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Thomy H. Nilsson

BSc, MSc, PhD
Professor Emeritus
(902) 566-0794
Memorial Hall, 210
BSc (Rensselaer);
PhD (Alberta)

Perception and neurophysiology

I admit to diverse theoretical and applied interests in vision, ergonomics, and aging. Current work involves how colour affects our ability to see words and shapes; how neural networks transmit information; visual memory; timing factors in perception; and, with the PEI Centre on Aging, various factors affecting seniors’ quality of life.

Recent projects have examined how the perception of colour and shape and visual temporal phenomena and memory for simple patterns relate to underlying brain mechanisms, how fatigue develops during driving; and how legibility of signs can be scientifically measured. Other related interests include statistics; vestibular perception of linear movement; Alzheimer's disease; and comparative psychology.

There are two ways for students to approach me about supervising them for an honors theses:

  • One approach involves students who come to me with an idea for an honors thesis:
    1. Does the student have an idea or a question that I consider interesting and worth pursuing?
    2. Does the question concern an area of knowledge where I can provide professional insight?
    3. Do I have the resources for the methodology needed to do the research? If the idea looks promising in these respects, I then consider the student her or himself as discussed below.
If I consider the idea worth pursuing but I am not particularly interested, or do not have the expertise or resources to assist the student, I suggest they approach another professor.
  • The other approach involves students who ask to work with me on a project from which an honors thesis could be developed. I have taken on students to work on projects related to seniors’ quality of life in collaboration with the PEI Center for Study on Health & Aging, but there now are several other professors who could also supervise such projects. For now, I want to focus my efforts on perceptual research that can be done using the Health Canada - UPEI Legibility Lab. This lab is unique in its ability to conduct automated experiments that involve measuring, in terms of distance thresholds, the number of visual pathways required for recognition of a visual stimulus. Most of the research to date has concerned various factors contributing to graphic effectiveness. Preliminary studies also have demonstrated the method can be applied to research on cognitive and emotional factors. Other perceptual experiments for which I have suitable apparatus will be considered.
Given the possibility of a research topic of mutual interest, the decision about taking on a student for an honors project is based on characteristics similar to those I believe we all seek: demonstrated academic ability together with my judgements about their motivation, their ability to work effectively, their social and communication skills, and signs of creativity. The student should also be comfortable working with the computerized technology used in the Lab. I give preference to students with a background in physiological and perception courses, because that is the level of explanation at which I direct my research. I also give preference to students who have done well in my classes because I can be more certain about their abilities and interests.
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