March 2017
Volume 17, Issue 3
Open Access
Review  |   March 2017
Davida Teller Award Lecture 2016: Prologue
Author Affiliations
  • Janette Atkinson
    University College London, London, UK
Journal of Vision March 2017, Vol.17, 25. doi:
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      Janette Atkinson; Davida Teller Award Lecture 2016: Prologue. Journal of Vision 2017;17(3):25.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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In 1973 I heard a talk by Alan Hein in Cambridge University. Ol Braddick and I were expecting our first child, Fleur. After the talk, I fell into discussion with Alan, saying how we hoped we might use the opportunities with our newborn child to study visual development with the techniques (then state-of-the-art) of sinusoidal grating stimuli. Alan told me how he had heard from Davida Teller about her new idea, forced-choice preferential looking to measure infants' acuity. I contacted Davida, who generously sent us some information about her method, and we went ahead and used it in numerous short-testing sessions to measure Fleur's contrast sensitivity over the first months of her life. We offered to put Davida's name on our publication in Nature, but she modesty declined our invitation, saying that we had done the research independently. (I suspect that there may have been an unspoken reason, that an experiment with N=1 infant did not quite meet her high scientific standards.) In the era before Skype and e-mail, my opportunities to talk to Davida were mostly at ARVO meetings, where Davida was always friendly and supportive, along with her firm determination that infant vision research, like the rest of her research, should combine innovation with scrupulous experimental and logical rigor. 
So Davida and I started our infant vision research labs at much the same time. We had a lot more in common besides this. Both of us had already done quite a bit of psychophysical adult vision research, with doctoral and postdoctoral work in world famous research-oriented universities, working with “great men” (Gerald Westheimer and Horace Barlow in Berkeley for Davida, Fergus Campbell in Cambridge for me) and, well, only men, at the time in the early 70s! We both had to face the struggles of continuing research after we had had children, in a male-dominated academic world and to resist the idea that research on babies was a slightly soft “girls' subject.” We also realized the great need for tests which worked with infants in a clinical setting to help those treating early visual impairments, rather than limiting ourselves to the laboratory setting where uncooperative participants could be politely sent away. Hence the great, and merited, success of her Teller Acuity cards (McDonald et al., 1985). 
But our main commonality was that both of us took up infant and child vision research, believing it was ripe for connecting psychophysical behavioral methods with the findings from the amazing electrophysiological studies going on at that time, making links between behavior and eye-brain development. We were both at a meeting in Cambridge where she presented her work which linked across species, proposing that a month in human visual development was equivalent to a week in the macaque (Teller & Boothe, 1979)—a key bridge from infants to knowledge of the monkey's visual brain. I will remember Davida particularly for this imaginative synthesis. 
I will also always admire Davida as a great mentor who quietly but determinedly promoted and demonstrated women's ability to do science on equal terms. She was an outstanding role model for women in science, not only for her persistence, hard work, and wisdom in research but also for her kindness and nurturing of her students and colleagues. I thank VSS and am honored to be able to link my name to Davida's through my VSS 2016 Davida Teller Award and hope she would have enjoyed my Award acceptance talk, parts of which are published here. 
Commercial relationships: none. 
Corresponding author: Janette Atkinson. 
Address: University College London, London, UK. 
McDonald, M. A., Dobson, V., Sebris, S.L., Baitch, L., Varner, D., & Teller, D. Y. (1985). The acuity card procedure: A rapid test of infant acuity. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, 26, 1158–1162. [PubMed] [Article]
Teller, D. Y., & Boothe, R. (1979). Development of vision in infant primates. Transactions of the Ophthalmological Societies of the United Kingdom. 99, 333–337.

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