Dr Michael Proulx joins Psychology to continue research into senses

Dr Michael Proulx has joined the University's Department of Psychology where he will be continuing research that aims to help blind people to 'see' through their other senses.

Dr Proulx, who is originally from Arizona, came to Bath from Queen Mary, University of London where he was based in the School of Biological & Chemical Sciences. He completed his MA and PhD degrees at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and postdoctoral research in Germany.

It was while studying for his undergraduate degree in psychology in Arizona that Dr Proulx developed his interest in cognition.

He went on to study visual perception and attention in more detail as part of his PhD in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins.

He then expanded his expertise to the other senses in Dusseldorf, Germany by working with blind people to understand more about how the messages we receive through sight can be translated by technology through other senses such as touch and hearing. His work was recently honoured by his selection as a torchbearer for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Much of his research stems from the use of the vOICe, a 'sensory-substitution' device used to convert visual information to sound.

The vOICe, invented by Dutch engineer Dr Peter Meijer, converts the pixels of an image taken on a webcam or smart phone into auditory signals which are sent to another part of the brain allowing the user to create an image in their mind. The award-winning device significantly improves quality of life for blind people by allowing them to 'see with their ears'.

Dr Proulx’s work shows how the 'visual' parts of the brain process information, even when nothing ‘visual’ can be seen. He said: "We use our eyes to see but it's the brain that translates the information to make an image. My research looks at how we can use that same information and translate it into an image in the brain through a different sense."

As well as teaching within the Department of Psychology, Dr Proulx will also be working with computer scientists at Queen Mary and Goldsmiths University on the next stage of his research.

The EPSRC-funded project aims to develop new software to support people who are visually impaired in leisure activities and in the workplace so they are less limited by the places they can work.

He said: "I am looking at the psychological side of the project and will be running tests to see how the software works on users and to find out how best we can represent information, for example, if there are certain sounds that best correspond with spatial information."

Dr Proulx lives in Bath with his wife and two children. He said: "I was attracted to Bath because of the links between psychology, computer science and engineering. It offers me a unique opportunity to be in an institution that values pure science and also real world impact. Bath is the perfect place for me to develop and take my research to the next level."

Listen to a podcast on Nature about Dr Proulx's research

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