For a long time, blindness was considered a permanent and irreversible condition. But according to two IUP students and their faculty mentor, those days might be numbered.
Sophia Berg and Victoria Jakicic presented research on prosthetic vision April 3 at the 13th annual Undergraduate Scholars Forum at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. It's a subject in which scientists, doctors, mathematicians, psychologists, and other researchers around the globe are working on to try to give people who suffer from blindness some amount of vision.
“There are an estimated 40 million blind people," Berg said, “so the demand for prosthetic vision is high."
Under the mentorship of Psychology Department faculty member Dr. Raymond Pavloski, Berg and Jakicic each gave 15-minute presentations at the event, which gives IUP undergraduate students the opportunity to show off their research on a wide variety of academic topics.
Berg, a psychology major, titled her presentation “Does Unifying Phosphenes that Represent the Features on an Object Improve Simulated Prosthetic Vision?" It dealt with the scientific experimenting that has been going on to improve the way phosphenes — a ring or spot of light produced by pressure on the eyeball or direct stimulation of the visual system other than by light — can be used along with a chip implanted in the brain of a blind person to give them some amount of vision.
Berg presented data from a study that showed in a recorded test that unified phosphenes were more easily detected than ones left singular. It answered Berg's initial question.
“It shows, and we agree, that prosthetic vision would be improved by unifying the phosphenes," she said.
Jakicic's presentation was called “A Theoretical Foundation for the Application of Basic Research in Perception to Prosthetic Vision," and it dealt with a mathematical formula that could help researchers deal with another aspect of the potential cure for blindness.
“The main thing is to try to bridge the gap," Jakicic said. “This gap is the hard problem. It's not only a practical issue but a scientific issue."
Using an algebraic formula, Jakicic, a double major in psychology and mathematics, has spent this semester working with Pavloski to create a model that could show some ways to unify phosphenes.
“We don't know why phosphenes exist," Jakicic said, “and we don't know yet how to unify them, this is the question to be answered."
Jakicic conceded that the road to curing blindness is a long one, but finding the best way to unify phosphenes is taking things in the right direction.
“Individuals with the implant still have to learn how to identify objects," she said, “but unifying the phosphenes would make the learning curve go quicker."