Faisal Karmali, Ph.D.

Harvard Medical School

Instructor in Otolaryngology

Massachusetts Eye and Ear

Principal Investigator

Co-Director, Jenks Vestibular Physiology Laboratory

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, Dr. Karmali 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.

Dr. Karmali 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, he is looking 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 PhD, which found disruption of eye movement reflexes during changing gravity levels.

Select Publications

Bayesian optimal adaptation explains age-related human sensorimotor changes. Karmali F, Whitman GT, Lewis RF. J Neurophysiol. 2018 Feb 1;119(2):509–520.

Multivariate analyses of balance test performance, vestibular thresholds, and age. Karmali F, Bermúdez Rey MC, Clark TK, Wang W, Merfeld DM. Front Neurol. 2017 Nov 8;8:578.

The impact of oral promethazine on human whole-body motion perceptual thresholds. Diaz-Artiles A, Priesol AJ, Clark TK, Sherwood DP, Oman CM, Young LR, Karmali F. J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2017 Aug;18(4):581–590.

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

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

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

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

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

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

View a complete list of publications on pubmed.gov »

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BA, Systems Design Engineering, University of Waterloo, 2000
PhD, Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, 2008

Postgraduate Training

Research Fellowship, Sensory Perception, Massachusetts Eye and Ear

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