Seeing is Believing – (un)believable eye facts

By Miro Cafolla, Postgraduate and International Tutor on a night of science in St John’s on Monday 26 November 2018

For the very first event of the 2018/19 Café Scientifique series, Professor Roy Quinlan (Department of Biosciences) delivered a fascinating talk on the biological mechanisms behind visual perception.

Professor Quinlan started his talk by highlighting that vision is arguably the most important of our five senses and our world and its activities rely heavily on visual methods for communication. The eye is, indeed, said to be the window to our soul.

Given this, how do we “see”?

The answer is through a combination of the mechanical components of the eye, such as the lens and retina, and the brain which processes the information that the eye receives. In many cases, the brain has the largest influence on our vision, since everyone sees in a different way. This is also why we should be careful when listening to the reports of eyewitnesses.

A fragment of the lens membrane imaged with Atomic Force Microscopy. The white scale bar is 10 nm.

The lens of the eye still plays a major role as it focuses the image on the retina – the light sensitive part of the eye. Professor Quinlan explored, then, how an eye lens is made in different biological organisms and how it manages to grow old gracefully, but retain its image-focusing capability.

The talk was a stimulating opportunity, helping the audience “see” the eye for what it is – an elegant, effective tissue – whilst at the same time highlighting areas that challenge our scientific understanding.

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