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June 12
2000

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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Bavelier named John Merck Scholar

A Rochester neuroscientist who studies brain plasticity--the remarkable ability of the brain to adapt and shape itself according to circumstances--has been named a John Merck Scholar.

Daphne Bavelier, assistant professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Department of Radiology, will receive $240,000 to support her research during the next four years. She is one of four winners of the award nationwide.

Bavelier compares the sensory abilities of people who have been deaf their whole lives to those of their hearing counterparts. She is discovering that adults who grew up deaf actually process visual information better than their hearing counterparts. The brain has adapted, somehow reorganizing itself to devote those nerve cells normally reserved for hearing to other functions like vision. Although by adulthood deaf individuals outperform their hearing counterparts on a number of visual functions, deaf youngsters do seem to have more visual problems than hearing youngsters do. How and why the situation seems to reverse itself by adulthood is one of the research questions that the John Merck funds will allow Bavelier to investigate.

"If a certain region of the brain won't be used for what it is normally, then it is possible for the brain to reassign that function," she said. "This is especially true in children, where the brain is still organizing itself, and where cross-talk between brain areas is common. While our brains can adapt throughout life, the changes you see during childhood are more widespread and dramatic."

A native of Paris, Bavelier joined Rochester last year. In addition to her appointment in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, she also is part of the University's Center for Visual Science, a group of more than two dozen scientists who comprise the leading vision research group in the nation.



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