Summer Vacation Research Scholarships

Faculty of Science Summer Vacation Research Scholarships 2017-2018

The Faculty of Science at UNSW is offering a number of highly competitive summer research scholarships to currently enrolled undergraduate students who are planning to continue their studies at postgraduate research level in the future. This scheme will enable students to gain valuable research experience, supervised by our international team of academics at state of the art research facilities at UNSW or through our industrial partners.

Full details can be found at

Students are encouraged to directly approach staff in the School of Optometry and Vision Science to discuss potential projects before the application deadline of 22 September 2017. Students are also encouraged to contact staff in the School if they have research interests outside of the offered projects.

Available Projects:

Freckles and naevi in the adult human iris
Supervisor: Associate Professor Michele Madigan

Melanocytes are the pigmented cells of the uveal tract (iris, ciliary body and choroid), and accumulate to form freckles and naevi. Some may transform to iris melanoma. Information about the distribution of melanocytes and their relationship to freckles and naevi in normal adult human iris is limited. We will survey and digitally image postmortem human iris tissue. This will involve iris colour grading using a digital imaging technique, and apply laboratory techniques including immunolabelling and confocal microscopy.

This is hands-on cell biology experience in human eye gross anatomy (dissecting and macrophotography), and laboratory techniques including immunohistochemistry and light and confocal microscopy. An appreciation of human eye anatomy and function will be gained from this project.

Life on the edge: peripheral chorioretinal degenerations in human eyes
Supervisor: Associate Professor Michele Madigan

Peripheral degenerations of the human retina and choroid are common clinical features that can sometimes be associated with increased risk for retinal detachment. We will survey and digitally image peripheral degenerations in a series of human post-mortem eyes. A series of representative eyes will be prepared for histology and immunolabelling (both sections and flatmount tissue) and assess RPE morphology, age-related drusen, blood vessels and glial cells.

This is a hands-on eye cell biology experience including gross anatomy of the eye (dissecting and macrophotography), and laboratory techniques including immunohistochemistry, and light and confocal microscopy. This project will provide an opportunity to participate in journal club discussions. An enhanced appreciation of human eye anatomy and function should follow from this project.

What is the role of retinal remodelling in retinal disease?
Supervisor: Dr Lisa Nivison-Smith

In many retinal diseases, photoreceptors die leading to blindness. However, other changes occur to cells of the inner retina: they sprout new processes, retract old ones, migrate to different retinal layers and alter their neurochemical signalling. These processes, termed remodelling offer windows to understanding the pathophysiology of retinal disease essential to developing treatments. This project investigates retinal remodelling a mouse with mutations leading to blindness similar to human patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa and uses a range of laboratory techniques including immunohistochemistry and microscopy.

What happens to the inner retina in Macular Degeneration?
Supervisor: Dr Lisa Nivison-Smith

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a lead cause of blindness worldwide. In this disease, disruption and loss of retinal neurons, specifically photoreceptor cells leads to profound visual impairment. Animal models of AMD suggest significant remodelling of remaining inner retinal neurons however quantification in human tissue is more limited. Our recent work however suggests remodelling in AMD is detectable through OCT images. This project uses new, cutting edge software on the Heidelberg Spectralis OCT that allows for automatic segmentation of each individual retinal layer and measurement allowing a fast and efficient way to quantify remodelling in AMD pateints visiting the Centre for Eye Health.

Perceiving surface shape and reflectance from images
Supervisor: Dr Juno Kim

We rely on images that reach our eyes to make judgments about the 3D shape and colour of surfaces. Diagnosis of ocular disorders can benefit from perceptual judgments of surface shape and reflectance (e.g., colour). However, the effectiveness of this diagnosis is likely to depend on accuracy in the perceptual judgments of shape and reflectance that clinician’s make. The project will refine new image processing and analysis tools for the visualization of image data to improve perceptual identification of some common ocular defects.

What is the best way to collect ocular surface cells for biomarking disease?
Supervisor: Dr Nicole Carnt

A range of techniques have been used to collect ocular surface cells for laboratory analysis. However, the advent of highly sophisticated molecular techniques opens up the utility of these small samples as biomarkers. Having the ability to profile normal eyes using such methods allows a much more realistic benchmark to measure what happens in diseased states. In this project, you will learn to use minimally invasive sampling techniques, perform RNA extraction and measure the efficacy of each method using Real Time PCR.

How common are free living protozoa in our domestic water?
Supervisor: Dr Nicole Carnt

Sampling of UK household water systems reveals up to 40% of sinks are colonised by free living protozoa. Although systemic infections do not occur, rare cases of eye infection, mainly in contact lens wearers, do happen. This eye infection, acanthamoeba keratitis, is more common in the UK than Australia. Is this due to less acanthamoeba in our domestic water, and/or are the strains different? In this project, you will learn how to culture tap water samples, identify organisms and use PCR to identify different strains.

Fluid Forces involved in orthokeratology
Supervisors: Dr Pauline Kang, Dr Gavin Boneham

Orthokeratology is a procedure that involves the overnight wear of specialised rigid contact lenses to gently reshape the front surface of the eye for the correction of mild to moderate degrees of refractive error. It has been proposed that the fluid forces of the tear film between the cornea and the back surface of the orthokeratology lens is responsible for the anterior corneal topography changes. To better understand the mechanism involved in corneal reshaping with orthokeratology, this study will investigate changes in various regions of the cornea using cross-sectional OCT corneal scans.

How comfortable are your sunglasses and eye protection? Relating to optical parameters
Supervisors: Dr Mei Ying Boon, Dr Maitreyee Roy, Emeritus Professor Stephen Dain

We wear sunglasses to protect from ultraviolet light and from glare, and wear safety spectacles when conducting experiments. If you wear sports protection for squash, motorcycling, skiing or swimming, you may have noticed some differences in how the space around you looks and feels. In this project we aim to correlate subjective experiences with the optical properties of these lenses e.g. transmission, refractive power, aberrations.  

Investigating the effect of blue blocking lenses on non-visual performance under different lighting conditions
Supervisor: Dr Maitreyee Roy

Light is composed of several wavelengths that are more or less photo-toxic to the human eye. The most photo-toxic visible light is the short-wavelength, high energy blue light. Sources of blue light include the sun, artificial light (light-emitting diode and fluorescent light) and digital screens (laptops, smart phones, TVs, computers and tablets). This light, depending on the intensity and the time's exposure can cause retinal photo-toxicity and may play a role in the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Exposure to blue light has also been shown to suppress the secretion of melatonin (sleep-regulating hormone) in the body via stimulation of the intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, and the suppression of melatonin secretion at night time considerably results in adverse consequences on mental and physical health.

Blue blocking lenses are being marketed to protect retinae against hazardous blue light and to restrict the wavelengths that may be related to melatonin suppression and sleep quality. However, any lenses that preferentially transmit some wavelengths more than others may have the potential to affect visual and non visual systems. The aim of the study is to investigate whether the use of blue blocking lenses affect the non-visual system such as melatonin secretion, alertness and cognitive performance under different lighting conditions.