If you are travelling by plane in Canada, or through the train and bus terminals of Ottawa, you may spot the University of Waterloo logo and recognize one of our School of Optometry & Vision Science’s graduate student celebrities, Emmanual Alabi, on billboards and posters created by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). Alabi was chosen as one of eight researchers from across Canada who exemplify a curious, ambitious, innovative and collaborative approach to their work. Promoted under the #IAmInnovation hashtag, CFI also created a video to highlight Alabi’s research.
In 2017, Alabi received recognition after winning the University of Waterloo Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. Alabi’s research focuses on the observation of pupil response and blood flow as factors to measure an individual’s pain tolerance when stimuli are introduced to the surface of the eye. By characterizing these responses, Alabi and his colleagues hope to develop objective metrics to quantify how we experience pain.
Alabi attributes his passion for his current research to the support of his supervisor, Professor Trefford Simpson, who has been studying human ocular surface sensory processing for over twenty years now. Sponsored largely through funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Simpson and his team of researchers are studying the sensory spectrum of the surface of the eye.
Beyond Alabi's research on the local effect of pain to the eye, another of Simpson’s students, Varadhu Jayakumar, is considering how stimuli affects the way we cognitively accommodate that sensation. What part does a psychological response such as anxiety have on our experience of mildly painful or cold stimuli? And beyond how we interpret the sensation, does the language we use capture the feeling?
"Very few people are working on the basic sensory mechanisms of how our eye feels, and what enables that feeling," says Alabi. "We still know so little, and there are many opportunities for new directions. It is immensely satisfying to work with graduate students whose experiments are opening new windows to our understanding of the complexity of the sensory process."
Alabi and Simpson will travel to Ottawa this month to discuss their findings with Members of Parliament, Senators, and representatives from NSERC/SSHRC. I’m hoping they send me photos of the occasion to post here, and if you can't resist a selfie with a CFI billboard of Alabi, please tag us! @UwOptometry @InnovationCA #IAmInnovation