August 24, 2005

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LEWISBURG, Pa. - A visual illusion design by Bucknell Associate Professor of Psychology Arthur Shapiro won first place in an international competition held in conjunction with the European Conference for Visual Perception (ECVP) in Spain.

Shapiro's design, called Motion-Illusion Building Blocks, was developed with Bucknell student researcher Justin Charles and was one of 74 new visual illusions submitted to contest organizers. Judging was based on a series of factors, including significance to the understanding of the visual system, beauty, simplicity of description, and spectacularity.

Ten finalists were selected prior to the conference by a panel of international judges. On Aug. 24, the 10 researchers gave presentations at the conference and then the conference participants, about 800 vision science researchers from around the world, voted for the top three illusions.

"It is quite an honor and quite a surprise." Shapiro said from Spain. "The other contestants presented some truly extraordinary illusions."

Shapiro's visual illusion design has been designated by ECVP as "Best Visual Illusion of the Year." The first-, second-, and third-place illusions will be made part of an exhibition at the Science Museum of A Coruna in Spain.

In addition, Shapiro and the second- and third-place researchers are the recipients of trophies designed by Galician artist Juan Prego. The trophies were commissioned by the Science Museum. The award ceremony at the conference was accompanied by flying confetti and was filmed by a documentary film crew.

The second-place award was given to George Mather of Sussex University in the U.K. and the third-place award was given to Dijan Todorović of the University of Belgrade in Serbia.

Shapiro, who has been creating visual illusions since 1992, said that the contest entry consists of a series of straight lines placed next to lights that change from light to dark. "The lines are physically stationary, but appear to move and distort in different directions. The illusion is compelling because we are able to fool the brain into acting as if motion were actually present," he said.

Shapiro traces his interest in illusions to a 1978 science class at University Middle School in Riverside, Calif. His teacher, Susan Fromer, created a project in which the class built a mock science museum. "My group built an exhibit on visual illusions, and I have been interested in the topic ever since," Shapiro said.

Shapiro said that visual illusions help researchers to understand how the brain allows humans to see motion and color. A sampling of Shapiro's visual illusion creations can be seen at his website at


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