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Physics – Laser-Accident-Turned-Surgery-Breakthrough Wins Golden Goose

Physics 15, 141

A staff of physicists and clinicians will at this time be honored for his or her growth of the bladeless eye surgical procedure method generally known as LASIK, an advance partly aided by a lab mishap involving an eye fixed and a laser.


A serendipitous lab accident led to the event of femtosecond-laser-based eye surgical procedure methods; procedures now undergone by round 25 million folks within the US alone.

5 years after they have been awarded a Nobel Prize for creating methods for producing high-intensity laser pulses (see Focus: Nobel Prize—Lasers as Instruments), Gérard Mourou of École Polytechnique, France, and Donna Strickland of the College of Waterloo, Canada, are again within the laser highlight. Immediately they’re amongst a staff of 5 being awarded a Golden Goose Award for his or her strategy to corrective eye surgical procedure that makes use of a laser quite than a blade.

The Golden Goose Awards—initially conceived by US Consultant Jim Cooper as a counterpoint to criticisms that funding primary analysis is a wasteful option to spend taxpayer {dollars}—are given out every year to researchers whose seemingly obscure concept led to an unexpected breakthrough that has considerably impacted society. Previous winners of the awards, that are conferred by the American Affiliation for the Development of Science (AAAS), embrace David Sachar, whose experiments with frog pores and skin led to a therapy for cholera, and Lotfi Zadeh, whose “fuzzy” logic seems within the management of all the things from vacuum cleaners to antilock brakes.

“It has been an honor to look at the Golden Goose Award develop over the previous decade,” Cooper stated in an announcement. “Exceptional scientific discoveries—and the folks behind them—are as vital as ever.” Sudip Parikh, chief government officer at AAAS, added: “The Golden Goose Award reminds us that potential discoveries might be hidden in each nook.”

The hidden nook for corrective eye surgical procedure was a lab accident. Thirty years in the past, whereas finishing up experiments on the College of Michigan, one among Mourou’s graduate college students by chance hit his eye with the beam of a femtosecond laser. He was taken to the hospital the place the ophthalmologist on obligation—Ron Kurtz—noticed that the injury was “good.” The beam had burned out a exact round silhouette within the pupil’s retina, a feat not attainable with different lasers in scientific use on the time. “Instantly we realized that we had one thing,” Mourou recounted in an interview with a French radio station.

“It was an accident but additionally a vital step,” says Tibor Juhasz, who was working in Mourou’s lab on the time. The possibility assembly introduced collectively physicists and clinicians who would finally assist make laser-based eye surgical procedure a protected and dependable process. Juhasz studied ophthalmic functions of femtosecond lasers and is presently the CEO of ViaLase, whereas Kurtz—the hospital ophthalmologist—constructed a profession creating lasers for eye surgical procedure and is now the CEO at RxSight. Together with Detao Du at Rayz Applied sciences, they share the Golden Goose with Mourou and Strickland.

It is value noting what eye surgical procedure was like earlier than the serendipitous lab accident. For these present process nearsightedness correction, for instance, a surgeon would first minimize open a flap within the cornea, then reshape the underlying cornea, and eventually substitute the flap. The chopping was often achieved with a vibrating razor, however preliminary analysis on the time was starting to discover utilizing picosecond lasers. Nevertheless, Juhasz notes that these lasers—and the blade—brought on vital collateral injury to the encompassing eye tissue.

Laser-surgery researchers solved the injury subject by switching to femtosecond laser pulses, which have a considerably shorter length and thus produce a extra exact minimize. The development was such that “collateral injury into the adjoining tissue virtually disappeared,” Juhasz says.

The injury discount additionally meant that regardless of the method’s novelty and its hefty price ticket, folks have been fast to choose in for laser-assisted eye surgical procedure, or bladeless LASIK as it’s now identified. “Everyone preferred the high-precision laser concept,” Juhasz says. He notes that his son has since undergone the process and now has “good” eyesight.

Strickland was shocked to study that she was one of many awardees, as she helped within the growth of femtosecond lasers however not within the subsequent soar from physics into the medical world. That stated, she sees advantages for awards such because the Golden Goose as they spotlight the surprising payoff from investing in “esoteric analysis.” She offers the instance of early theoretical work by Albert Einstein that set the stage for the invention of the laser. “I do not suppose when Einstein got here up with these equations he was pondering ‘sure, some day they will make a laser out of those.'”

Additionally receiving Golden Goose Awards at this time are Manu Prakash of Stanford College and Jim Cybulski of Foldscope Devices for his or her paper-based microscope, which prices lower than a greenback to fabricate; and Lourdes Cruz of the College of the Philippines and J. Michael McIntosh and Baldomero Marquez Olivera from the College of Utah, who found a nonopioid ache medication whereas learning snail venom. Craig Clark is posthumously celebrated for his work on that examine.

–Katherine Wright

Katherine Wright is the Deputy Editor of Physics Journal.

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