Vision Science

Degree Offered: PhD, MS, OD/MS
Program Director: Michael Twa, OD, PhD
Program Manager: Stefanie B. Varghese, PhD
Phone: (205) 934-6743

Program Information

Vision Science is a multidisciplinary field where basic scientists and clinicians focus on the discovery of new knowledge that will further our understanding of the eye and vision. This discovery includes virtually every scientific discipline where advances come from biologists, neuroscientists, optical engineers, epidemiologists, psychologists, optometrists, physicians and others.

The Vision Science Graduate Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham provides comprehensive training for the next generation of leaders in vision science. Your decision to pursue graduate training in this program will place you at the center of one of the nation’s top biomedical research institutions and will immerse you in collaborative multidisciplinary research environment that is today’s model for biomedical research leadership. Moreover, our training environment will present opportunities for creative career paths such as dual degree programs with business, law and public health that will allow you to position yourself for a career as unique as your individual talents and interests.

Admission and Financial Aid

Applications for admission to the graduate program in vision science are reviewed by the Vision Science Graduate Program Admissions Committee. Qualified students admitted to the program may receive financial assistance in the form of annual stipends, tuition support, scholarships, and student health insurance.

Master of Science Degree

Two calendar years are generally required to complete the Master of Science degree (MS) in the Vison Science Graduate Program. Each candidate must complete a minimum of 30 hours of credit: 24 credit hours in vision science and 6 credit hours in related graduate courses. In addition, the candidate must successfully complete and defend a research thesis.

Admission Requirements:

  • GRE Required (subject tests are optional)
  • TOEFL or IETLS tests required for international students (see program website for minimum scores)
  • Undergraduate GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale (B average)
  • Strong background in the biological, physical or health sciences
  • Three letters of recommendation

Doctor of Optometry / Master of Science—Dual Degree

Selected students in the UAB optometry professional program are encouraged to combine the clinical doctorate degree with additional research training in Vision Science. Financial assistance is available for qualified students. Potential candidates should have completed an undergraduate degree in a biological, physical, or health science field.

Admission Requirements:

  • See Master Degree Requirements
  • OAT scores can be used in lieu of GRE requirement

Doctor of Philosophy Degree

Doctoral research training leading to the PhD degree in vision science is based upon completion of graduate course work, a qualifying examination, research accomplishments, and successful defense of a dissertation. There is considerable flexibility in the coursework for the PhD in vision science. Each student is required to take the first-year core curriculum for their respective track, as well as courses in statistics and the ethical conduct of research. Students then take three additional courses, selected by the student in consultation with their academic advisor, which can include a wide range of interdisciplinary topics. Other graduate level courses can be substituted so that students can take maximum advantage of offerings in other programs at UAB. Individuals with previous clinical training will have opportunities for further clinical development and research integration. Students are also required to gain teaching experience.

Admission Requirements:

  • GRE Required (subject tests are optional)
  • TOEFL and/or IETLS tests required for international students (see program website for minimum scores)
  • Undergraduate GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale (B average)
  • Strong background in the biological, physical or health sciences
  • Three letters of recommendation

Additional Information

Deadline for Entry Term(s): Summer and Fall (No Spring admission)
Deadline for All Application Materials to be in the Graduate School Office: January 15th
Number of Evaluation Forms Required: Three
Entrance Tests: GRE (TOEFL and TWE also required for international applicants whose native language is not English.) OAT is considered for combined degree programs, e.g. OD/ MS.
Web site:

For detailed information, contact the graduate program manager, Dr. Stefanie Varghese, UAB School of Optometry Vision Science Graduate Program, HPB 516, 1720 2nd Ave S., Birmingham, AL 35294-4390 (office location: Henry Peters Building, Room 516, 1720 University Blvd.).
Telephone 205-934-6743


VIS 550. Electronics for Biologists. 2 Hours.

VIS 670. Intermediate Orientation and Mobility Skills. 3 Hours.

Development of teaching skills in orientation and mobility in semi-independent settings with multihandicapped and blind students.

VIS 671. Intermediate Orientation and Mobility Seminar. 3 Hours.

Recent research practices and problem areas in special education. Focus onintermediate orientation and mobility for multihandicapped and blind students.

VIS 672. Advanced Orientation and Mobility Skills. 3 Hours.

Advanced orientation and mobility teaching techniques for travel in independent settings for multihandicapped and blind students.

VIS 673. Advanced Orientation and Mobility Seminar. 3 Hours.

Recent research practices and problem areas in special education. Focus onadvanced orientation and mobility for people with multiple handicaps and blindness.

