TECH: Superhuman Eyesight !

From: Jonathan Reeves (
Date: Wed Jun 14 2000 - 05:41:05 MDT
            Source: University Of Rochester (

            Date: Posted 6/12/2000
      Technology First Aimed At Heavens Now Makes "Super" Human Vision
      Adapting technology originally developed by astronomers to obtain
      images of the heavens, a University of Rochester scientist has
      an optical system that has given research subjects an unprecedented
      quality of eyesight. The research dramatically improves the sight even
      people who have 20/20 vision. Vision scientist David Williams
      his work this week at the summer meeting of the American Astronomical
      Society in Rochester, N.Y.
      While the work is still in a research stage, eye-care giant Bausch &
      has licensed the technology and is working with University researchers
      commercialize it.
      "For years David has been way out in front exploring how we could
      people's vision beyond what is normally thought of as perfect vision,"

      says Scott MacRae, one of the world's leading cornea specialists and a

      widely recognized pioneer in refractive surgery. MacRae is moving to
      University's Medical Center this month to join Williams at the newly
      established Alliance for Vision Excellence, a new collaboration
      the University and Bausch & Lomb that is dedicated to improving
      to correct vision-impairing anomalies of the eye.
      "In the old days," says MacRae, "we were just trying to correct
      vision problems and treat disease. This new research takes what we
      consider normal vision and enhances it. This is truly revolutionary,"
      MacRae, who is writing a book on such research, which he calls "the
      for super vision." Just last month at the annual meeting of the
      Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, researchers from

      several laboratories and companies devoted a whole symposium to the
      of enhanced vision.
      Williams uses technology known as adaptive optics, which was
      developed by astronomers to sharpen images from telescopes by
      for aberrations in the atmosphere. Adaptive optics have been
      on several telescopes, including the giant Keck Telescope in Hawaii,
      resulting in remarkably crisp images. Williams, who is Allyn Professor
      Medical Optics and director of the University's Center for Visual
      has led a decade-long effort to apply the technology to improve
      human vision.
      His researchers direct a harmless, highly focused spot of light into
      eye of a research subject and measure the light that is reflected
      That light provides a glimpse or snapshot of the topography of the eye
      exquisite detail. The light is broken up into 217 laser beams that are

      sent into a sophisticated device known as a wavefront sensor. The
      analyzes deviations in each beam's path, revealing tiny imperfections
      aberrations that exist in the person's cornea and lens.
      The system detects visual distortions so subtle that physicians didn't

      even know they existed until Williams' laboratory invented the system.

      Today a visit to the eye doctor focuses mainly on two types of
      astigmatism and defocus. Most prescriptions are intended to correct
      these two defects. Williams' system can measure up to 65 different
      These precise measurements are sent to a sensitive "deformable" mirror

      a mirror that can bend and customize its shape according to the 
      measurements of a person's eye. Such flexible mirrors form the heart
      traditional adaptive-optics systems used in astronomy. The mirror in 
      Williams' laboratory is a two-inch-wide device that bends as little as
      or two micrometers (just one-fiftieth the width of a human hair)
thanks to 
      37 tiny computer-controlled pistons. This subtle shaping, done in
      to the customized measurements of a person's optical system, alters
      light in such a way that it exactly counters the specific distortions
in a 
      person's eye. 
      In the laboratory, Williams' team has shown that correcting these 
      imperfections can result in greatly improved vision. He has published
      work in the Journal of the Optical Society of America. 
      "When you look through an adaptive optics device, the world looks 
      crisper," Williams says. "In some people, the ability to pick up
      such as minute patterns of stripes, is increased by a factor of six.
      allows for a level of vision correction that's just not available
      "It's like needing glasses and getting them for the first time.
      suddenly looks sharper and clearer, no matter how good your eyes are 
      normally. When you're using the adaptive optics system, you just say 
      'wow.' " 
      Williams is an expert on the circuitry of the human retina and the
      of the eye. After discovering some of the basic limits of the optical 
      system of the human eye, he began exploring ways to improve ordinary
      vision, eventually working closely with astronomers and other 
      adaptive-optics experts. The research is now funded by the National 
      Science Foundation Center for Adaptive Optics (based at the University
      California, Santa Cruz), the National Eye Institute, and Bausch &
      Williams has found that the visual acuity of the human eye can be 
      somewhere around 20/10. While adaptive optics may someday help
      approach that level, he says that acuity isn't the most noticeable 
      improvement. Adaptive optics improves eyesight most under low-light 
      conditions, such as night-time driving. MacRae, the laser surgery
      estimates that a driver sharing the road with a bicyclist at dusk
      see the bicyclist from roughly twice as far away if he or she were 
      equipped with adaptive optics correction. 
      In the past, Williams has used the system to look into the eye. In a 
      series of papers in such journals as Nature, Williams' team has
      the best images ever obtained of the living human retina. Last year
      team was able to differentiate the three types of cones in the living 
      human retina. Detailed information of the eye is helpful to 
      ophthalmologists monitoring patients with diseases like age-related 
      macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy. 
      While the current set-up is too bulky to bring the experience of
      vision or super vision to many patients, MacRae is confident that that
      is not too far off. 
      "Someday you may no longer have to sit and answer patiently when
      asked repeatedly whether lens No. 1 or lens No. 2 is better," MacRae
      "Someday you may just look into a wavefront sensor as David has
      and in one quick second we'll have all the information needed to
      someone's vision dramatically." 
      Editor's Note: The original news release can be found at

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University Of Rochester for journalists and other members of the public. If you wish to quote from any part of this story, please credit University Of Rochester as the original source. You may also wish to include the following link in any citation: <>

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