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Psychologist receives prestigious Steacie Fellowship


A Queen’s expert on visual perception is one of six outstanding Canadian university researchers to receive a 2007 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

Psychology Professor Nikolaus Troje is considered the world’s foremost authority on analyzing how humans and animals perceive and process biological motion – the movement of others. He is the first psychologist ever to receive a Steacie Fellowship: one of Canada’s premier science and engineering research awards.

“This is a particularly notable honour,” says Vice-Principal (Research) Kerry Rowe. "With only six Fellowships awarded annually to researchers from across Canada, it is a very prestigious program. The fact that Professor Troje is the first researcher from a psychology department to be awarded a Steacie makes it even more special. We wish him continued success in his exciting research initiatives.”

Along with other recipients from the University of Alberta, U of T and Dalhousie, Dr. Troje will receive funding enabling him to pursue his research full-time. “Our NSERC Steacie winners have demonstrated a high degree of creativity and innovation in their research, and their work is already having a real impact in their fields,” says NSERC president Suzanne Fortier. “These fellowships will allow them to devote their full time and attention to their work, in effect turbo-charging their research while freeing them from their other duties.”

Internationally recognized for his contributions to vision research and cognitive neuroscience, Dr. Troje uses “motion capture” technology in creative ways, helping develop the analytical tools needed to make sense of the data. His research web site, which runs on-line experiments, attracts 10,000 visitors per day.

Part of Dr. Troje’s work during his Steacie Fellowship will involve studying the more innate aspects of motion detection in infants. Scientists already know that newborn chicks, for example, are hardwired to “imprint” on another creature, but that characteristic is guided by innate preferences based on very simple cues. Such impulses may also be present in humans.

Dr. Troje will also explore the implications of his research for those whose ability to process information from biological motion is impaired, such as people with autism. “They suffer from a lack of social abilities that probably goes back to basic sensory impairments in the area of biological motion perception,” he says. “Our goal is to clearly identify what these building blocks of biological motion perception are.”

By doing this, Dr. Troje hopes to develop tests that can distinguish between the various mechanisms, and find ways to treat individual problems.

NSERC is a federal agency whose role is to make investments in people, discovery and innovation. Over the last 10 years, NSERC has invested $6 billion basic research, university-industry projects, and the training of Canada’s next generation of scientists and engineers.


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