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The study of a mysterious phenomenon

The study of a mysterious phenomenon

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

Dies dissertation prize

MAASTRICHT. Certainly, he is elated and grateful for the Thesis Prize that he was awarded during the founding day celebrations. But neuroscientist Tom de Graaf also has some mixed feelings, because many of his colleagues produce interesting work too. The day after, De Graaf is at home sick. He wasn’t feeling great during the session, but of course he didn’t want to miss the prize-giving ceremony.

De Graaf received the prize - a small statue plus 3,500 euro - for his thesis Brain in Sight: probing the neural dynamics underlying conscious vision. The jury praised the dissertation because De Graaf provided a framework for “the fundamental question of how to study consciousness in the human brain. To do so, he uses practically all modern techniques of empiric brain research and developed new perspectives on this issue.”

In doing so, De Graaf has studied a mysterious phenomenon. “If you hold up two different images in front of a test subject, one in front of each eye - for example one of a house and one of a face - then he or she will see either the one or the other. We call that binocular rivalry. If you remove one picture, some test subjects will, for a moment, see neither in some cases. This phenomenon never received much attention. I am now studying it with the aid of fMRI and EEG.”

The jury also writes that the thesis has produced nineteen top quality publications. Nineteen? “That surprised me too,” says De Graaf. “You might actually reach that number if you count up everything, including the opinion pieces and the articles published till now.”

What he is going to do with the prize money? He is going to donate part of it to an orphanage in Tanzania. “After my PhD, I worked there as a volunteer for a while.”

See the Maastricht website:



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