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PhD student wins award to study in Germany


Brigid Veale
26 July 2012
Southern Cross University psychology PhD student Mr Bradley Jack has been awarded a prestigious German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) scholarship to travel to Germany to learn about the human brain from some of the world’s top scientists.

The scholarship will allow Mr Jack, who is studying at the Coffs Harbour campus, to spend the next four months at the University of Leipzig’s Institute of Psychology to conduct a research project in the laboratory of Professor Erich Schröger, who is internationally renowned for his contributions to understanding the workings of the human brain.

Professor Schröger recently won an €1.25 million grant from the German Research Foundation to conduct innovative research into how people make predictions from information they receive through their eyes and ears.

Mr Jack will also present a paper at the 35th European Conference on Visual Perception (ECVP), 2-6 September 2012, in Alghero, Italy.

Mr Jack is supervised by Professor Robert O’Shea and Dr Steve Provost, both in the discipline of Psychology within the School of Health and Human Sciences, and was encouraged to apply for the scholarship by Dr Urte Roeber, a Research Fellow at Southern Cross University’s electoencephalography (EEG) research laboratory.

Professor O’Shea congratulated Mr Jack on winning the scholarship.

“Experiencing academic life in the hothouse environment of Professor Schröger’s laboratory, at the university that is the birthplace of Psychology, and in the beautiful city of Leipzig, with its devotion to history, to culture, and to ideas, will be eye opening for someone who grew up and was educated in a small Australian town.”

The scholarship will support Mr Jack’s travel expenses between Germany and Coffs Harbour and his living expenses while in Germany.

While at Professor Schröger’s laboratory, Mr Jack will study the electrical activity of individuals’ brains while they look at, and respond to, various images. The electrical activity is measured non-invasively through electrodes on the scalp (electoencephalography). The purpose of the study is to understand how people make sense of visual information.

“My goal is to understand how it is that the brain converts incoming light from the environment into perceptual experience,” Mr Jack said. “Of particular interest to me is how the brain responds when one eye is shown one image and the other eye is shown another image.”

Studies have shown that when the two eyes are shown different images, binocular rivalry happens: visual perception alternates between the two images such that an observer perceives one of the images for a few seconds, then the other, then the first again, and so on for as long as he or she cares to look.

“Binocular rivalry is a remarkable phenomenon, because at any one time, one of the images is completely invisible to an observer, even though it is right in front of his or her eye. The purpose of my research project is to understand what is going on in the brain while all of this is happening.

“I am very lucky to be going to Germany,” said Mr Jack.

“When I learned I had been awarded the scholarship, I was very excited. This is a giant leap for my career. I cannot wait to get over there and get started.”

Mr Jack leaves Coffs Harbour at the weekend.

Bradley Jack at the Coffs Harbour campus of Southern Cross University.