Andy Smith
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Andy Smith

Research Professor of Visual Neuroscience

Director of MRI (Royal Holloway)


Andy Smith has 30 years of experience in vision research and related topics. He has published over 80 papers in peer-reviewed journals (including Nature, Current Biology, Journal of Neuroscience) and his work has attracted over 2000 citations. The bulk of his early career was devoted to visual psychophysics. His main contribution during this period concerned the mechanisms employed by the human brain for detecting motion within the retinal image. Two themes emerge from this work. The first (earlier) theme concerns the speed of motion, which was largely neglected in early (1980s) computational models of motion detection that focussed on direction of motion. He conducted numerous experiments on speed perception culminating in a highly-cited model of the extraction of speed using two temporal channels (Vision Research 1994, 34, 267-277). The second theme concerns second-order motion. This refers to motion defined in terms of temporal changes not in luminance but in domains derived from luminance, such as contrast and texture. His work contributed to a now-large body of evidence for separate detection mechanisms for the two types of motion and is typified by his work with Ledgeway (Vision Res. 1997, 37, 45-62; Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 1998, 265, 1573-1581). This period was also productive in terms of training the next generation. Three of his early PhD students are now well-known vision researchers in their own right: Ledgeway,  Hammett  and Bex. In 1994, Smith published, with co-author Snowden, an edited volume entitled "Visual Detection of Motion" that was widely used by researchers. 

In recent years, Smith has switched his attention to fMRI research.  His recent MRI work has encompassed several projects with different collaborators, but a central focus remains detection of image motion. He has conducted several studies aimed at establishing the sensitivity of the "motion area" MT/V5 and its subdivisions to optic flow components and his group has recently provided the first direct evidence that human MST contains neural sub- populations tuned to different optic flow components. Of particular relevance to this proposal is his recent discovery of two visual areas which, unlike MST, respond to optic flow only if it is compatible with egomotion (Current Biology 2008, 18, 191-194). Another stream of his work involves sub-cortical brain regions. He is currently researching the superior colliculus with fMRI, and he recently completed a project, funded by BBSRC, concerning visual responses in the pulvinar, an under-researched sub-cortical structure that appears to link many different regions of the cortex. This work produced the first evidence of a map of visual space in the human pulvinar. Smith has also contributed to fMRI methodology, developing a method for estimating receptive field sizes in human cortex (Cerebral Cortex 2001, 11, 1182-1190) that has been taken up and refined by others, and documenting statistical effects of low-frequency noise in fMRI data (NeuroImage 2007, 36, 282-288). 

Smith has also been involved in collaboration with industry: for example an fMRI project funded by BAE Systems was carried out (2002-2005) to investigate aspects of the control of attention, an area of relevance to pilots, air traffic controllers and other users of computer monitoring systems. His key medium-term objective is to extend beyond area MST our knowledge of the processing of optic flow and self-motion. 

Royal Holloway provides excellent research facilities. Its research-dedicated MRI scanner is equipped with a variety of ancillary systems to facilitate high-quality sensory research. Unlike some MRI units, scanner time is usually available at short notice, allowing a flexible, lab-based approach to fMRI. There is excellent IT support and a very strong brain and behaviour research group, together conducting a large and eclectic mix of projects.


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