The Normann Laboratory

Photo of Richard A. Normann, Ph.D.

Richard A. Normann’s research is directed towards the study of the vertebrate visual system and has both basic and applied elements. His basic research interests are focused on quantifying the extent and mechanisms underlying information processing in the retina and visual cortex using single cell intracellular recording techniques. He also studies the parallel processing of visual signals with high density, silicon based multi-electrode arrays. The cortical research also has an applied aspect: the micro electrode arrays that are currently being developed in his laboratory have application in the field of neuroprosthetics. The neural stimulation capabilities of these multichannel interfaces to the central nervous system might provide functional restoration of a limited visual sense to the profoundly blind or a limited sense of hearing to the deaf. Work ongoing in his laboratory is focused on testing these concepts.

Image illustrating the hope of artificial vision.

The hope of artificial vision

The development of the Utah Artificial Vision System is guided by four principles: 1. Long-term safety and biocompatibility, 2. Vision capable of navigation without a guide dog, family member or friend, 3. Vision capable of reading printed text, and 4. A prosthesis that is as unobtrusive as possible. As a general high-level description, the Utah Artificial Vision System will consist of a micro-video camera hidden in a pair of eyeglasses to transform light in the visual scene into electrical signals, signal processing electronics to convert these signals into patterns of electrical stimulation for the brain as well as a power source carried in a shirt pocket, a totally implanted multichannel stimulator with data to be delivered to the system via a radio-frequency telemetry link, and an electrode array with 625 micro electrodes.

Education: Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Academic Appointments: Professor of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences—University of Utah School of Medicine; Professor of Bioengineering

Photo of one of the new labs in the research pavilion at the Moran Eye Center.

One of many new high tech, spacious laboratories in the research pavilion at the Moran Eye Center.

Patient Care Significance

Photo of Utah Slant Array

Utah Slant Array

Most retinal degenerations are irreversible, leading to profound visual impairment or total blindness. Glaucoma, optic nerve disease and eye trauma can all result in loss of vision from destruction of the retina or the axons connecting the retina to the brain. In all of these instances, the only possible option for restoring sight is to inform the brain directly about the visual world. Dr. Normann’s ground-breaking research focuses on developing the technologies to do this, first by creating and validating new electrode technologies with which electrical signals can be precisely mapped onto the visual cortex, giving it an impression of the shapes, edges and movements of events imaged by cameras. This bionic vision, close to being a reality in the research lab, offers one of the brightest opportunities for soon restoring visual abilities to the sight-impaired.

A sample of major publications from the Normann Laboratory

Badi A. N., Hillman T., Shelton C., and Normann R. A. (2002) A technique for implantation of a 3-dimensional penetrating electrode array in the modiolar nerve of cats and humans. Arch. Otoloryngol. Head Neck Surg. 128:1010-25.

Shoham S., Halgren E., Maynard E. M., and Normann R. A. (2001) Motor-cortical activity in tetraplegics. Nature Oct 25; 413(6858):793.

Warren D. J., Fernández E., and Normann R. A. (2001) High-Resolution Two-Dimensional Spatial Mapping Of Cat Striate Cortex Using A 100 Micro Electrode Array. Neuroscience 105(1):19-31.

Normann R. A., Warren D. J., Ammermüller J., Fernández E., and Guillory S. (2001) High-Resolution Spatio-Temporal Mapping of Visual Pathways Using Multi-Electrode Arrays. Vision Research 41:1261-1275.

Normann R. A., Maynard E. M., Guillory K. S., and Warren D. J. (1996) Cortical implants for the blind IEEE Spectrum May, pp. 54-59.