Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Jaap de Ruyter van Steveninck

Date of news: 31 January 2020

WhatsApp Image 2019-10-28 at 15.24.02What’s your name, nationality, current function, and department?

My name is Jaap, I’m Dutch and in September, I started as a PhD student at the departments of Biophysics and Artificial Intelligence (DCN and DCC).

What is the topic of your PhD project and what does your work look like in practice?

The aim of our project is to develop a visual prosthesis for blind people. By electrically stimulating the visual cortex using camera signals, a rudimentary form of visual perception will be recreated. The main challenge for me, during my PhD, will be to come up with – and experimentally validate – smart ways to pre-process the visual environment for optimized stimulation, generating meaningful representations of our complex visual environment.

In practice, this means that (like most PhD students) I am doing a lot of different stuff at the same time: training models, setting up behavioral experiments, and designing/coding a virtual reality simulation. This VR simulation can be used to experience the restored (rudimentary) vision of blind people after receiving our implant, which means that it is not very unusual for me to stumble around in the office, like a zombie with VR goggles. The good thing here, is that it also acts as a ‘gadget’ that can be used for any type of demonstrations. Which also means that I am even able to explain my research to my grandma, and can convey some tangible experience of what I am working on.

Who are you working with and what do these collaborations look like?

My supervisors are Richard van Wezel (Biophysics) and Marcel van Gerven (Artificial Intelligence). Since I am working at two departments, I have the opportunity to work with people of different backgrounds. It also means that there are more meetings, but also more social activities (i.e. having two Christmas dinners, etc. ).

What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?

I always liked the natural sciences, and was intrigued by human biology. After I finished high school, I chose to do a bachelor in medicine, which was in hindsight not the best choice I had ever made, since I didn’t want to become a (medical) doctor. After finishing my bachelor and trying some other things (like some bachelor courses in physics), I  decided to do cognitive neuroscience in Nijmegen. Now I am very happy where I am, and even have the opportunity to become a ‘doctor’ after all!

What is an important life lesson you have learned in the past?

That the steam meals from Albert Heijn are different from the meal salads, and that you have to put them in the microwave first (when you don’t like to eat raw meat). I learned that the hard way, in my first week as a student.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

An inventor / an airplane pilot.

Who inspires you the most and why?

Andy Lewis (climber) because he is the most fearless creature on this planet! Although I am not sure if ‘inspiring’ is the right word, but you have to watch his videos to see what I mean…

What does your perfect weekend look like?

Sailing /windsurfing at sea with gale force winds! (Followed, of course, by a decent pizza with Netflix evening)

What is your favorite book and why?

‘The solitude of prime numbers’, by Paolo Giordani. Or: ‘A short history of nearly everything’, by Bill Bryson (which is hilarious, but also a must-read for scientists)