During the ten weeks of the CURF program, I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Jessica Morgan in the Ophthalmology Department at Penn. I assisted in collecting and processing data accumulated for the Connectome Project. This project was designed to collect data and form a normative database on photoreceptor density in control patients. Eventually, this was used to compare these normal densities to that of patients with diseased eyes. Another application was to compare density to the size of the visual cortex in the brain to analyze whether there was a correlation.
As an undergraduate student, I had the job of filtering through various videos taken of different areas of photoreceptors in the patient's’ eyes and processing them. The selected images in the videos were averaged together to produce a single still image. These were then put into a program that created a montage of the eye. Eventually, this mosaic was used to calculate approximate photoreceptor densities by selecting regions of interest in the montage. I learned that density of cones increases closer to the fovea (which is the central region of the eye) and decreases as you move further away.
In participating in this research project, I learned a great deal about the effort required. Patience is key in research especially since immediate results are not always apparent. In addition to this, I, myself, plan on entering the field of optometry after undergrad. This experience provided me with an excellent inside view into the field and further solidified why I wanted to go into optometry. I honestly do believe this program gave me a project that was the perfect fit for me in every possible way.