Every once in a while a simple solution gracefully solves a problem that affects a large number of people. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s wonderful to see the results. This is the type of thing most scientist hope to experience at least once in their careers. I think most of us at one point in time have hoped: “please let me improve the world in some small way to make life easier for some people.”
I have to admit as a scientist I love to see graceful solutions to any problem. Prof. Josh Silver at the University of Oxford has come up with just such a brilliant simple solution that any scientist who understands index of refraction will say: “Ahhh… yes!” about. Prof. Silver has made plastic glasses with adaptive lenses for third world countries. In third world countries to get glasses right now you have to either already know (by magic) your prescription, or try and somehow happen across an optometrist (and you thought it was just about affording a roof over your head!). Unfortunately, optometrists don’t grow on trees in third world countries, and so you’re pretty much out of luck.
Enter the “dial a prescription” solution of Prof. Josh Silver’s. With his glasses you simply turn a few dials which push plungers in or out of a syringe attached to each lens. These syringes hold a fluid which has the same index of refraction as a polymer film which flexes under pressure (positive and negative pressure). This pressure of course will bow out or bow in the surface of the “lens” (which is fixed on the edges to a certain thickness). How to know your prescription? Simple- is it clearer or not? [Much like the old A or B, A or B, A or B, 1 or 2, 1 or 2 hassle we all go through at the optometrist's office- but cut out all that binary testing... just dial it in or out- bam, there's your prescription- in fact, it's fractions of diopters even- so it's much more analog than the current system.] Pure brilliance. Such a simple problem to a complex issue.
The impact to those who can’t see? Huge! I suggest it’s almost as huge as teaching someone how to farm. People are illiterate because they can’t see things clearly enough to learn how to read or write. Prof. Silver’s solution has the possibility of changing all of that.
So, my hat is off to him as a scientist- excellent work, and much needed work!!
Here are some links to the adaptive lenses:
- Guardian: Inventor’s 2020 vision: to help 1bn of the world’s poorest see better
- Prof. Josh Silver’s Organization: Center For Vision In The Developing World
And here are some talks that highlight these new adjustable lens glasses:
If you’ve been moved by this simple idea, consider sending a donation to them to help support vision for those around the developing world: Donate.