This summer I am doing an internship in clinical research at Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston. Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and one of the largest research organizations in the nation. Their mission is to eliminate blindness, and their labs perform research on all aspects of vision and vision loss. I am interning in a lab that researches the safety and considerations of driving with various visual impairments, particularly hemianopia (loss of vison in half of each eye). I am currently being trained to help with a project investigating the effects and interactions of three factors on driving: age, visual impairment, and auditory distraction. Experiments are conducted using a very realistic driving simulator. Before learning how to help run the study, I got to be a participant. Here is a picture of me cruising down the highway on the simulator:
The simulator consists of five giant monitors giving it 220° of view surrounding a genuine car seat, steering wheel, pedals, and dashboard. It contains all of the components of a real car, including working digital rearview mirrors and speedometer. The seat moves to mimic the physical effects of turning or accelerating in a real car. The scene portrayed on the screens is from a virtual world where conditions can be manipulated, such as weather, time of day, and the presence and actions of pedestrians and other cars. These conditions are controlled in specific ways depending on the experiment being performed. The simulator is also equipped with cameras that can track head and eye movement data.
This week, I read articles to become familiar with this field of research, and began learning how to perform vision tests on subjects, how to run the driving simulator, and how to process data. Eventually I will be performing all of these tasks on real subjects in order to collect and process data. For this study, we perform two visual tests on all subjects: visual acuity and contrast sensitivity. Visual acuity is the overall accuracy or sharpness of one’s vision (a normal acuity is 20/20), and is measured by reading a chart of different sized letters. Contrast sensitivity is how well one can distinguish between light and dark, and is measured by reading a chart that has gradually fading letters.
From this project, we hope to gain valuable information about the interactions between visual impairment and auditory distractibility. This information could be useful in the consideration of the safety of visually impaired drivers, or those considering obtaining a license.
I have known since high school that I have a strong interest in pursuing a career in ophthalmology. I hope that this internship will give me the opportunity to learn more about ophthalmology in both a clinical and research perspective. My goal for this summer is to gain experience that will affirm my decision to pursue a career in ophthalmology, and provide insight to help me to refine and discover my interests.
– Eliana Ellenberger