lead supervisor: prof hannah smithson, department of experimental psychology

Co-supervisor: Dr Manuel Spitschan, Department of Experimental Psychology

Commercial partner: Hoare Lea, Bristol


Exposure to light profoundly affects human physiology by synchronising our body clock to the external light-dark cycle and modifying the production of hormones such as melatonin. In industrialised countries, people spend more than 90% of their day indoors, raising the question of how the design practices of indoor spaces in the built environment affect light exposure and the associated biological consequences. At present, architectural lighting design is guided by specifications for visual performance and visibility; it does not take into account the effects of light on the circadian system and well-being.

Importantly, workplace buildings are often occupied by a wide range of users spanning almost 50 years of age. Age can strongly modify the biological effects of light: For example, the lens of a 65-year old transmits around 40% less light than the lens of a 20-year old. While these biological factors are known in the scientific literature, they are not incorporated into the design of the buildings that humans actually occupy.

The unique interdisciplinary partnership between the Oxford Perception Lab and Hoare Lea will, for the first time, translate state-of-the-art biomedical knowledge of the circadian system to lighting practice, and inform biomedical research about real-world occupational light exposure. The project synergises chronobiological, computational and psychophysical techniques to quantify human behaviour and physiology at the system level, to develop an individualised understanding of an individual’s lighting needs across the lifespan, and factor them into the lighting design process.

This studentship will be supervised by Dr Manuel Spitschan and Prof Hannah Smithson (Oxford) and Dr Ruth Kelly Waskett and Jonathan Rush (Hoare Lea). The student will be embedded in the Oxford Perception Lab in the Department of Experimental Psychology. In addition to the emerging area focusing on the non-visual effects of light, other core areas of Oxford Perception Lab include high-resolution retinal imaging and colour vision. As part of this studentship, the student will learn and develop skills in chronobiology, human visual psychophysics, hyperspectral imaging and rendering, advanced statistics, scientific software carpentry, measurement and characterisation of light, as well as principles of ethics in human-subjects research, and open and transparent science.

This studentship will be ideal for a student from a wide variety of backgrounds, including psychology, neuroscience, chronobiology, biomedical science, colour science, lighting design, and lighting engineering, who is interested in the non-visual effects of light in humans.


For an informal discussion about the project in advance of the application, please feel free to reach out to Manuel Spitschan (manuel.spitschan@psy.ox.ac.uk) and Hannah Smithson (hannah.smithson@psy.ox.ac.uk).


Relevant publications:

Spitschan, M. (2019). Melanopsin contributions to non-visual and visual function. Curr Opin Behav Sci, 30, 67-72. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2019.06.004

Spitschan, M., Lazar, R., Yetik, E., & Cajochen, C. (2019). No evidence for an S cone contribution to acute neuroendocrine and alerting responses to light. Curr Biol, 29(24), R1297-R1298. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2019.11.031

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