VIS 674. Orientation and Mobility Internship. 3-6 Hours.

Demonstrate skills in applying principles of special methods of teaching, designing instruction, conducting skills assessments, and in preparing written reports, and consulting and collaborating with professionals and parents to assure orientation and mobility programming for students with visual impairments.

VIS 698. Master s Level Non-Thesis Research. 1-15 Hour.

Non Thesis Reseach in Vision Science.

VIS 699. Master's Level Thesis Research. 1-15 Hour.

Prerequisites: GAC M

VIS 700. Vision Related Literature Review. 1 Hour.

Vision Related Literature Review - preparing for giving public presentations.

VIS 701. Visual Sensitivity and Resolution. 3 Hours.

VIS 702. Color Vision. 3 Hours.

VIS 703. Visual Neuromuscular Mechanisms. 3 Hours.

VIS 704. Binocular Vision. 3 Hours.

VIS 705. Microscopic Anatomy of the Retina and Central Visu. 3 Hours.

VIS 706. Visual Infromation Processing. 3 Hours.

VIS 707. Visual Optics. 3 Hours.

VIS 708. Visual Perception. 3 Hours.

VIS 709. Ocular Physiology. 3 Hours.

Physiology of the Eye.

VIS 710. Ocular Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 3 Hours.

Ocular Biochemistry.

VIS 717. Principles of Scientific Integrity. 1 Hour.

VIS 720. Instrumentation for Vision Research. 2 Hours.

VIS 721. Optics and Optical Design. 2 Hours.

VIS 722. Specification of Visual Stimuli. 2 Hours.

VIS 723. Psychophysical Methods. 2 Hours.

VIS 724. Applied Statistics in Basic and Clinical Sciences. 3 Hours.

Mathematical Techniques in Vision Research.

VIS 725. Historical Techniques for Light Microscopy. 2 Hours.

VIS 726. Techniques in Corneal Physiology. 2 Hours.

VIS 727. Systems Neuroscience Journal Club. 1 Hour.

Biochemical Techniques in Eye Research.

VIS 728. Computational Neuroscience Methods. 3 Hours.

An introduction to the basic principles and techniques needed to do research on systems of neurons for students who do not have an engineering background.

VIS 729. Introduction to Neurobiology/Marine Biology. 4 Hours.

VIS 730. Corneal Physiology. 2 Hours.

VIS 731. Growth and Development of the Visual System. 2 Hours.

VIS 732. Physiology of the Other Sensory Systems. 2 Hours.

VIS 734. Refractive Error. 2 Hours.

VIS 736. Comparative and Evolutionary Aspects of Vision. 2 Hours.

VIS 737. Orientation for Vision Educators. 2 Hours.

VIS 738. Public Health and Vision. 2 Hours.

VIS 739. Molecular Biology. 2 Hours.

VIS 740. Biophysics of Photoreceptors. 2 Hours.

VIS 741. Special Topics in Vision Neurobiology. 1 Hour.

VIS 742. Special Topics in Corneal Research. 1 Hour.

VIS 743. Optics and Imaging. 3 Hours.

Optical properties of the eye. Transparency, aberrations, modulation transfer functions of the eye. Use of coherent optics (lasers) invision research. MRI in vision research.

VIS 744. Ocular Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry of Anterior Serment. 3 Hours.

Anatomy of the eye. Biochemistry and physiology of ocular tissues, including tears, cornea, aqueous humor, lens, vitreous and sclera.

VIS 745. Ocular Anatomy-Physiology and Biochemistry II. 3 Hours.

Continued examination of ocular anatomy, biochemistry and physiology.

VIS 748. Central Visual Mechanisms II. 3 Hours.

Analysis of the visual scene by cortical neurons, including temporal coding, motion detection, shape analysis, leading to visual perception.

VIS 750. Current Topics in Retina Research. 1 Hour.

VIS 751. Adv Retinal Morphology and Physiology. 3 Hours.

Literature based discussions of the physiology and underlying circuitry of the vertebrate retina.

VIS 752. Vision Science Journal Club. 1 Hour.

Read original literature, extract key points, present summary and critique articles related to vision research.

VIS 753. MRI for Biologists. 3 Hours.

The theory and practice of Magnetic Resonance Imaging will be discussed. There will be lecture and discussion of theory and underlying spin physics and the relationship between spin pulse sequences, sources of contrast in images, post processing analysis, and software use. Students will have an opportunity to experiment with various pulse sequences on an ultra-high field MRI in the lab.

VIS 754. MRI for Biologists Lab. 1 Hour.

