Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Read About My Ruffed Lemur Color Vision Research in Duke Lemur Center's Spring 2016 Newsletter


My ruffed lemur color vision research at Duke Lemur Center was recently highlighted in their 2016 Spring Newsletter! Here's a link to the PDF version of this newsletter which I have uploaded on Research Gate.

A preview of my article in the Duke Lemur Center 2016 Spring Newsletter

To sign up for Duke Lemur Center newsletter please click here.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

I Talked About SMARTA and Ruffed Lemur Color Vision A Lot This Week

Duke Lemur Center presentation cover page

I gave a 30 minute presentation on Tuesday at Duke Lemur Center this week for their "Lemurs, Science, and Beer" seminar. The title of the talk is "Do You See What I See? Studying Ruffed Lemur (Varecia spp.) Color Vision using SMARTA".  In this presentation, I did a brief talk about how color vision came to be and what the world might look like for ruffed lemurs if they cannot see red or if they can see red. Then, I talked about my research questions and how I try to answer them by using SMARTA.

Hey, I know this Raymond Vagell guy! 

The event had a great turn out. It even attracted a few public attendees as I had advertised the talk on Facebook and Twitter. I'm glad that I was able to talk about what SMARTA is and how it is used to study ruffed lemur color vision to the DLC staff because they've seen me conducting my research but probably doesn't really know what I'm doing. Thanks to all my friends who came to support me. 

That's Carme using SMARTA

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to talk about SMARTA and ruffed lemur color vision to Scaling Stem participants who came to visit DLC. I talked about how SMARTA came to be and how it was built. Then, I showed the participants how SMARTA works. Because this is a women in STEM group, it was apropos to have Halley demonstrate how SMARTA works. Without skipping a beat, Halley did her color vision trials perfectly and her enthusiasm wow-ed the crowd.

Giving a talk to Scaling Stem participants. Helping me demonstrate SMARTA is my lemur assistant, Halley

On Thursday, I gave a brief talk to a group of college freshmen that are interested in animal cognition studies. Though the talk was brief, I was able to share some tips on designing animal studies and things to expect when working with animals. This time, Carme helped demonstrate SMARTA. She also wow-ed the crowd with her cognitive skills in discrimination tasks.

Giving a brief talk about my color vision project 

This has been a long week! But, I am glad that I was given the opportunity to talk about my research and sharing my stories not only to the DLC staff, but also to educators and students. This week is also my last week at DLC for awhile. I am flying back to NYC and will be back to DLC periodically until the study is done around August. My assistant will be continuing this study while I am away. Thanks to Dr. Erin Ehmke for giving me the opportunities to share my work with the DLC family, educators and students.








Saturday, April 2, 2016

Lemur, Science, and Beer Talk: April 5th, 4PM at Duke Lemur Center

Come join me on Tuesday, April 5th at 4PM where I will be presenting a talk on my ruffed lemur color vision study titled "Do You See What I See? Studying Ruffed Lemur Color Vision using SMARTA. I will talk about the ruffed lemurs and their color vision, what SMARTA is, as well as how this study is conducted.


This event is open to the public and will be held at Duke Lemur Center in Lemur Landing (where the gift store is). I've started a Facebook event for this talk. Hope to see you all there!


Duke Lemur Center 
3705 Erwin Rd, Durham, NC 27705
Phone: (919) 489-3364
Lemur Landing is directly right in front of the parking lot.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready


It's been a few weeks since my previous post. We are still working with Carme, Pyxis, Celeste, and Pandora. Next week, we will be working with a new female. Great progress with Carme. Pyxis ... not so much. Celeste and Pandora are both starting to touch the screen so it's heading to the right direction.

Carme had improved tremendously since my last post. We have been training her daily to reinforce her to correctly station in front of SMARTA and to touch the squares deliberately instead of nonchalantly putting her hands between the squares or just touching the sides of the square. We also turn off the screen for a few seconds when she touches the incorrect stimuli or when we want to extinguish a certain behavior. It seem to have helped and by early this week, Carme is less frantic when using SMARTA and very rarely is swiping her hands all around the screen. When she make an incorrect choice, sometimes she gets a bit frantic but generally a major improvement than what she used to be a few weeks back. We thought that turning the screen off and turning it back on when she's paying attention to the screen helps to teach her that when she makes a mistake, it will take a few seconds before she can try to get a craisin. Of course, you don't want to turn off the screen for too long or it would stress the animal out. We generally turn it off for less than 5 seconds unless the animal is not paying attention to the screen (eg. looking at another animal, listening to alarm calls, etc).

By the end of next week, Carme will be done with the study as she would have done enough sessions for my data collection. I have enjoyed working with her. While she was a bit challenging to work with earlier on, and that she had a lot of behaviors that we had to extinguished, she was such a fun participant.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Week 4: Girls Just Want To Have Fun



Girls, they want to have fun.
Oh girls just want to have fun.
They want to have fun!
- Cyndi Lauper

YES! The girls just want to have fun. I'd say SMARTA is pretty fun for Celeste, Pandora, Pyxis, and Carme! And for some reason, Cyndi reminded me of the red ruffed lemurs.

This week I got to work with 2 new red ruffed lemurs. Pandora and her one-year old daughter Celeste joins the rotation to be part of my SMARTA color vision study. Celeste was very excited on her first day and her enthusiasm continues to the second day. She is currently my youngest participant. Celeste's mother, Pandora, was equally enthusiastic to participate in the study. Both had participated for two days and will continue their sessions next week.

Caught Celeste mid chewing craisins. Looks like she's very excited.

Pandora in her red (green? dum dum dum) perch.

Pyxis continues to be cautious around SMARTA and gets easily distracted by her mate and son. Pyxis is a stark contrast from Pandora (and Celeste) where they are not distracted by the males and instead focus intently on SMARTA. Though at the end of the week,  Pyxis started to approach SMARTA immediately when the sessions start. Currently, we are only reinforcing her to sit in front of SMARTA so she'll station perfectly in front of SMARTA before we start reinforcing her to look at the screen. Towards the end of the week, Pyxis has started to pay attention to the SMARTA screen. These are crucial small details that we have to pay attention to so that we are not reinforcing bad or superstitious behavior when using SMARTA. This is Pyxis's second week and even though she doesn't share the same enthusiasm as Pandora and Celeste, it is very common for animals to be apprehensive to novel objects (especially a towering object that makes noise). Luckily, Pyxis is whistle trained (meaning she know what a whistle cue means) so it is very easy to reinforce her and that she probably knows she is doing something right when she hears the whistle. Craisins help a lot too ;)

Pyxis starting to pay attention to the tablet on SMARTA

Carme continues to have at least 2 sessions per week since I came back to Duke Lemur Center. We addressed her left hand preference and her tendency to touch the left square at the beginning of each trial regardless of what color the square is. We don't know if she is has trouble using her left hand to reach to right square or if it's a superstitious behavior. Over the past few weeks, she had progressed tremendously and we feel like she finally "got it" this week. We ran a few testing trials with her and I think we are comfortable enough to say that she had graduated from training to fully automated testing. She should be on testing sessions next week.

Carme looking intently at the red square