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Queen Mary lecturer to carry flame at London Paralympics

The organisers of the 2012 London Paralympics have announced that a Queen Mary lecturer will help carry the flame in the 2012 Paralympic Torch Relay.

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Dr Proulx and family with Mandeville, the Paralympic mascot
Dr Proulx and family with Mandeville, the Paralympic mascot

Dr Michael Proulx, Lecturer in Cognitive Psychology at Queen Mary, University of London’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, was chosen as a torchbearer for his research into blindness and his ongoing engagement with the blind community.

The Paralympic relay will see four flames lit in London, Greater Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff before they are united in Stoke Mandeville, the birthplace of the Paralympic Games. Dr Proulx will join some 580 nominees between 28-29 August in carrying the flame from Stoke Mandeville to London for the Paralympic opening ceremony.

Teams and individuals from across the UK, who have demonstrated the Paralympic values of ‘courage, determination, equality and inspiration’, were chosen by the public through campaigns run by BT, Lloyds TSB, Sainsbury’s and the British Paralympic Association.

“I feel very lucky and absolutely honoured to take part as a torchbearer, but not at all worthy of it,” Dr Proulx says. “I’m fortunate to have such excellent colleagues, including some who happen to be visually impaired, to carry out my research related to the psychology of blindness and the development of assistive technology.”

Dr Proulx’s current research focuses on the use of the vOICe, a 'sensory-substitution' device used to convert visual information to sound. He has worked with blind individuals to better understand the role of visual experience for awareness and perception. His work shows how the ‘visual’ parts of the brain process information, even when nothing ‘visual’ can be seen.  

The vOICEe, invented by Dr Peter Meijer of Metamodal BV in the Netherlands, links spy glasses, a webcam and a computer or smart phone. It makes it easier for blind people to 'see' shapes as it converts visual signals to auditory ones, sending the signals to another part of the brain. The award-winning device significantly improves quality of life for blind people by allowing them to ‘see with their ears’.

The nomination noted that as a postdoctoral research fellow, Dr Proulx first engaged with blind persons through his research and his involvement with the blind community has expanded further throughout his career. He has devoted himself to promoting the careers of blind researchers, through advisement and collaboration, and in doing so is credited with bringing to attention the work of visually impaired scientists, when such achievements are often overlooked.

In addition to his part in the relay, Dr Proulx and his family will be in the audience for the Olympics Women’s Football and Paralympic Five-a-Side Football and Goalball – both of which involve visually impaired athletes.

He adds: “The Paralympic Games are an excellent chance to highlight the amazing skills and talents of athletes, some of whom are visually impaired. Taking part in the Torch Relay makes London 2012 even more special and memorable, and I hope I can build on this experience by further advocating for important campaigns run by the Royal National Institute for the Blind and other organisations.”

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