Sue Barry, PhD

Photo by Rosalie Winard

Sue Barry, PhD (“Stereo Sue”)

I was born on February 20, 1954, and grew up in Connecticut with my brother and sister, a father who was an artist, and a mother who was a history professor. I attended college at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, the same town where my great grandfather had settled and started a clothing store. After receiving my BA in biology in 1976, I moved south to Princeton University where I earned my MA in biology in 1979 and PhD in biology in 1981.

I have worked as a research neuroscientist at the University of Miami Medical School in Florida, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, NASA’s Johnson’s Space Center in Houston, Texas, and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In 1992, I became a Professor of Biological Sciences and Neuroscience at Mount Holyoke College and retired in 2016.

At age 2, before she had an operation to treat her crossed eyes. By the time of her surgery, her brain had already been wired to see in two dimensions instead of three.

I have been cross-eyed since early infancy and had three surgeries as a child that made my eyes look more or less straight. However, I did not develop stereovision until age 48 when I underwent optometric vision therapy under the guidance of a developmental optometrist. At first, I assumed that no one would believe my vision story. According to conventional wisdom, stereovision must develop during a critical period in early childhood or it is lost forever. Indeed, I used to teach my students this theory in class. So, for almost three years, I kept my visual improvements to myself, but one evening in December, 2004, I decided that the change in my vision was so remarkable that I had to write down my story in narrative form. As luck would have it, that evening my husband and kids got involved in a late night Monopoly game so I retired to a quiet room in our house and wrote a very long letter about my vision to the well-known neurologist and author, Dr. Oliver Sacks.

Dr. Sacks came to visit me and my developmental optometrist, and in June 2006, he published a New Yorker article about me called “Stereo Sue.” The title of the article became my nickname, and the name has stuck ever since.

One week after “Stereo Sue” was published, I was interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition, and the emails starting pouring into my Inbox. Most of the emails were written by individuals with vision disorders, particularly strabismus (misaligned eyes) and amblyopia (lazy eye). The frustrations, concerns, and hopes for better vision expressed in all the emails inspired me to continue my research on the topics of binocular vision and optometric vision therapy and to write my book, Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey into Seeing in Three Dimensions.

My husband, Dan Barry, and I have two grown children. From 1992 to 2005, Dan was a NASA astronaut and flew on three Space Shuttle missions. It was an incredible thrill to stand on the roof of KSC’s Launch Control Center and watch Dan blast off into space. Even so, these earthshaking experiences pale in comparison to first seeing the world in stereo depth!