labs were invited. Interacting with all these researchers I learned a lot about other approaches to the same research questions, which I found very interesting. Also, it showed me related research that could be complementary to my own work or that opened my eyes for research approaches that I had not discovered yet. With Randolph Blake I had several inspiring conversations, for example about the long history of research into ambiguous perception in which he basically explained to me how the field ended up where it is now. But also about my own data and what these data will contribute to the field. These discussions will help me a lot when I start writing the manuscript. I now have a better understanding of how my own data can be placed in the broader perceptive of the field of ambiguous vision in general.