David Williams, a vision researcher at the University of Rochester, has been awarded the Edgar D. Tillyer Award, presented by the Optical Society of America to scientists whose work has greatly advanced our understanding of human vision. Williams' research has allowed scientists to see inside the human eye more clearly than ever before and could someday help physicians to better diagnose and treat eye diseases such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, two leading causes of blindness.
Williams, the University's William G. Allyn Professor of Medical Optics and a faculty member since 1981, is at age 44 the youngest of the 26 researchers who have received the Tillyer Award since its establishment in 1953. He will accept the award at OSA's annual meeting in Baltimore this October.
Williams studies how the human eye gathers light and sends impulses to the brain, and how the brain interprets those impulses so we can see. Specifically, he examines the retina, the screen inside the eye that converts light into electrical impulses. Williams and his team have achieved the sharpest photographs yet of the living human retina, enabling the first views of live cone cells -- the photoreceptors that sense color and allow us to see in bright light. The group also took the first measurements of the spacing and diameter of cones and rods in the living human eye, and produced the first color images to distinguish the three types of cones.
Williams, a faculty member in the departments of brain and cognitive sciences, optics, and ophthalmology, directs the University's Center for Visual Science, one of the world's top centers for the study of vision. He also teaches courses on sensation and perception, including one where students study the visual systems of various animals.