Isaac Newton is one the most famous scientists in the world. He is best known for discovering how gravity works, but he worked on so many different topics that he completely changed how we understand the world.

Scientists today

Isaac Newton worked out why we see the world in different colours. Dr Holly Bridge is a Royal Society funded scientist working at the University of Oxford, who uses modern technology to look at how the brain processes the images of the world that we see through our eyes.

 

Holly BridgeWhat do you study?

Our eyes are used to see images - when we look at an object, the eyes detect shapes which are light and dark, and all the colours of the rainbow. But if we only had eyes, we wouldn't actually see anything at all! We also need a brain.

The brain makes sense of light received by the eyes - for example, if we look at a curved yellow object, the brain adds up the information about colour and shape and size (it 'processes' the information) and tells us that we are looking at a banana.

 

Different parts of the brain process different types of information, for example one area makes sense of what we see, and a different part makes sense of what we hear. If the part which makes sense of what you see gets damaged, you might have difficulty seeing normally.

The part of the brain that makes sense of what we see does different tasks. For example, one bit is used for recognizing faces, and another is needed to see things in colour.

So if someone had damage to the bit of the brain that processes colour, they will be able to see images, but everything will be in black, white and grey. But if the bit of the brain that recognizes faces is damaged, the person will be able to name everyday objects, but can't recognize members of their own family.

If we study patients with damage to certain parts of the brain, we can learn more about how the brain works.

What inspired you to become a scientist?

I always enjoyed science at school and at University I decided to study Psychology (studying human behaviour) and Physiology (studying how the brain and body work).

In the second year of my degree I did a research project in a laboratory in Canada and spent the summer at a university there. The experience of designing and performing experiments and working with a group of scientists persuaded me to continue in science.

What do you love about your job?

One of the best things about my job is that I get to investigate, or 'research', questions that I am interested in. The investigations change all the time - one experiment will lead to another and sometimes I end up working on a project that I could never have imagined of in the previous year.

Working as a scientist also means a lot of contact and discussion with other scientists involved in similar types of project. I enjoy sharing ideas and working with other scientists, particularly if my colleagues are based somewhere very sunny and I need to visit them for a few weeks!

What do you do when you are not working?

From a very young age I loved playing football, and have played regularly in various teams around the country for over twenty years! I also enjoy mountain biking with my husband, particularly in ski resorts where you can take the ski lifts up and race down.

If you could go back in time and meet Isaac Newton, what would you like to ask him?

I would ask him how he managed to keep track of all his ideas. It is difficult enough when all your science is in a similar area, such as  studying the brain, but Isaac Newton worked on  lots of different subjects during his life, like gravity, light and mathematics..