22 November 2011
Professor Tom Troscianko from the School of Experimental Psychology died on 16 November. Professor Iain Gilchrist pays tribute to an 'interdisciplinary vision researcher, inspiring teacher and colleague'.
Tom came to Bristol in 1978 to work with Richard Gregory on human hearing and vision as a postdoctoral researcher. He left Bristol only briefly (between 2000 and 2002) to take a Chair at Essex University (for one day) and then Sussex University (for two years) before returning to Bristol to be appointed Professor of Psychology.
For Tom research had to be exciting, challenging and, most of all, fun. The questions he asked were often novel and surprising, and his approach to answering these questions was always full of his enormous sense of adventure. Tom’s core scientific interest was to understand how the properties of the natural environment map onto how the brain is organised. This central question led his work in a broad range of directions. A key topic was the perception of colour. He asked, and provided an answer to, the hard question in this area: why do humans have a particular pattern of sensitivity to different wavelengths? This led him to Uganda to study the visual properties of the rainforest environment in which monkeys forage for food and to explore the wavelength sensitivities of other species in the laboratory in collaboration with biologists in Bristol. He also worked for many years with members of the Faculty of Engineering to explore how knowledge of human vision could help with the design of artificial vision systems, or improve machine systems intended to be viewed by humans. His commitment to interdisciplinary working led him to found the Bristol Vision Institute which brought together researchers from every faculty.
For Tom there was no divide between work and life; he loved being an academic and it was a central part of his life. For those who worked with Tom this quickly led to friendship and spending more time with him. Tom was quite rightly renowned for his parties which were often held at his home in High Kingsdown just beside the University’s main precinct. These were parties where one was as likely to meet a Fellow of the Royal Society or a Chief Executive of a Research Council as one of his students. The music was often loud, there was great food, and the alcohol flowed. All were drawn to these events by Tom’s ability to bring people together and have fun.
Tom loved to travel and he often combined this with his work. A trip to an international research conference often became an overland adventure by train, boat, motorbike or bicycle, and full of debate, discussion and ideas. Tom’s command of so many European languages went alongside a deep understanding and love of different cultures; he was the perfect guide on these adventures.
This love of life and the pursuit of knowledge inevitably spilled over into his teaching. Tom talked to his students as equals, listened to what they had to say and tried to understand each and every one of them as an individual. For so many of us, Tom was an inspiring and compelling teacher, mentor and life-long friend.
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