Daniel M. Merfeld, Ph.D.

Harvard Medical School

Professor of Otolaryngology

Massachusetts Eye and Ear

Director, Jenks Vestibular Physiology Laboratory
Senior Scientist

Research Summary

Research Area Affiliations

Research Summary

An accomplished neuroengineer/psychophysicist, Dr. Merfeld is the founding Director of the Jenks Vestibular Physiology Laboratory. Performing basic and translational vestibular research, Dr. Merfeld has shown that tilt and translation perception result from multisensory signal convergence via internal models. Much of his early research focused on understanding how the brain processes ambiguous sensory information with a specific focus on how signals from the otolith organs are interpreted and processed by the nervous system. His research – both modeling and experimental – has shown that the nervous system uses rotational signals from the canals to help keep track of the relative orientation of gravity via internal models. More recently, his research showed for the first time that vestibular “perception” and “action” can use qualitatively different neural mechanisms. Recent research builds on these earlier findings and focuses on the measurement of thresholds, which is one way to assay vestibular “noise” so that we can learn how vestibular information is processed in the presence of noise. His most recent basic research focuses on understanding how the brain processes information in the presence of noise.

As translational research, Dr. Merfeld and his colleagues developed vestibular implants and demonstrated feasibility of this new treatment for vestibular loss. Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary has licensed the patents to MedEl who is working to bring this treatment option to the clinic. Current translational efforts focus on developing vestibular thresholds as a technique to help diagnose the large number of patients who report perceptual symptoms that go undiagnosed using traditional clinical diagnostic techniques.

Select Publications

Humans use an internal model to estimate gravity and linear acceleration. Merfeld DM, Zupan L, Peterka RJ (1999). Nature 398:615:618

Frequency dependence of vestibulo-ocular reflex thresholds. Haburcakova, C, Lewis, RF, Merfeld DM (2012) Journal of Neurophysiology 107:973-983.

A distributed, dynamic, parallel computational model: the role of noise in velocity storage. Karmali, F, Merfeld DM (2012) Journal of neurophysiology, 108(2):390-405.

Vestibular labyrinth contributions to human whole-body motion discrimination.
Valko, Y, Priesol AJ, Lewis R, Merfeld DM (2012) Journal of Neuroscience 32(39):13537-42.

Electrical stimulation of semicircular canal afferents affects the perception of head orientation. Lewis RF, Haburcakova C, Gong W, Lee D, Merfeld DM (2013) The Journal of Neuroscience 33(22):9530-5.

View a complete list of publications on pubmed.gov »



B.S.M.E., Mechanical Engineering, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1982
M.S.E., Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Princeton University, 1985
Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering, MIT, 1990

Postgraduate Training

Research Fellowship, Man-Vehicle Laboratory, MIT, 1990

Professional Memberships (select)

1987 - present: Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Member
1990 - present: Society for Neuroscience, Member
1990 - present: Biomedical Engineering Society, Member
1993 - present: Barany Society, Member
2012 - present: Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Senior Member
2012 - present: American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, Fellow

Awards and Honors (select)

1995: NASA Payload Specialist Semi-Finalist, Spacelab mission “SLS-2”
1995: Biomedical Engineering Society’s “Whitaker Young Investigator”
2012: Fellow, American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE)

Advisory Boards (select)

1990: Panel – Vestibular Research Facility as a National Laboratory, NASA   
1990: Human Responses to Accelerative Forces Panel, Naval Aerospace Medical Research Lab    
1992 - 1994: Health Care Engineering Policy Committee, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers    
1999: Artificial Gravity Workshop, NASA and National Space Biomedical Research Institute
1997 - 2001: Editorial Board member, Journal of Vestibular Research
2003: NIH/NIDCD Workshop of Neural Vestibular Prostheses
2004: Participant, NIDCD Workshop on Electrical Stimulation of Vestibular Nerve   
2004 - 2005: Guest Editor, Journal of Neural Engineering
2012:  NIH/NIDCD Workshop on Motion Perception and Balance Disorders   
2012 - present: Board of Co-Editors member, Experimental Brain Research
2012-2018: NIH Sensorimotor Integration (SMI) Study Section   

Teaching (select)

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences:
2007-2013: Introduction to Systems Analysis with Physiological Applications
(ES 145/HST 545)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and HMS Whitaker College of Health, Science and Technology:
2002-2012: HST Sensory-Neural Systems: Spatial Orientation from Vestibular End Organs to Behavior and Adaptation (16.430J/HST.514J)