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July 14, 2009

New Faculty Researcher Joins College

I am very pleased to announce that after an extensive faculty search process that began last fall, and in which there were many strong and qualified candidates, Dr. Robert McPeek, Ph.D. was selected and has accepted the position He will be joining the faculty as an associate professor and is scheduled to begin on Feb 1, 2010. Rob is a great selection and I am confident that he will be a great colleague.

Rob is a widely recognized visual neurophysiologist who studies the neurophysiological control of eye movements and visual attention. His work (see below) is both experimental and has clinical applications particularly with regard to vision rehabilitation in patients with certain types of brain trauma. His research will compliment our research strengths in visual neurophysiology, eye movements and perception.

Rob has an excellent academic and research background - he graduated magna cum laude with highest honors in Computational Neuroscience from Harvard University in 1991. Studying under Ken Nakayama, he received his Ph.D. in Psychology, also from Harvard, in 1997. Since then he has held a research scientist position at the Smith-Kettlewell Vision Research Institute in San Francisco. Rob has been continuously funded by NIH since 2004 to study the cortical and subcortical control of visual attention and will continue this work at SUNY.

Rob is married to Natalka Freeland, who has a PhD in English Literature from Yale and most recently was an assistant professor at UC Irvine. They are expecting their first child this month.

Please help me welcome Rob and his family to the SUNY Optometry community.

David Troilo
VP and Dean for Academic Affairs

Dr. Robert McPeek, Ph.D. - Research Interests

Neural Mechanisms of Eye Movement and Attention
Rob McPeek’s research examines the mechanisms that allow humans to move their eyes to the right place at the right time. Rapid and accurate eye movements are crucial for vision because we have high visual acuity only in the center of our gaze and we must continually shift our gaze to interpret or act upon objects outside this limited area. Saccadic eye movements are largely responsible for these gaze shifts, and we typically make more than 200,000 saccades every day. Dysfunctions of the saccadic system can have devastating consequences for our ability to read, to drive, or even to perform fairly simple visually-guided tasks.

Neural Control of Saccades
Natural visual scenes typically contain many different potential objects of interest. Rob’s research addresses the fundamental question of how the saccadic system selects one of these objects as the target of an eye movement. He studies this target selection process using visual search tasks in which subjects scan a display to find a target embedded in distractors while monitoring neural activity in various regions of the brain. These experiments have shown that the Superior Colliculus, a structure in the mid-brain, plays an essential role in selecting the target of an impending movement. By temporarily inactivating neurons in the Superior Colliculus, McPeek and his co-workers simulate the consequences of damage to this area of the brain and begin to understand how the effects of such damage could be mitigated in patient populations.

Eye Movements and Attention
Research has shown that we can shift attention to an object without moving our eyes. Such shifts of attention perform a function analogous to that of eye movements, as they can improve perception of an object in the periphery. Rob’s current research in this area aims to clarify the working relationship between attention and saccades, and to examine the specific roles of regions in the frontal lobe and in the brainstem in the control of attention.
Representative Recent Publications
Khan, A. Z., Blohm, G., McPeek, R. M., and Lefevre, P. (2009). Differential influence of attention on gaze and head movements. Journal of Neurophysiology, 101, 198-206.

McPeek, R. M. (2008). Reversal of a distractor effect on saccade target selection after superior colliculus inactivation. Journal of Neurophysiology, 99, 2694-2702.

Song, J.-H., Takahashi, N., and McPeek, R.M. (2008). Target selection for visually-guided reaching in macaque. Journal of Neurophysiology, 99, 14-24.

McPeek, R. M. (2006). Incomplete suppression of distractor-related activity in the frontal eye field results in curved saccades. Journal of Neurophysiology, 96, 2699-2711.

Keller, E. L., Lee, K.-M., and McPeek, R.M. (2005). Readout of higher-level processing in the discharge of superior colliculus neurons. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1039,1-11.

McPeek, R. M. (2004). Strange things,moving things, wild animals. Focus on "Neural correlates of automatic and goal-driven biases in orienting spatial attention." Journal of Neurophysiology, 92, 1267-1268.

McPeek, R. M. and Keller, E. L. (2004).Deficits in saccade target selection after inactivation of superior colliculus.Nature Neuroscience, 7, 757-763.

Arai, K., McPeek, R. M., and Keller E. L.(2004). Properties of saccadic responses in monkey when multiple competing visual stimuli are present. Journal of Neurophysiology, 91, 890-900.