September 7, 2002.
It's easy to get carried away with our work, indulge our sense of self-importance and exaggerate the value of what we seek to accomplish. So, when Sandia National Laboratories engineer Kurt Wessendorf described his own work to the Journal's John Fleck as "one of the most exciting things you can imagine," a healthy skepticism is to be expected. But in Wessendorf's case, it's no exaggeration.
Wessendorf and a team of scientists are in the process of creating the bio-medical technology that may literally bring sight to the blind. For eyes with failed light receptors, Wessendorf and company are building a microscopic electronic device that would be surgically implanted. The device would stimulate a blind person's retinal nerves and send images directly to the brain from a tiny camera attached to eyeglasses.
This bionic eye would allow a previously blind person to read large print and recognize faces all of which is a powerful reminder of how amazing healthy human eyes are in the first place.
Wessendorf and his colleagues aim toward nothing short of the miraculous, and their project represents the best of what publicly supported scientific research has to offer. It also channels years of nuclear weapons-related research to something much broader.
It will be years before this technology is accessible and it will likely be expensive. But the promise of this research makes those obstacles pale in comparison.
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