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Photo of Susana Martinez-Conde

Susana Martinez-Conde, PhD

Professor of Ophthalmology, Neurology, and Physiology & Pharmacology

Tel: (718) 221-5390 • Fax: (718) 270-2972

e-mail: Susana.Martinez-Conde@downstate.edu

Background and Expertise:

Prof. Susana Martinez-Conde received a BSc in Experimental Psychology from Universidad Complutense de Madrid and a PhD in Medicine and Surgery from the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. She was a postdoctoral fellow with the Nobel Laureate Prof. David Hubel, and then an Instructor in Neurobiology, at Harvard Medical School. Previous to coming to SUNY Downstate, she directed laboratories at University College London in the UK and at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.

Prof. Martinez-Conde's research bridges perceptual, oculomotor, and cognitive neuroscience. She has published her academic contributions in Nature, Nature Neuroscience, Neuron, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Her work with Parkinsonian patients was recently honored with the EyeTrack Award, a global science prize given to a single cutting-edge publication in eye movement research. Prof Martinez-Conde has received many other distinctions, including the Empire Innovator Award from the State of New York, and the "100 Spaniards" Prize.

Prof. Martinez-Conde complements her award-winning research with extensive science communication, education and public outreach. She writes frequently for Scientific American and has a regular column in Scientific American: MIND on the neuroscience of illusion. She is the 2014 recipient of the Science Educator Award, a prestigious prize given by the Society for Neuroscience (30,000 members) to an outstanding neuroscientist who has made significant contributions to educating the public.

Prof. Martinez-Conde's research has been featured in print in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, The LA Chronicle, The Times (London), The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, Der Spiegel, etc., and in radio and TV shows, including Discovery Channel's Head Games and Daily Planet shows, NOVA: scienceNow, CBS Sunday Morning, NPR's Science Friday, and PRI's The World. She works with international science museums, foundations and nonprofit organizations to promote neuroscience education and communication. Her international bestselling book Sleights of Mind has been published in 19 languages, distributed worldwide, listed as one of the 36 Best Books of 2011 by The Evening Standard, London, and received the Prisma Prize to the best science book of the year.

Research Interests

Main ongoing projects

Perceptual and neurophysiological effects of eye movements
Our eyes move continually, even while we fixate our gaze. If all eye movements are counteracted, our visual perception of stationary objects fades completely, due to neural adaptation. The Martinez-Conde lab has shown that one particular class of fixational eye movements, called microsaccades, is vitally important in that it counteracts visual fading during fixation. A recently finished project has investigated neuronal responses to real microsaccades versus simulated microsaccades. The differential neural responses to real versus simulated microsaccades indicate that early visual neurons can distinguish between internally and externally generated motion (i.e. visual displacements due to eye movements versus actual motion in the world).

Distinctive characteristics of eye movements in neurological and ophthalmic disease
To maintain our perception of a stable world, our oculomotor system must calibrate how much our eyes must move when we fixate. Too little movement can lead to visual fading, and too much motion to blurred and unstable vision. Central and peripheral pathologies can disturb this fine balance. Determining how normal fixation differs from pathological fixation has the potential to aid early and differential diagnosis of neurological and ophthalmic disease, as well as the quantification of its progression and response to treatment. The Martinez-Conde lab has identified distinctive characteristics of microsaccades and saccadic intrusions in progressive supranuclear palsy, Parkinson's disease, other parkinsonisms, a form of ataxia, Alzheimer's disease, and mild cognitive impairment. This line of research was distinguished with the 2011 EyeTrack Award.

Oculomotor bases of microsaccade/saccade generation
Recent research into the oculomotor mechanisms of microsaccade generation has been instrumental to present understanding of saccadic and microsaccadic function. Studies by the Martinez-Conde lab and others have built a solid case that microsaccades and saccades share most, perhaps all, physical and functional properties and dynamics. The Martinez-Conde lab has shown strong interactions between saccade and microsaccade production, suggesting a common triggering mechanism and supporting the hypothesis of a shared saccade–microsaccade generator. Current work focuses in determining the mechanistic basis and specific circuits implied in microsaccade triggering, through eye movement recordings from patients suffering from neurological disease, and from healthy individuals, aided by computational modeling of the oculomotor pathways leading to microsaccade generation.

Neuroscience and perception of art and illusion
Illusions developed by visual artists and stage magicians are a rich and largely untapped source of insight into perception and cognition. The artist's intuitive understanding of the viewer's mindset can sometimes surpass that of the perceptual and cognitive scientist. Thus, behavioral insights developed by visual artists and magicians are worthy of quantitative investigation in the neuroscience laboratory.

Education:
  • PhD: University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship: Harvard Medical School (David Hubel's laboratory)

Laboratory web site page »

Selected Publications
  • McCamy MB, Otero-Millan J, Di Stasi LL, Macknik SL, Martinez-Conde S (2014). "Highly informative natural scene regions increase microsaccade production during visual scanning". Journal of Neuroscience 34:2956-66.
  • Di Stasi LL, McCamy MB, Macknik SL, Mankin J, Hoof N, Catena  A, Martinez-Conde S (2014). "Saccadic eye movement metrics reflect surgical residents' fatigue." Annals of Surgery 259: 824-9.
  • Di Stasi LL, Catena A, Cañas JJ, Macknik SL, Martinez-Conde S (2013). "Saccadic velocity as an arousal index in naturalistic tasks". Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 37: 968-975.
  • Martinez-Conde S, Otero-Millan J, Macknik SL (2013). "The impact of microsaccades on vision: towards a unified theory of saccadic function". Nature Reviews Neuroscience 14: 83-96.
  • Otero-Millan J, Macknik SL, Langston RE, Martinez-Conde S (2013). "An oculomotor continuum from exploration to fixation". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 110: 6175-6180.
  • Otero-Millan J, Serra A, Leigh RJ, Troncoso XG, Macknik SL, Martinez-Conde S (2011). "Distinctive features of saccadic intrusions and microsaccades in progressive supranuclear palsy". Journal of Neuroscience 31: 4379-4387.
  • Martinez-Conde S, Macknik SL (2008). "Magic and the brain". Scientific American 299: 72-79.
  • Macknik SL, King M, Randi J, Robbins A, Teller, Thompson J, Martinez-Conde S (2008).  "Attention and awareness in stage magic: turning tricks into research". Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9: 871-879.
  • Martinez-Conde S, Macknik SL (2007). "Mind tricks". Nature 448: 414.
  • Martinez-Conde S, Macknik SL (2007). "Windows on the mind". Scientific American 297: 56-63.
  • Martinez-Conde S, Macknik SL, Troncoso XG, Dyar TA (2006). "Microsaccades counteract visual fading during fixation". Neuron 49: 297-305.
  • Martinez-Conde S, Macknik SL, Hubel DH (2004). "The role of fixational eye movements in visual perception". Nature Reviews Neuroscience 5: 229-240. 
  • Martinez-Conde S, Macknik SL, Hubel DH (2002). "The function of bursts of spikes during visual fixation in the awake primate lateral geniculate nucleus and primary visual cortex".  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 99: 13920-13925.
  • Martinez-Conde S, Macknik S.L., Hubel, D.H. (2000). "Microsaccadic eye movements and firing of single cells in the striate cortex of macaque monkeys". Nature Neuroscience 3:251-258.