Students will have an opportunity to experiment with various pulse sequences on an ultra-high field MRI in the lab.

VIS 755. Electronic for Biologists. 3 Hours.

This course provides an overview of the fundamental concenpts of electronics that are relavance to a biologist. The material is aimed at non-engineers who need a backgroun in the circuit concepts needed for studying ion channels, electrophysiology, the basic s of the proper use of amplifer and fitler, and the use of computers to acquire and analyse data. There will be a mix of formal lectures and problem set with practical hands-on experience.

VIS 756. Visual Neuroscience. 4 Hours.

Vision begins with photons and ends in the brain. How does it all work? This course introduces the student to the anatomical and physiological underpinnings of visual perception, stepping from single photoreceptors in the retina on through the cortical neural circuits devoted to capturing every facet of seeing the world. Lectures are supplemented with hands-on sessions where students can test their own vision.

VIS 757. Functional MRI. 3 Hours.

In this course, we will explore the history of fMRI, design of fMRI experiments, and the analysis of fMRI data. We will also discuss several related techniques that are used in neuroimaging research. When designing fMRI experiments, it is important to know what techniques and statistical methods are available. It is also important to understand the kinds of hypotheses that can be tested with fMRI. By the end of this class, students will understand what led to the development of fMRI, when to use fMRI or related methods, limitations of experiments involving this technology, and different techniques for analyzing fMRI data. This class will be ‘hands-on’; each student will be required to design and execute an fMRI experiment.

VIS 760. Sensory Impairment Lit Review. 1 Hour.

Sensory Impairment and Deafblind literature review and presentation.

VIS 761. Neuroblgy/Dev Human Vis Sy I. 3 Hours.

This course is a two part sequence that provides in-depth studies of anatomy and physiology of retina and other ocular structures. Basis for understanding of genetic abnormalities and disease processes.

VIS 762. Neuroblgy/Dev Human Vis Sy II. 3 Hours.

This is the second sequence providing in-depth studies of anatomy and physiology of the auditory systems. Basis for understanding of genetic abnormalities and disease processes. Provide comprehensive exploration of development of embryotic and prenatal visual and auditory systems.

VIS 763. Central Visual Processing. 4 Hours.

Analysis of the visual scene by cortical neurons, including temporal coding, motion detection, shape analysis, leading to visual perception. Structure and function of geniculostriate parallel pathways, subcortical projections and the oculomotor system.

VIS 764. Sensory Impairments. 3 Hours.

The course includes the development, anatomy, histology and physiology of deafblindness, relating structure to function. The focus is presentation of deafblind etiology and implications of visual/auditory disorders related to deafblindness.

VIS 765. Audiroty Impairments. 3 Hours.

The course builds in the basic auditory structure and sequence from outer ear to the auditory cortex. The course includes the development, anatomy, histology and physiology of the auditory systems, relating structure to function. The focus is presentation of etiology and implications of auditory disorders. Psycho-acoustics will focus on the perceptual aspects of sound and acoustic representation in the auditory pathway. Audiological assessment and technological resources appropriate for persons with deafblindness.

VIS 766. Deafblind Analy Sensory Impair. 3 Hours.

The course involves additional audio metric and vestibular assessments, approaches and accommodationsfor deafblindness. implications of deafblindness on sensory integration for communication and learning and the impact of medical conditions and additional impartments. Also included is the relance of brain development and neurological implications of deafblindness to teaching and learning.

VIS 767. Deafblind Communication Techno. 3 Hours.

The course provides an understanding language, sign language, Braille, development of stages of learners and the effects of timely intervention. Knowledgew of genetic development and frequently occurring anomalies related to deafness, blindness and deafblindness are included in the research and class design. An understanding of the implications and interventions for multiple disabilities including deafblindness arepresented as well as technology used for communication and appropriate interventions for technology. Instructional planning, strategies of intervention, and research to practice for communication based on language Level of a person'sneurological functions and sensory integration are the competencies addressed in this course.

VIS 768. Deafblind Seminar. 1-3 Hour.

Focusing on various deafblind issues how to apply resolutions.

VIS 769. Supervision & Mentoring. 3 Hours.

This course is to prepare the future leader to utlize knowledge of human resources to accomplish agency goals. This includes supervising and evaluating employeed, mentoring new employees, developing the ability to design and implement professional development for indivual employees and the entire staff, as well as learning how to facilitate teaming that will impact achievement. A final unit in the course will assist the future leader in seeking a mentor hor him/herself.

VIS 770. Legal & Ethical Foundations. 3 Hours.

