AVA Awards Recipients Report - Manuel Spitschan - 2018

Tom Troscianko Memorial Award

I started my journey on a delayed coach from a rainy Oxford into the heart of London, where I visited the museum of College of Optometrists. The College holds an extensive collection of objects and artefacts ranging from colour vision tests, to spectacles, to a display of glass eyes. It was great fun to browse through their holdings, and it was in particular their collection of historical colour vision tests which I came to see. They are quite unlike the ones typically used for colour vision assessment nowadays: for example, the Holmgren wool test. The museum’s curator, Neil Handley, provided great guidance through the collection.


I left the city quickly to go to the South Downs for immersion in nature and days of hiking. The weather fortunately played along and clear skies made possible the observation of the night sky and its assets unaltered and undiluted by light pollution. After a few days of local hiking, I left England towards Normandy, taking the ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. Having just missed the last “summer bus” (bus estival) to the camp site which I had picked, I reached my camp site for the two following days on foot after a glorious hike along the coastal line at dawn when the atmospheric effects on natural daylight are most interesting.


Not without having eaten moules-frites, I travelled to Paris next – fittingly, the city of lights. In Paris, I managed to view and examine a historical colour vision test used by the Alsatian railroad company from the mid-1920s in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.


I continued my journey South and towards Trieste on TGV travel, entering Lyon only after dark. In Lyon, I visited the laboratories of Dominique Dumortier (ENTPE) and Kenneth Knoblauch (INSERM) and had long conversations with them, on the spectral properties of daylight, and human colour vision and the organisation of the human visual system, respectively.


I continued my journey South, this time on coach, to Milan, where I stayed one night at an AirBnb. The next morning, I left early to cross the border to Switzerland, where I again set up camp near Monte San Giorgio in the Ticino, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The next day I hiked up the mountain. Once during the day, and once to observe the sunset. It was absolutely stunning. The descent during the night was as well, with the soundscape of the dark forest.


The next morning, I went to Varese in Italy specifically to visit the Villa e Collezione Panza, which houses many exhibits from James Turrell, an American artist who uses colour and light and the lack of spatially articulated displays – he calls them Ganzfelds, which is what they are. Turrell’s work is impressive, and it seemed a good counterpoint to the lack of light in the dark forest the night before.


After a quick stop in Venice, I finally arrived in Trieste, for ECVP 2018. The conference was spread across multiple sites – mostly the university and a few locations near the harbour – which proved to a great opportunity to explore various routes of getting from one location to the other. In brief, ECVP 2018 was fantastic – from the keynote on the first day speakers to the final banquet dinner. My contributions include organising and speaking a symposium on melanopsin-mediated contributions to vision and visual perception, and demonstrating magically glowing fruits and vegetables under special lighting during the “Un mare di illusioni” event.


I’m grateful for having been given the opportunity to complete this “grand tour académique”. I met the late Tom Troscianko briefly at a social hour at the MPI Tübingen in early 2011. My interaction, and what I have heard from others makes me think that this trip would have been one he would have liked. And indeed, I do think that trips like this offer a great opportunity to step outside the context of the laboratory and really place one’s research into the bigger context – the real world.


To share my experiences, I documented my trip on Twitter via the hashtag #AVATT2018:



Manuel Spitschan