Faisal Karmali, Ph.D.

Harvard Medical School

Instructor in Otolaryngology

Massachusetts Eye and Ear

Principal Investigator

Research Summary

Research Area Affiliations

Research Summary

Dr. Karmali’s primary research seeks to understand how the brain determines spatial orientation, using senses such as the vestibular system and vision. He is interested in how neuronal noise reduces the precision of motion perception and sensorimotor responses (e.g. the vestibulo-ocular reflex). For example, he has used computational models to suggest ways in which the brain may tune the dynamics of neural reflexes based on how imprecise those pathways are. He has also conducted experiments to compare whether the visual or vestibular systems provide more precise perception, which was not previously known.

Recently, Faisal received a research grant from the NIH/NIDCD to study errors in humans motion sensation. Precision in motion control and perception is critical to survival, yet our understanding of its origins and our ability to test it clinically is limited. Building on techniques like thresholds that measure how precisely we can recognize motion, the goal of this work is to develop techniques to measure precision and isolate sources of imprecision in the nervous system.

Faisal is also the institutional lead for a project, in collaboration with MIT and funded by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, to study human motion perception in altered gravity levels. In particular, they will look at how motion perception is disrupted by, and then adapts to, changing gravity levels. The goal of this work is to reduce the risk that errors in perception will lead to errors in piloting a spacecraft. This builds on research performed during his Ph.D. which found disruption of eye movement reflexes during changing gravity levels.

Select Publications

Karmali F, Lim K, Merfeld DM. Visual and vestibular perceptual thresholds each demonstrate better precision at specific frequencies and also exhibit optimal integration. Journal of Neurophysiology. 2013.

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

Karmali F, Shelhamer M. Compensating for camera translation in video eye movement recordings by tracking a landmark selected automatically by a genetic algorithm. Journal of Neuroscience Methods. 2009 Jan;176:157-165.

Karmali F, Ramat S, Shelhamer M. Vertical skew due to changes in gravitoinertial force: A possible consequence of otolith asymmetry. Journal of Vestibular Research. 2006 Dec;16:117-125.

SE Chaudhuri, F Karmali, DM Merfeld. Whole-body motion-detection tasks can yield much lower thresholds than direction-recognition tasks: implications for the role of vibration. Journal of Neurophysiology 2013.

Karmali F, Shelhamer M. The dynamics of parabolic flight: flight characteristics and passenger percepts. Acta Astronautica 2008; 63:594-602.

View a complete list of publications on pubmed.gov »

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B.A.Sc. Systems Design Engineering, University of Waterloo, 2000
Ph.D. Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, 2008

Postgraduate Training

Research Fellowship, Sensory Perception, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Advisory Boards

2010-present    Biomedical Engineering Industrial Professional Advisory Committee    Wentworth Institute of Technology


Co-instructor, "Sensory-Neural Systems," Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2014.
Guest lecturer, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Physiological Systems Analysis, 2008-2013.

Awards and Honors

Research award (R03) from the NIH/NIDCD entitled, "Measuring and isolating imprecision in vestibular perception and action."

Research award from the National Space Biomedical Research Institute to study “Countermeasures to Reduce Sensorimotor Impairment and Space Motion Sickness Resulting from Altered Gravity Levels” in collaboration with MIT.