The purpose of the course is twofold. 1) Candidates will gain a fundamental knowledge of ethical principles based on professional code of ethnics and guidelines, and 2) Candidates will gain a working knowledge of legal principles established by local, state, and federal legislative and judicial requirements.

VIS 771. Organ Leadshp & Decision Makin. 3 Hours.

This course is designed to strengthen knowledge ad skills in the areas of effective leadership and decision making. From course readings and activities, candidates will increase their understanding of and skills in how they make decisions; how decision making occurs in an organizational setting; and how leaders approach decision making from multiple frames of reference.

VIS 773. Supervison & Personnel. 3 Hours.

This course is designed to develop knowledge of suppervisory porocedures. An in-depth exploration of strategies to support leadrs will provide the impetus of this course. EAch student will access changes within organizations. Theories of Leadership Development will also be analyzed. Diversity in the 21st Century will be discussed for leadership in a culturally conpetent manner that embellished the work place setting.

VIS 774. Issues & Problems in Finance. 3 Hours.

This course is designed to develop knowledge of financing/and funding procedures agencies and higher education. An in-depth exploration of how programs, research and agencies are financed in the US and the historical background of the development of finance laws and policy will provide the impetus of this course.

VIS 790. Individual Topics and Advanced Topics. 1-3 Hour.

VIS 798. Doctoral Level Non-Dissertation Research. 1-15 Hour.

VIS 799. Doctoral Level Dissertation Research. 1-15 Hour.

Prerequisites: GAC Z


Amthor, Franklin R., Professor of Psychology; Director, Behavioral Neuroscience Doctoral Program; Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, 1981, B.S. (Cornell), Ph.D. (Duke)
Barnes, Stephen, Professor (Pharmacology & Toxicology), Site-directed mutagenesis of rodent liver bile acid CoA: amino acid N-acyltransferase (BAT) - this project involves a combination of molecular biology, enzymology and protein mass spectrometry; Molecular basis of prevention of eye cataract disease by polyphenol-containing dietary supplements; Site-specific modification of lens proteins by oxidants - this project involves protein mass spectrometry and other physical chemical techniques
Benjamin, William J., Professor (Optometry)
Busettini, Claudio, Assistant Professor (Vision Sciences)
Curcio, Christine A., Professor (Ophthalmology)
DeLucas, Lawrence J. , Professor (Optometry), Protein Crystal Growth
Dobbins, Allan C., Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, 1996, B.Sc. (Dalhousie), B.S.E., M.S.E., Ph.D. (McGill), Human and machine vision, Neural computation, Brain imaging, Scientific visualization
Fuhr, Patti S., Clinical Associate Professor (Optometry)
Fullard, Roderick J., Associate Professor (Vision Sciences)
Gamlin, Paul, Ph.D., Professor; Vision Sciences, Studies of the neural bases of vision & eye movements
Gawne, Timothy J., Assistant Professor (Vision Sciences), Information processing in the cerebral cortex, Gamma-band brain activity and neurotransmitter metabolism in schizophrenia, Visual cortical evoked potential
Girkin, Christopher A., Chair/Professor (Ophthalmology)
Gross, Alecia K. , Ph.D., Associate Professor; Vision Sciences; Rhodopsin trafficking in rod cells and rhodopsin-mediated retinal degenerations
Keyser, Kent T., Professor (Vision Sciences), Neurotransmitters and receptors
Kleinstein, Robert N., Professor (Optometry)
Kraft, Timothy W., Assistant Professor (Vision Sciences)
Lester, Robin A.J., Professor (Neurobiology)
Liu, Lei, Associate Professor (Optometry), Low vision visual function and rehabilitation
Loop, Michael, Associate Professor (Vision Sciences)
McMahon, Lori, Professor and Graduate Dean, 1998, B.A. (Southern Illinois); Ph.D. (St. Louis), Cell, Developmental & Integrative Biology, Extramural Funding, Mentoring and Leadership
Norton, Thomas T., Professor (Vision Sciences)
Owsley, Cynthia, Professor (Ophthalmology)
Pittler, Steven, Ph.D., Professor; Characterization of Photoreceptor Metabolism and Retinal Degeneration
Sincich, Lawrence, Assistant Professor (Vision Sciences)
Sontheimer, Harald, Professor (Neurobiology)
Srivastava, Om P., Professor (Vision Sciences)
Visscher, Kristina, Assistant Professor (Neurobiology)
Wang, Shu-Zhen, Associate Professor (Ophthalmology)
Whikehart, David, Professor Emeritus (Vision Sciences)