Project Prakash: Merging Science and Service

Project Prakash: Merging Science and Service


All scientists harbor the hope of merging their personal desire to be good Samaritans with their professional desire to be good researchers. This aspiration to braid science and service can only come to fruition if we actively identify opportunities that mesh the two-the kind of science that necessitates service. This presentation will describe Project Prakash as a prototype of what such initiatives might look like. The genesis of this project lies in the confluence of a crucial humanitarian mission and a fundamental scientific quest. 

India is home to the world’s largest population of blind children. The visual handicap, coupled with extreme poverty greatly compromises the children’s quality of life and even basic survival. The humanitarian mission of Project Prakash is to bring light into the lives of curably blind children by providing them sight-restoring surgeries. Embedded in this mission is an unprecedented opportunity to study deep scientific questions: How does the brain learn to extract meaning from sensory chaos? Is the visual world we perceive a construction arrived at through a process of learning, or is our ability to interpret the visual environment immediate and innate? Can the brain learn to see even late in life? By following the development of visual skills in these unique children who are just setting out on the enterprise of learning how to see, we have gained insights into these and other fundamental questions regarding visual perception. Through a combination of behavioral and brain-imaging studies, Project Prakash has revealed remarkable neural malleability even late in life and significant improvements in the children’s ability to recognize objects, and use vision to gain independence.

  • Dialogue 30
    19 sessions
  • December 14, 2015
    Sera Monastery, Bylakuppe, India
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Pawan Sinha

Pawan Sinha, PhD, is Professor of Computational and Visual Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. He received his undergraduate degree in computer science from IIT, New Delhi, and his Master's and doctoral degrees from MIT. Using a combination of experimental and computational modeling techniques, research in Professor Sinha's laboratory focuses on understanding how the human brain learns to recognize objects through visual experience and how objects are encoded in memory. His experimental work on these issues involves studying healthy individuals and also those with challenges such as autism or blindness. The goal is not only to derive clues regarding the nature and development of high-level visual skills, but also to create better therapeutic routines to help children overcome sensory or cognitive impairments. Professor Sinha is a recipient of the Pisart Vision Award from the Lighthouse Guild, the PECASE (US Government's highest award for young scientists), the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship in Neuroscience, the Troland Award from the National Academies, the inaugural Asia GameChangers Award from AsiaSociety, the Oberdorfer Award from ARVO Foundation, and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from IIT Delhi. He has been named a Global Indus Technovator, and has also been inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the world's smallest reproduction of a printed book.