Simon Laughlin


Simon Laughlin was a student at Clare College from 1967-1970 where he read Zoology. For his PhD he went to the Department of Neurobiology, Australian National University, Canberra to work with Adrian Horridge on neural circuits and behaviour in insects. His thesis looked into signal processing in dragonfly compound eyes, discovering how neural circuits adjust the compound eye to the wide range of light-levels encountered in everyday life.

Simon Laughlin is a Professor of Neurobiology in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge; a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge; and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

W.S Stiles Memorial Lecture 2006: The Hungry Eye: Energy, Information and Retinal Function

The batteries in our digital cameras and notebook computers constantly remind us that energy must be used to capture and process images. A retina is no exception. Work initiated in insect compound eyes reveals how eyes are designed to satisfy their hunger for information while keeping at bay their hunger for metabolic energy. These designs involve a number of operations that are commonplace in retinal physiology; adaptation to light level, intensity dependent receptive fields and response dynamics, signal amplification, gradations in spatial sampling across the retina, analogue signal processing and the division of information into parallel streams. This work was initiated by a collaboration that had its roots in the work of W.S. Stiles. Its findings demonstrates how the use of non-mammalian species can illuminate the function of our own eye by identifying design features that are so useful that no good eye can afford to work without them.