Summer Vacation Research Scholarships

Faculty of Science Summer Vacation Research Scholarships 2018-2019

UNSW Science Vacation Research Scholarships are now available.  There are a number of highly competitive summer research scholarships available to currently enrolled undergraduate students in second year or above. 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. 

For the full list of projects available at UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science, please see below. For application details, selection criteria, and eligibility please see link.

Deadline: 14 September 2018

Available Projects:

Development of clinical markers to prevent complications from diabetes
Supervisors: Dr Barbara Zangerl, Mr Vincent Khou

Diabetes, a group of conditions signified by elevated blood glucose, has become a major health problem in Australia. Complications from these disorders include kidney failure, amputation and vision impairment commonly termed diabetic retinopathy due to vascular and neurological changes. Recent advances in eye imaging enables visualisation of changes to the retina and cornea prior to other clinically visible symptoms. We are investigating these changes, especially in the retinal nerve fibre layer and the retinal vasculature, to develop methods to predict and consequently prevent the devastating consequences of diabetes.

Shower CSI: How does having a shower in contact lenses lead to an eye infection?
Supervisors: Dr Nicole Carnt, Prof Fiona StapletonDr Debarun Dutta

Increasingly we are discovering that showering in contact lenses is a risk factor for eye infections. Is it water entering the eye from a dirty shower faucet, is it a build-up of biofilm from the taps or soap, or is the shower screen or shampoo bottle the culprit? Spend 6 weeks on a forensic hunt of the shower cubicles of contact lens wearers to find the clues to solve this problem and develop safer guidelines for contact lens wearers.

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

In diseases such as macular degeneration and Retinitis Pigmentosa, the light detecting photoreceptor cells die leading to permanent blindness. Treatments, such as bionic eye implants, then attempt to restore vision by replacing dead photoreceptors with electrode arrays. Interestingly, we now know other cells in the retina also undergo change in a process termed retinal remodelling. This is problematic for treatments as they are developed assuming the remaining retina remains static in disease. This project investigates retinal remodelling a mouse with mutations leading to blindness similar to human patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa using immunohistochemistry and microscopy to between understand the process and improve outcomes of vision restoration strategies.

Can we use advanced eye imaging to better diagnose Macular Degeneration?
Supervisor: Dr Lisa Nivison-Smith

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a major cause of blindness worldwide and results from death of light detecting photoreceptor cells and metabolically active retinal pigment epithelium in the outer retina. Animal models of AMD suggest significant changes may also occur in the inner retina however this has not been well explored in humans. Our research group recently showed AMD remodelling may be detected non-invasively in human patients using OCT (optical coherence tomography). This project uses OCT to test a large group of AMD patients visiting the Centre for Eye Health for remodelling changes and determine if these changes are linked to their disease severity. 

Quantifying saccadic suppression in patients with ocular disease.
Supervisors: Dr Sieu Khuu, Mr Jack Phu

The observer scans the visual environment by directing attention through ballistic eye movements known as saccades. A saccadic event automatically induces ‘saccadic suppression’ in which the visual image is largely suppressed when the eyes are in motion. This is necessary to reduce the visibility of motion induced blur/smear which would otherwise reduce image clarity. However, in patients with ocular disease (such as glaucoma), ocular motor function is known to be impaired, which might suggest that saccadic suppression is altered by disease processes. Indeed, we have recently confirmed in a pilot study with glaucoma patients that saccadic suppression is considerably greater than in normal observers. This finding implicates that the disease processes in the eye can induce change in perceptual processes that are responsible for the suppression of the visual image, and might account for common functional deficits (e.g., reading) in patients.  The proposed project is a case-control study that aims to investigate saccadic suppression in normal individuals and patients with ocular disease (glaucoma, AMD and RP). We will conduct a computer experiment in which the detectability (i.e., contrast) of a stimulus briefly presented at different intervals around the time of a saccade will be measured. An eye tracker will also be used to measure eye movements during the data collection process. From these data we will be able to determine the extent (i.e., duration) and depth of saccadic suppression in patients with ocular disease and relate this to their ocular motor deficit.  If you are interested in this project, please contact Sieu Khuu on

Improving patient outcomes in open angle, narrow angle and closed angle glaucoma through clinical testing and education
Supervisors: Professor Michael Kalloniatis, Mr Jack Phu

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness and early detection is critical for prevention of vision loss. Our research group has recently developed a number of strategies to approach the problem of early stage glaucoma, including the use of improved visual field testing paradigms, imaging modalities, collaborative care pathways, and practitioner education tools. This project will expand upon these strategies in three broad arms: clinical testing, laboratory testing and education (patient, practitioner and trainee). There will be a focus on patients with narrow and closed angle glaucoma as part of a novel clinical pathway developed at Centre for Eye Health. The responsibilities of the summer scholar will include: data extraction from our patient management system, administering educational interventions on patients and clinicians, administering clinical and laboratory based psychophysical and ocular structural tests and the development of novel testing and educational platforms.

