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In honor of our centennial anniversary, we are featuring members of our optometry community — past and present — each day of 2023!

See below for this week’s profiles.

This Week, We Are Celebrating…

August 14th

Zhihang Peter Ren, MS

Peter is a vision science student from Chengdu, China, home of the Giant Pandas! Previously, he was a Master student in Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC San Diego, where he worked in Statistical Visual Computing Lab advised by professor Nuno Vasconcelos and co-advised by professor Bhaskar D. Rao. Before that, he was a Bachelor student at UESTC, where he worked with professor Shuaicheng Liu. He is very obsessed with the human vision system, especially how human eyes process complex information with tiny energy consumption. Understanding the human visual system provides us potential pathways to explore the richness of our world efficiently.

Here, with the Vision Science program at Berkeley, he will dive into its multidisciplinary academic environment to reveal the mystery of the human visual system. His research focus is on computational vision and machine learning. Within such a wide range of disciplines provided by the vision science program, he will focus his efforts into understanding the human vision system. With his computer vision background, his ultimate goal is to understand the human visual system and apply the knowledge to the computer vision system. Hopefully, this may solve certain challenges in the computer vision community and bridge both areas. Coming from Chengdu where sunny days are precious, he appreciates every moment in the California sunshine. He loves traveling, photography, and anything which could drag him outdoors. In particular, he likes star and wildlife photography. When forced indoors, he follows a number of sci-fi and fantasy genre movies and television shows. He also loves cooking, and sharing spicy and hot Sichuan food with his friends.

August 15th

Theodore E. Cohn, PhD

Theodore E. Cohn (1941–2006) was born in Highland Park, Illinois, the grandson of Lithuanian immigrants. He received a BS in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and three degrees from the University of Michigan: MS in bioengineering (1965), MA in mathematics (1966), and PhD in bioengineering (1969). In 1970 he was appointed an assistant professor of physiological optics at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Optometry. In his 36 years on the Berkeley faculty, Professor Cohn’s research ranged from studying how people pick signals out of cluttered backgrounds, to elucidating neural responses of visual input, to applying that knowledge to the design of improved traffic safety devices. His work overall was united by the common theme of visual detection.

Professor Cohn was a leading researcher in signal detection theory and its real-world applications. He was intrigued by the brain’s ability to detect weak signals from noisy environments, and he was among the first to apply the principle of signal detection to physiological systems. Signal detection theory derived in large part from attempts to determine how radar operators were able to detect signals from incoming aircraft while filtering out background noise on their screens. Researchers wanted to understand how humans could make decisions when uncertainty was present. Cohn succeeded in quantifying these observations, showing that information transmission and its reliability depended not only on the strength of the electrical response but also on the reproducibility of the response.

During the last fifteen years of his life, Professor Cohn found practical applications for his signal detection theory, focusing on such issues as transportation accidents and their prevention. In the late 1990s, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) enlisted Cohn to test the effectiveness of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in traffic lights. When his research group demonstrated, through large-field flicker photography, that LEDs were as effective as incandescent lamps, Caltrans converted traffic lights to LED signals throughout the state, with significant energy savings. Shortly before his death, Cohn had begun to examine the sensory causes for collisions at railroad crossings. He had three projects underway: exploring new means of signaling motorists, studying motorist violations of crossing signals, and investigating underlying sensory errors that led motorists to underestimate train speed.

Other inventions from his laboratory included a cone-shaped emergency warning light for highway work vehicles and a light bar that indicated when a vehicle is braking, both designed to take maximum advantage of the eye’s sensitivity to motion. Before he died, Professor Cohn was investigating methods of making railroad crossings safer.

From the beginning of his career, Ted Cohn stood out at Berkeley. Like his peers, he was talented and intensely focused. Yet he did not pursue his research to the exclusion of all else. Ted was first and foremost a good citizen, contributing to the greater cause. An outstanding educator and mentor, in 1998 he was appointed vice chair in the newly established Department of Bioengineering, while continuing as a professor in the School of Optometry. The bioengineering graduate program grew and flourished during his tenure, and his leadership and advocacy were essential to the program’s success.

