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Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, March 30, 2010

IU Optometry's Burns receives Tillyer Award for pioneering work in eye imaging

March 30, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Stephen A. Burns, an Indiana University School of Optometry professor considered an international leader in the field of retinal function and biomedical imaging, has received the Optical Society of America's Edgar D. Tillyer Award for "outstanding contributions to the science of color vision and color imaging systems, and for pioneering work on brain imaging that has illuminated the organization and function of human visual processing."

Burns' primary research interests are in human color vision, with an emphasis on photoreceptor function in health and disease. In recent years his work has concentrated on optical measurements of cone photoreceptor waveguide properties and their relation to the optical quality of the eye, and on the use of real time adaptive optics imaging to investigate the structure and function of the human retina.

Stephen Burns

IU School of Optometry professor Stephen A. Burns has received the Optical Society of America's Edgar D. Tillyer Award recognizing Burns' work in the area of color vision and color imaging systems.

"I'm pleased that Professor Burns has been recognized for the extraordinary contributions he is making to our understanding of retinal structure and function," said Sarita Soni, interim dean of the School of Optometry and vice provost for research at IU. "Receiving this prestigious award for the high caliber of research for which Professor Burns is known, comes as no surprise and is well deserved. Professor Burns is tireless in his work at IU's School of Optometry and known around the world for his exceptional contributions as a vision scientist. All of us in the School of Optometry applaud his efforts and celebrate this recognition with him."

Burns came to IU in 2005 from The Schepens Eye Research Institute, an affiliate of Harvard University Medical School where he was a senior scientist. He is currently a professor in Optometry, the chair of the Research Affairs Committee of the Bloomington Faculty Council at IU, a past member of the National Institutes of Health's Study Sections and the Food and Drug Administration's Ophthalmic Devices Panel, and from 2003-2009 was editor of the Journal of the Optical Society of America.

Considered a leader in the field of adaptive optics laser scanning ophthalmoscopy, a procedure used to examine the back part of the eyeball, which includes the retina, optic disc, choriod and blood vessels, Burns serves as the IU lead investigator in one of the National Eye Institute's Bioengineering Research Partnerships, a consortium of six laboratories around the nation building adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscopes and applying them to microscopic examination of the living human retina.

David Williams, director of the University of Rochester's Center for Visual Science and principal investigator on the NEI partnership that Burns is involved in, praised Burns for his achievements and for his longstanding commitment to service to the optical sciences community.

"I've known Steve my entire career and he has continually over the last three decades been a pioneer of developing and applying new adaptive optical tools to get these extremely clear views of the retina," Williams said. "It should also be pointed out that his service to the Optical Society of America has been nothing short of exemplary over the years."

In his laboratory at IU, Burns and other researchers are working to improve the ability to quantify retinal structure and function. He is funded by another NEI grant to improve our understanding of how aging and disease effect the structure and function of the retina.

"The eye is a highly specialized optical system and the retina, which is at the back of the eye, is a portion of the central nervous system. Thus, by using advanced optical techniques we are now able to routinely look at this portion of the central nervous system with cellular level resolution and in real time. We have been able to develop techniques that now let us rapidly assess how the sampling of the visual world varies across the retina, and how this fundamental limit to visual information varies with eye growth and with aging. We are also able to make precise measurements of dynamic events such as the flow of individual red blood cells through the vasculature, opening up the possibility of improved understanding of how nutrients are delivered to the eye and how vascular diseases affect this process. In addition, adaptive optics is showing us features of the retina we have never been able to see in living humans, increasing our fundamental knowledge of the eye."

Burns received his Ph.D. in biophysics from The Ohio State University. He has held academic positions in ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh and at The Schepens Eye Research Institute, the largest independent eye research institute in the U.S., where he was an associate scientist from 1987-1992, a senior scientist from 1992-2004, and also served for four years as associate director. He also was an instructor and associate professor in ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School.

The OSA's Tillyer Award for distinguished work in the field of vision is awarded no more than once every two years and was first established in 1953 through an endowment from the American Optical Co., where Tillyer (1881-1973) served as research director. He is credited with creating the first standards for naval periscopes and gun sights, for creating a moderately priced lens in 1924 that could be corrected for marginal astigmatic and focal error, for inventing the heat screen for motion picture projectors that protected film when the projector stopped, and for inventing deep curved lenses used in Army and Navy flyer goggles during World War II.

To speak with Burns or Soni, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or