Blue light blocking lenses: effect on visual and non-visual systems
Supervisors: Dr Maitreyee RoyDr Sieu Khuu

Visible light, in particular blue light, may damage retinae but it is also essential for sleep regulation. “Blue blocking” lenses are being marketed as protection against blue light without affecting sleep. While the need to provide eye protection against ultraviolet is well established, the need to provide protection against blue light is not proved for anything other than direct viewing of the sun and for some artificial sources such as welding arcs.  Control of the blue hazard could interact with the regulation of melatonin and sleep patterns.  This proposed project will help to build understanding of how light, and the manipulation of lens coatings, may impact on sleep, colour perception and other indicators of visual comfort and health.

Visualizing tear film lipids using quantum dots
Supervisors: Dr Maitreyee Roy, Professor Mark WillcoxProfessor Fiona Stapleton

Tear film evaporation is one of the key factors responsible for dry eyes that can lead to visual disturbances and contact lens intolerance. Tear film evaporation depends on the structure of lipid layer. Understanding the fundamental of tear dynamics has an importance for developing treatment modalities for ocular surface diseases. Quantum dots based on silicon (non-toxic) that remain dispersed in solution and emit discrete wavelengths of light which is very bright and very stable has potential to monitor the dynamics of the tear film layers in vivo. The thrust of this research project is to investigate a novel instrumentation and imaging technique to visualize tear film lipids using quantum dots as a contrast agent.

Investigating feasibility of full field optical coherence tomography for corneal epithelial cell imaging
Supervisor: Dr Maitreyee Roy

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a well-established technique for biological imaging, mainly used in the field of ophthalmology for routine corneal and retinal clinical examinations. The conventional OCT system produces longitudinal images, by performing an axial scan at each x or y point on the object surface and builds a two-dimensional xz or yz images.  A variant of OCT called full-field optical coherence tomography (FF-OCT) is an emerging non-invasive, label-free, interferometric technique that has the inherent ability of providing rapid en face (xy) images of the object by using a detector array (CCD or CMOS), thus avoiding the necessity for using the instrumentationally complex, lateral point scanning scheme. In most FF-OCT systems, en face OCT images are constructed by using a conventional phase-shifting technique that involves shifting of the reference beam phase with a piezoelectric translator. However, with the use of a broadband source in FF-OCT, the phase shifts of different spectral components are not the same, resulting in systematic errors for reconstruction of tomographic images.  We have built a computer-controlled full-field OCT system that incorporates a novel achromatic phase shifter operating on the principle of geometric phase by using ferroelectric liquid crystal technology (FLC). This system has a fast response time and can accurately map and produce 3D images of complex biological samples.  This proposed study is to investigate the use of a unique geometric phase shifter based on FLC technology for ex-vivo corneal epithelial cell imaging and compare image quality, resolution and field of view with confocal microscopy.

Vision measurement using a hologram
Supervisors: Dr Nicholas Nguyen, Dr Maitreyee Roy

Visual acuity measurement using subjective refraction is a simple but important test utilised by many health professionals to assess the visual function of the eye. Refraction is often carried out in the clinic using test charts at 4 or 6-meter distance. Often in small rooms, practitioners use mirrors to extend the distance at which the chart is presented. Room illumination, chart luminance, testing distance, and letter arrangements/layout all therefore vary between clinics and locations and hence can contribute to poor repeatability of the measurement.  An alternate way of measuring the visual acuity is the use of a holographic letter chart which has advantages of constant test distance, uniform chart luminance and portability. The primary goal of this research is to perform the feasibility study of a vision chart using a hologram for vision testing and comparing holographic refraction to conventional refraction. Successful applicants will be working with holograms and dealing directly with patients under supervision.

Machine learning approaches in ocular images analysis: Automated detection and diagnosis
Supervisors: Dr Maitreyee Roy, A/Professor Stuart Perry

With the increasing prevalence of ocular diseases like retinal detachment, diabetic retinopathy (DR) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), annual screening for ocular diseases by human expert grading of retinal images are challenging. Automated retinal image assessment systems (ARIAS) may provide clinically effective and cost-effective detection of retinopathy. We aim to determine whether ARIAS can be safely introduced by machine learning into appropriate retinal screening pathways to replace human experts. Recently, machine learning approaches have become increasingly successful in image-based diagnosis, disease prognosis, and risk assessment. This research project will highlight new research directions and examine the main challenges related to machine learning in ocular imaging, applying novel deep learning algorithms to automatic analysis of both digital fundus photographs and OCT images from both healthy control subjects and patients undergoing treatment for relevant ocular diseases.

Freckles and naevi in the adult human iris

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 and choroid 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 post-mortem human iris tissue. This will involve iris colour grading using digital imaging techniques developed by SOVS students. An opportunity to apply laboratory techniques including immunolabelling and confocal microscopy will also be involved.

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

Tension in eye melanomas: effects of environmental rigidity on human eye melanoma cell growth
Supervisor: Associate Professor Michele Madigan

Primary human eye melanomas can develop in the uvea (iris, ciliary body or choroid) and conjunctiva. Tumour cell growth and invasiveness may be affected by the stiffness or rigidity of the tumour environment (for example, choroidal melanomas display variable extracellular matrix patterns). This project will explore using a new hydrogel system (VitroGel) to grow eye melanoma cells and assess responses to varying hydrogel stiffness.

This is a hands-on eye cell biology experience involving tissue culture, cell growth assays and techniques such as light and confocal microscopy. This project will also provide an opportunity to participate in journal club discussions. An enhanced appreciation of human eye cell biology will be possible during this project.