As an educator Professor Cohn accomplished far more than simply teaching standard courses in vision science. His philosophy involved getting everyone involved in the process. He initiated a peer-mentoring scheme in which graduate students mentored undergraduates in bioengineering. He introduced a much-appreciated course on how to teach and be successful at it. One of his former students recalled, “Dr. Cohn brought life to the world of visual perception for me. He was also someone who lifted you up to see yourself in a magnificent way. He was a great teacher and person.” The Ted Cohn Mentorship Fund for Undergraduate Research was established in his honor. Dr. Cohn died in 2006.

August 16th

Sherrell Gordon

Sherrell Gordon is the Director of Facilities Operation and Research Support for the School of Optometry & Vision Science. Sherrell is an experienced Project Manager who has managed hundreds of projects at the School, and at the Haas Business School, where she worked before joining Optometry. Having completed a Facility Management Certificate at UC Berkeley, Sherrell has executed capital improvement, renovation, green certification, and maintenance projects. In addition to her director role, Sherrell has served on multiple campus committees including Co-Chair of the Safety Committee which crafts safety guidelines and leads training, the Green Team as a member working to identify sustainability opportunities for the Haas community, and appointed member of the Summerfest Committee which plans and hosts an annual campus-wide event designed to celebrate staff. Sherrell is passionate about bringing the best safety and sustainability practices to the campus community.

August 17th

Bruno A. Olshausen, PhD

Dr. Olshausen is a Professor of Vision Science, Optometry and Neuroscience. On his career he writes, “I started out as an engineer wanting to build robots inspired by how brains work, and I ended up as a neuroscientist attempting to understand how nervous systems process information, inspired and guided by engineering principles. I first learned about neural networks as a student at Stanford, through Bernie Widrow’s course on Adaptive Filters and Misha Pavel and Ilan Vardi’s Connectionist Models seminar (1986/87). I then found my way to Pentti Kanerva’s Sparse Distributed Memory (SDM) research group at NASA/Ames, where I worked for two years as a research assistant to develop vision applications of SDM. During this time I learned about Charlie Anderson and David Van Essen’s work on ‘shifter circuits,’ which eventually led to my doing a Ph.D. under their joint supervision as a student in the CNS program at Caltech (1989-1994). My thesis was on dynamic routing circuits, essentially a generalization of shifter circuits which could serve as a neural mechanism for forming position and size (and rotation) invariant representations in the visual cortex. Toward the end of my thesis work I learned about David Field’s work on models of sensory coding based on natural image statistics, which seemed like a promising way to learn feature representations at various stages of the cortical hierarchy. One of my goals ever since has been to bring these two ideas together – dynamic routing and feature learning – to build a hierarchical model of the visual cortex. My first faculty job was at UC Davis, initially in Psychology and then Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, along with the Center for Neuroscience, from 1996-2005. Along with Pentti Kanerva and Fritz Sommer, I helped Jeff Hawkins to launch the Redwood Neuroscience Institute in 2002. This was incorporated into UC Berkeley’s program in 2005, where I have remained since. I am currently Professor in the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the School of Optometry, and I direct the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience.”

August 18th

Navjot Pannu, BS

Navjot Pannu is a current third year student at the UC Berkeley School of Optometry. She completed her undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara with a B.S. in Biological Sciences and a Minor in Applied Psychology. She worked as an Optometric assistant for two years before attending Optometry school. She now works at the Meredith W. Morgan Eye Center front desk and is also a part of the equipment team (E-team) to help repair ophthalmic equipment in the clinic.

During her first and second year of Optometry school, Navjot was the Co-Philanthropy Chair and Co-Vice President of her class. These positions allowed her to create innovative and fun events for her classmates and serve the Berkeley community. She helped organize events and fundraisers to donate to the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and The Lighthouse for the Blind. She continues to stay involved on campus by being a board member of two student associations – UCOSA and SAAO – as the Communications Chair and Marketing Coordinator. She also helps tutor first and second year students as a member of BSK (Beta Sigma Kappa).

Navjot loves working with children and during her undergraduate studies, she helped younger students gain an interest in science and Optometry through volunteering in several elementary school bovine eye dissections in Santa Barbara. She also participated in other volunteer programs such as Kids in Nutrition and the Education Outreach Program where she shared her passion for learning with each of her students and inspired them towards achieving a higher education. She is particularly excited to contribute to improving children’s eye health as a future Optometrist.

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