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A sight for shadowed eyes.

A sight for shadowed eyes

Night-flying insects, such as fireflies, and many deep-sea creatures, including various worms and crustaceans, have remarkably sensitive visual systems for detecting faint, fleeting flashes of light (SN: 3/12/88, p.167). Studies of such eyes have led biologist Jerome J. Wolken of Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh to develop a new kind of lens that appears to capture light more effectively than most commercial lenses now available. This lens offers the possibility of improved vision for people suffering from the dimming effects of cataracts and other ailments that decrease the amount of light reaching the retina. The lens also could function as a light gatherer for a solar collector or as a fast photographic lens capable of producing high-contrast, high-resolution images at very low light levels.

Wolken's lens is the result of a long development process that combined observations from numerous animal studies with computer modeling. "I arrived at an ideal lens for collecting the maximum amount of light in the environment," he says. The lens itself is roughly pear-shaped with precisely computed and crafted curvatures. It takes in a wide field of view to produce a sharp, reduced image. The lens size depends on its application.

As an aid for persons with impaired vision, Wolken's lens is combined with a carefully matched convex lens for magnifying the image and a prism system for ensuring that the image is correctly oriented. This optical array is placed inside a tube about 1 inch wide and 1.5 inches long and mounted in an eyeglass frame. Although magnifying lenses that function like telescopes are already available for the visually impaired, Wolken's more compact and less obtrusive system is the first based on the optics of increased light sensitivity.

Preliminary clinical studies and other tests indicate the lens functions quite well, says Wolken. Much more work is needed to develop ways of manufacturing the lens and to test it more extensively. "It's an unusual lens," says Wolken, "but this work is just a sidelight to my main interest in tracing the evolution of the eye."
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Title Annotation:new lens collects maximum amount of light in environemnt
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 16, 1988
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