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Meta endowment establishes first-ever corporate-sponsored graduate fund for sustaining vision research at York

This news story originally appeared in YFile.

The University has chosen to dedicate the fund to its Centre for Vision Research (CVR). 

York’s Vice-President of Advancement Susana Gajic-Bruyea remarks, “we are delighted to welcome Meta’s gift in support of graduate students in the field of vision research. Meta’s gift amplifies the groundbreaking work being done here at York University while signalling the importance of support for the ever-growing field of vision sciences. Meta’s gift follows on the heels of their announcement of their investment to the expanding VR (virtual reality) and tech sectors here in the GTA. This gift is the University’s first endowed graduate fellowship in vision sciences funded by a corporation, and we look forward to welcoming more leaders to partner and grow with us.” 

The CVR continues to play a leading role in vision research for decades by undertaking groundbreaking studies in a variety of fields from 3D displays to computer vision to cognitive neuroscience to multisensory integration. The CVR training programs offer unique, hands-on opportunities and a collaborative environment that facilitates students’ research efforts by providing access to a variety of neuroimaging tools (structural and functional MRI, EEG, TMS). Fundamental research that merges techniques in human psychophysics, visual neuroscience, computer vision and computational theory is supported by innovative facilities from a 3T fMRI scanner to a wide array of visuo-robotic platforms.

The CVR has named the fund in honour of Kevin MacKenzie, with the support of family and his colleagues. MacKenzie is a York alumnus and Meta employee who passed away Aug. 25, 2021. The fellowship is a way to acknowledge the innovative work in vision research at York University undertaken by the CVR and remember MacKenzie.  

The York alumnus received his PhD in psychology from CVR. His graduate research focused on depth perception, specifically how the human visual system integrates information from stereopsis and motion to define surfaces in depth.  

“Kevin enjoyed the challenges of scientific inquiry and did not back down from difficult problems. He also loved the comradery of working with a team and was an enthusiastic participant in outings, and events – he was the life of the party and a solid friend to those who knew him,” recalls Department of Psychology Professor Laurie Wilcox, who was MacKenzie’s MA and PhD supervisor. 

MacKenzie went on to several careers, most recently with Meta Reality Labs where he was working as the lead research scientist of the Applied Perception Sciences team, focusing on vision research involving augmented reality and virtual reality. Throughout his time working in the industry, MacKenzie was a great supporter of individual research labs and the vision science community through the Vision Sciences Society.  

Robert Allison, a professor at Lassonde School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering as well as director of the CVR, worked in the same area and was MacKenzie’s close colleague during his time at the CVR. Allison says, “This generous fellowship will allow students to work at the forefront of vision research and its applications under the guidance of the world-class researchers at York’s Centre for Vision Research.”  

The fund will also contribute to the broader intellectual community at the University and provide leadership in the VISTA program, the interdisciplinary Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) funded Vision: Science to Applications  program. VISTA’s work is dedicated to advancing vision science through computational and biological research perspectives that result in real-world applications.  Scholars who participate in the program are involved in the production of patents, inventions, licences and companies that positively impact industry, health care and society.  

In collaboration with over 50 academic, public and for-profit partners from around the world, VISTA aims to integrate visual neuroscience with computer vision to drive innovation and propel Canada forward as a global leader in the vision sciences. This donation provides additional opportunities for future researchers who will contribute to progressive discoveries. More graduate students interested in vision science and its applications will be able to benefit from getting involved in the space where cutting-edge research is created. 

“Vision Science is moving increasingly towards an era of integration and real-world application,” stated Wilcox. “In addition to supporting individual talented junior scientists this fund will help advance the quality and scope of their research endeavours,” adds Allison.

For more information on the globally impactful research performed at York visit the CVR and VISTA’s program sites.