May. 14, 2013

Meet Susan Barry, Neurobiologist and 3D Visionary

by The Secret Life of Scientists

Click to enlarge images
Susan Barry was born into a flat world. From an early age, her eyes were crossed, and she saw in just two dimensions, even after corrective surgery helped straighten her eyes. She had problems learning to read, and her school principal called her a "dim bulb." But Barry persevered, becoming a professor of biological studies at Mount Holyoke College. For many years, she believed—and taught—the conventional wisdom that stereovision, or seeing in 3D, can only develop during a critical time in infancy.
As she got older, Barry's vision became "jittery." She consulted with a developmental optometrist and began a series of exercises designed to help stabilize her gaze. Along the way, and to her own surprise, Barry developed the ability to see in 3D. She was 48. The feat earned her the moniker "Stereo Sue," coined by neurologist Oliver Sacks. 
Barry now knows that our brains are more "plastic" than she ever thought, which is good news for all of us. "If we’re stuck in a rut, it’s because we think we’re stuck in a rut," says Sue. "We can get better at everything." Below, she describes her profession in 30 seconds, then fields 10 questions. Learn more about Sue's life-changing experience on her Secret Life homepage.
30-Second Science

Watch 30 Second Science: Sue Barry on PBS. See more from Secret Life of Scientists.

10 Questions

Watch 10 Questions for Susan Barry on PBS. See more from Secret Life of Scientists.

Editor's note: The "Marsden ball" referenced in the video above is a tool used in vision therapy.
About The Secret Life of Scientists

PBS/NOVA’s The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers is an Emmy-nominated web-series that profiles today's leading scientists and shows what happens when the lab coats come off.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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