David R. Williams, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on human vision, has been named the recipient of Sigma Xi’s 2015 William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement. The prize is given annually since 1950 in recognition of “outstanding achievement in scientific research and demonstrated ability to communicate the significance of this work to scientists in other disciplines.” Past Procter Prize recipients have included Jane Goodall, Vannevar Bush, Margaret Mead, Murray Gell-Mann, and Rita Colwell.
He will be presented the Procter Prize at an evening ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 24 in Kansas City, during the scientific research society Sigma Xi’s annual meeting.
Williams pioneered the use of adaptive optics technologies for vision applications. He serves as the William G. Allyn Professor of Medical Optics, director of the Center for Visual Science, and dean for research in Arts, Science & Engineering at the University of Rochester.
Adaptive optics was first developed by astronomers so that telescopes could see more clearly through the Earth’s atmosphere. The technologies that Williams and his group developed apply these techniques to the eye and make it possible to image individual retinal cells – including down to individual cone photoreceptors in the living human retina – by looking through the pupil. The techniques Williams’ group developed can not only modify the light leaving the eye to obtain better pictures of the retina, they can also modify the light going into the eye to produce better vision. This can improve vision in patients with contact lenses, intraocular lenses, and laser refractive surgery. For example, the methods Williams’ group developed are used in many of the LASIK procedures conducted worldwide today.
The Procter prize consists of a bronze statue, commemorative certificate, and a $5,000 award for Williams. The recipient is also asked to select a younger scientist, someone usually in the same field, to receive a $5,000 “grant-in-aid of research.” Williams chose Sarah Walters, a Ph.D. student in the Institute of Optics and Center for Visual Science at the University of Rochester, to receive this award. Williams pointed out that the award also recognizes the work of his students, postdocs and colleagues.
In 2015, Williams was also awarded the Beckman-Argyros Award in Vision Research and a $100,000 Alcon Research Institute Award for his research in vision science. He is also the recipient of the Tillyer Medal from the Optical Society of America, the Bressler Prize from the Jewish Guild for the Blind, the Friedenwald Award from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, and the António Champalimaud Vision Award.
He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2014 and is a fellow of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the Optical Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is the author of more than 100 papers and patents.
In 2003, his adaptive optics ‘phoropter,’ which allows for more precise corrective lens prescriptions, was named one of R&D Magazine’s top 100 inventions of the year. He joined the University in 1981 after earning a doctorate in psychology in 1979 from the University of California at San Diego.
Q&A with David Williams in Sigma Xi Today.