The Tall Poppy Campaign was created in 1998 by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science to recognise and celebrate Australian intellectual and scientific excellence and to encourage younger Australians to follow in the footsteps of our outstanding achievers. It has made significant achievements towards building a more publicly engaged scientific leadership in Australia.
As winner of 2011 Trans-Tasman Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT), I was asked to judge The 2013 University of Queensland final. It was nail biting, but the winner was Michael Thai from the School of Psychology—he was fantastic. Runner-up and People’s Choice was Timothy Brennan from the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.
Our Flashed Face Distortion Effect was featured in the Brain Games program on the National Geographic Channel. Unfortunately, they disregarded the fact that the faces don’t need to be presented in the periphery for the effect to work (as we described in our paper), but we are happy to see the effect being enjoyed by a wide audience.
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!
I spoke briefly at TEDxBrisbane this year. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED has created a program called TEDx—a program of local, self-organised events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. TEDxBrisbane was held at the Queensland State Library and spread across three rooms (two via video link). Speakers ranged from artists to scientists and from thinkers to doers. It was a pleasure to be part of such an inspiring and important event!
After winning the UQ Final of the Three Minute Thesis Competition, I travelled to the University of Western Australia to compete against 42 other PhD students from Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. I was blown away by the quality of the presentations and the importance of the research. I can’t imagine how the judges managed to make a decision but I ended up coming out on top. Click for more.