The science of sight

Dr Mariya Moosajee, consultant ophthalmologist and researcher at Moorfields Eye Hospital and UCL, ran an exhibition called the Science of Sight at the Science Museum between 8-10 August. Mariya and her team shared information on how they research conditions that affect eyes with visitors to the museum and also demonstrated how the brain manages and adapts to loss of sight. The exhibition attracted approximately 4,300 visitors across the three days, including lots of children.

Visitors came and learnt about the part of the brain that controls vision, the occipital lobe. The occipital lobe is placed at the very back of the brain and when someone experiences sight loss, the occipital lobe becomes stimulated by other senses such as smell and sound, enabling that person to be able to comprehend and picture an object. However, when someone is born without sight, that part of the brain adapts to enhance all the other senses, so that smell, taste, touch and hearing become the person’s ‘sight’. 

Mariya believes that art shouldn’t just be something people can experience only through vision, but also through touch and smell. Therefore, she incorporated Moorfields Eye Hospital’s BlindArt Collection, which consists of sensory art, into the exhibition.

One interactive activity and art exhibit that visitors could experience was guessing the mystery scents. People were invited to smell different boxes and try to identify what they could smell. As well as being a lot of fun, it demonstrated how the brain identifies and ‘sees’ things through the sense of smell. Fifteen year old Deborah Lotivio who is currently undertaking work experience at Moorfields Eye Charity took part in the challenge – some of the smells were really familiar to her but she couldn’t always ‘put her finger’ on what they were. A gentleman with sight loss took on the challenge and very quickly identified all the aromas, demonstrating how his brain was very observant to his sense of smell.

To learn more about Mariya’s innovative research into eyes and the science of sight, please watch the following short video: Seeing with your skin from NIHR Moorfields BRC on Vimeo.

For further details about the Science of Sight exhibition, please contact Mariya at m.moosajee@ucl.ac.uk