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Science & Technology

Vision expert David Williams receives Beckman-Argyros Award

$500,000 prize for his transformative breakthrough in vision research

David Williams, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on human vision, has been named the 2015 recipient of the Beckman-Argyros Award in Vision Research. 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, and Engineering at the University of Rochester.

The award, bestowed by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, rewards an individual who has made transformative breakthroughs in vision research. Williams will receive a total of $500,000, along with a solid gold commemorative medallion.

“It’s an incredible honor for me to receive this award from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation,” said Williams. He added that one aspect that made this award particularly special is that “it allows our group to take risks.”

“These days research funding is more and more difficult to obtain and funding agencies are becoming more risk averse,” Williams explained. “It is this kind of risk-taking that Arnold O. Beckman was famous for and which we hope to emulate in our work going forward.”

In 2015, Williams has also been awarded the Sigma Xi Procter Prize and a $100,000 Alcon Research Institute Award for his research in vision science.

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.

“As an assistant professor just starting out at the University, I never imagined that my work and my interest in how people see from a very basic science, fundamental point of view would ever have implications for treating eye disease,” said Williams. “And that’s been a very rewarding aspect for all of us working in the laboratory: to realize what an opportunity we have to use this technology to make important inroads in healthcare..”

Williams also stressed how, although prizes often only distinguish the team leader, this award also recognizes the work of his “wonderful students, postdocs and colleagues at the University of Rochester.”

He will receive the 2015 William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement at a ceremony in October. The Procter Prize is awarded by the scientific research society Sigma Xi each year since 1950. It honors an individual 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, Rita Colwell and many others.

Williams 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.

The Beckman-Argyros Award in Vision Research is an annual award established in 2013 to honor and celebrate the friendship between Dr. Arnold O. Beckman and Ambassador George L. Argyros, who was also Chairman of the Board of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation for 22 years.

Additional Beckman-Argyros Award information may be found at

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