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The Historical Origin of the Pulfrich Effect: A Serendipitous Astronomic Observation at the Border of the Milky Way

Petzold, A; Pitz, E; (2009) The Historical Origin of the Pulfrich Effect: A Serendipitous Astronomic Observation at the Border of the Milky Way. NEURO-OPHTHALMOLOGY , 33 (1-2) 39 - 46. 10.1080/01658100802590829. Green open access

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Abstract

Interested in star movement the founder of Heidelberg's astronomy observatory, Max Wolf, faced the dilemma that the hitherto used 'Blinkmikrosop' of his Institution was damaged beyond repair following the first world war. He therefore used a new method, stereoscopy, to systematically classify 1053 moving stars between 1915 and 1918. The key problem Wolf identified with the new method was that variation in brightness of the same star on different photographic plates gave rise to an illusory movement. This was a particularly frequent problem with smaller stars close to the very bright Milky Way such as those in the proximity of Cygni or fade-out stars such as R Coronae Borealis. Carl Pulfrich, the world-leading expert on stereoscopy at the time, picked up immediately on the technical limitations Wolf published on stereoscopy in 1920. Pulfrich, who was blind in one eye, could not see the effect himself and designed a projection device to demonstrate Wolf's serendipitous observation to an audience which was equipped with a monocular neutral density filter. Pulfrich performed detailed investigations on the relationship of spatial perception and object movement, naming the phenomenon stereo effect, but it became widely known as the Pulfrich effect. The neuro-anatomical basis of the Pulfrich effect lies in the joint encoding of motion and depth within the visual cortex. Recognising Pulfrich effect is relevant for the management of patients in whom pathology of the visual pathways impairs judgment of object movement/position (e.g., in traffic or sport). Fitting a unilateral tinted lens or contact lens in front of the good eye can abolish the problem.

Type: Article
Title: The Historical Origin of the Pulfrich Effect: A Serendipitous Astronomic Observation at the Border of the Milky Way
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/01658100802590829
Keywords: Pulfrich effect, stereos copy, optic neuritis
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/18957
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