Professor Hannah Smithson

Fellow and Tutor in Psychology, Associate Professor of Experimental Psychology

My research focuses on the neural mechanisms that underlie perception. We use psychophysical experiments to objectively measure human visual performance under different conditions. Our aim is to test different models of the retinal and cortical processing on which vision is based. In addition to fundamental research on normal adult human perception, we seek to explore potential applications of our findings - for example, in developing new display technologies and in understanding the limitations of vision in disease.

Further information about my research interests can be found here: Principle investigator in Experimental Psychology

Details of my reseach group are available here: Research group in Experimental Psychology

Teaching activities

  • Tutor for PP and EP Prelim in Psychology
  • Tutor for Part 1 Psychology paper in Perception
  • Lecturer on Part I course on Perception
  • Lecturer on Part II Advanced Option in Colour Vision
  • Lecturer on MSc course on Matlab Programming for Psychological Reserach

Detailed Biography

My first degree was in Natural Sciences (University of Cambridge: 1993-1996). I was introduced to visual science in my final undergraduate year by John Mollon, under whose supervision I subsequently studied for a doctoral degree on visual masking (University of Cambridge: 1996-2000). I spent two years as a post-doc in the USA, with Joel Pokorny in Chicago working on colour adaptation (University of Chicago: 2000-2001), and with Qasim Zaidi in New York City working on colour constancy (SUNY College of Optometry: 2001-2002). I returned to the UK as an Affiliated Lecturer at Cambridge (2002-2003), before moving to London to work with Andrew Stockman on adaptation (Institute of Ophthalmology, UCL: 2003-2005). I took my first lectureship at Durham University (Lecturer 2005-2009; Senior Lecturer 2009-2011) and moved from there to the University of Oxford, where I am currently a Associate Professor in Perception and Tutorial Fellow at Pembroke. 

I sit on the joint Editorial Board of Perception and i-Perception, and on the Directors’ Board of the International Colour Vision Society (2008-2016). In 2011 I was awarded the Applied Vision Association’s Marr Medal for ‘extensive work on colour vision - from photoreceptors to colour constancy’.

Research interests

The perception of material properties

funded by the Wellcome Trust

In this project we ask, how the signals from the three classes of cone photoreceptors are processed to allow us to identify the colours of objects and light sources in the visual scene. We are particularly interested in the visual cues that allow us to infer the material properties of objects – such as glossiness, roughness and translucency. 

Medieval science and public engagement 

funded by the AHRC

I am a founding member and Co-I for the Ordered Universe Project (, dedicated to fresh and original examinations of medieval science using interdisciplinary readings of the scientific works of the remarkable English thinker Robert Grosseteste (c.1170-1253). His treatises on colour and rainbows have prompted new research on the variation of colour within and between rainbows (see Smithson et al., 2014).


High-resolution in-vivo imaging of the human retina

funded by John Fell Fund and Fight for Sight

A major focus of my current research is to develop an adaptive optics enabled ophthalmoscope to capture images of the retina with high fidelity. In collaboration with clinical ophthalmologists, we are imaging patients with inherited retinal degenerations to probe the relationship between detailed patterns of loss and underlying genetic causes of degeneration.


News and impacts

Our analysis of Grosseteste’s treatises, written between 1220 and 1230, on light, colour and rainbows was shortlisted for THE Awards Research Project of the Year 2014.

In 2015 we were invited to present at the Cheltenham Science Festival on “Robert Grosseteste: The greatest mind you’ve never heard of”.

Our work has also featured in Nature and Nature Physics.

Smithson, H. E., Gasper, G. E. M., & McLeish, T. C. B. (2014). All the colours of the rainbow. Nature Physics, 10(8), 540-542.

McLeish, T. C. B., Bower, R. G., Tanner, B. K., Smithson, H. E., Panti, C., Lewis, N., & Gasper, G. E. M. (2014). A medieval multiverse. Nature, 507(7491), 161-163. 


Recent publications

Young, L. K., & Smithson, H. E. (2014). Critical band masking reveals the effects of optical distortions on the channel mediating letter identification. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1060.

Smithson, H. E., Anderson, P. S., Dinkova-Bruun, G., Fosbury, R. A. E., Gasper, G. E. M., Laven, P., McLeish, T. C. B., Panti, C., & Tanner, B. K. (2014). Color-coordinate system from a 13th-century account of rainbows. JOSA A, 31(4), A341-A349.

Smithson, H. E. (2014). S-cone psychophysics. Visual Neuroscience, 31(2), 211-225.

Young, L. K., Love, G. D., & Smithson, H. E. (2013). Accounting for the phase, spatial frequency and orientation demands of the task improves metrics based on the visual Strehl ratio. Vision Research, 90, 57- 67.

Young, L. K., Love, G. D., & Smithson, H. E. (2013). Different aberrations raise contrast thresholds for single- letter identification in line with their effect on cross-correlation-based confusability. Journal of Vision, 13(7), 12, 11-14.

The Ordered Universe Research Project Presents