Thanks to the US Department of State, I was flown to New Orleans with dozens of Fulbright Scholars from around the world to discuss Global challenges, local solutions: Climate change and environmental sustainability. We were featured in the local rag, The Times Picayune, whilst volunteering at The Green Project repurposing landfill to help rebuild houses post-Katrina. My group also took the award for Best Environmental Solution and Presentation!
We’ve taken out second place in the Best Illusion of the Year Contest, 2012! Like many interesting scientific discoveries, this one was an accident. Sean Murphy, an undergraduate student, was working alone in the lab on a set of faces for one of his experiments. He aligned a set of faces at the eyes and started to skim through them. After a few seconds, he noticed that some of the faces began to appear highly deformed and grotesque. He looked at the especially ugly faces individually, but each of them appeared normal or even attractive. We called it the “Flashed Face Distortion Effect” and wanted to share it with the world, so we put it on YouTube. Click for more.
The effect seems to depend on processing each face in light of the others. By aligning the faces at the eyes and presenting them quickly, it becomes much easier to compare them, so the differences between the faces are more extreme. If someone has a large jaw, it looks almost ogre-like. If they have an especially large forehead, then it looks particularly bulbous. We’re conducting several experiments right now to figure out exactly what’s causing this effect, so watch this space!
After winning the Three Minute Thesis, Ryan Stafford (runner-up) and I were asked to “appear” on 612 ABC Radio with Steve Austin. It was great fun.