Help build a timeline of visual corrective technologies and innovations to aid blind persons

"Making Matrix for magazine for blind." Photograph from glass negative, between ca. 1900 and ca. 1915. Image depicts a man at the New York Institute for the Blind using a Stereograph, a machine for embossing zinc plates with Braille, to use as publishing masters.

“Making Matrix for magazine for blind.” Photograph from glass negative, between ca. 1900 and ca. 1915. Image depicts a man at the New York Institute for the Blind using a Stereograph, a machine for embossing zinc plates with Braille, to use as publishing masters. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C., USA.

For the upcoming GLIMPSE journal issue on the topic of Blindness, GLIMPSE correspondent Nadej Giroux has drafted a fascinating timeline of corrective technologies and innovations to address blindness.

We welcome your feedback and ideas (supported by citations, please!) on this draft.

The final version will be published in GLIMPSE issue #10, with a full bibliography and attribution to those who contribute!

Selected Dates in Vision:
Corrective Technologies and Innovations

ca.1286 — First glasses are created in Italy by the Dominican friar, Giordano da Pisa.

1508 – Leonardo da Vinci is first to introduce the concept of “contact lens” in his Codex of the eye, Manual D. Though none are produced at the time, the concept explored the idea of directly increasing corneal power of the eye.

1784 – Benjamin Franklin writes a letter to George Whatley, which describes his recent invention of “split double spectacles,” or bifocal lens glasses.

1786 – Valentin Haüy publishes a book titled An Essay on the Education of the Blind, in which he describes a process wherein the typographical characters used on a printing press would emboss letters upon the wet paper medium, thus creating a tactile font.

1823 – Creation of the first Fresnel lens, as attributed to Augustin-Jean Fresnel. Fresnel lenses are different from the regular spherical lens of a standard magnifying glass in that the former can be much thinner due to its structure, which is comprised of a set of thin raised concentric sections. As sight aids, Fresnel lens technology has been used to create flat magnification sheets that can be placed over a TV screen, helping to magnify the image.

1829 – Louis Braille publishes a book titled Method of Writing Words, Music and Plainsong by Means of Dots for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them, exhibiting and explaining the original Braille type in French that is based on dots. More that half a century later, Braille type is introduced in Britain.

1837 – August Seebeck, classifies two distinct types of color blindness and is first suggest that the condition can be augmented with corrective lenses.

1851 – Hermann von Helmholtz invents the first ophthalmoscope, calling it an “eye mirror,” which is used to illuminate the interior of the eye behind the pupil.

1888 – Adolf Gaston Eugen Fick produces and fits the first successful pair of contact lenses. They are made of heavy blown glass with a dextrose solution inside. Although the original Fick lenses were a breakthrough, they were rather bulky and could only be worn for several hours at a time.

1905 – Eduard Zirm performs the first successful corneal graft surgery, by transplanting corneal tissue and partially restoring sight to a blind man named Alois Glogar.

1949 – Sir Harold Ridley performs the first-ever successful implantation of intraocular lens, a procedure that many contemporary ophthalmologists considered impossible at the time.

1980s – Scanning Laser Opthalmoscope is developed to view microscopic layers of the retina of the living eye, and aids in diagnosing retinal disorders.

1999 – Professor Ingo Potrykus invents Golden Rice. This genetically engineered varietal was designed to contain beta carotene, which, when consumed is converted to vitamin A in the human body. Since vitamin A deficiency is linked to blindness, especially in the developing countries, the Golden Rice, along with Orange-fleshed sweet potato, are examples of biofortification tools that aim to prevent vision problems linked to VAD in the future.

2001 – ChromaGen lens human subjects study is published in Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics. The study used the ChromaGen brand color blindness corrective lenses in a two-week experiment that yielded positive subjective results in its wearers, among which were the significant reduction of Ishihara error rates, the later being the most common color blind test of circles and dots of varying sizes and with numbers represented in contrasting colors.

2002 – Argus Retinal Prosthesis is developed by Second Sight TM. This bionic eye project created a product that is a retinal prosthetic system, which induces visual acuity of blind patients by means of electrical stimulation to the retina, bypassing the damaged photoreceptors. With an aid of compact camera and video processing unit (VPU), the device “sends” the scene captured via camera though a cable to the VPU, to reconstruct the visual information for the Argus-II wearer. In September 2012, FDA recommended the approval of the second-generation Argus-II device, following several successful clinical trials in Europe, Mexico and United States.

2005 – Elizabeth Goldring, artist, poet, and head of the Vision Group at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, leads a team of engineers and physicians in the development and first clinical trials of the Seeing Machine Camera (SMC). The device uses liquid crystal display (LCD) and light-emitting diode (LED) technologies to affordably and portably replicate principles of the industrial-grade Scanning Laser Opthalmoscope. The SMC projects imagery directly onto the retina with highly-focused, bright light, avoiding the normal distortions and refractions of the impaired eye. The SMC allows people with a visual acuity of 20/70 or less to see things they would otherwise be unable to see (including small details of facial features), and to produce photographs of what they see.

2009 – Gene therapy is shown to successfully cure color blindness in two squirrel monkeys. The therapy worked by increasing the red end of the spectrum sensitivity of cone cells, effectively restoring color vision in the study’s subjects. The results of the study suggest further implication for treating human color blindness in the future.

2010 – First success with biosynthetic cornea transplantation procedures is reported by Fagerholm et al. of Linkoping University in Sweden. The development of the biosynthetic corneas rose out of shortage of donated corneas readily available for transplantation. The corneas in the Fagerholm’s lab were produced by injecting the human gene, responsible for collagen production into a type of yeast cells that were later molded into the corneal shape.

2012 – Prosthetics + Mouse retina code

2013 – Implantable telescope for age-related macular degeneration


Sharpen your colored pencils – it’s time for Color at MIT!

Coloured Pencils, by Flickr Member Rex Boggs

Coloured Pencils, by Flickr Member Rex Boggs

It’s that time of year when college and graduate students begin their new semesters, and we can almost feel the electricity as brain cells come out of hibernation and begin their collision course of learning.

Some of us in the work-a-day world (OK, the entire GLIMPSE journal staff) get a little jealous every fall and spring when students begin sharpening their pencils (or whatever gadgetry the youth of today use to commit ideas to mind).

Imagine our delight when MIT professor, Dr. Caroline A. Jones approached us about using the entire issue of GLIMPSE #4, Color for her Advanced Study in the History of Art: Color seminar students’ first week’s reading. We were both honored, and intrigued by the course description:

…explore [Color’s] robust histories as a set of chemical products, a conventional naming system, a racial category, a branch of psychophysics, an anxiety-provoking discourse in art and architecture, and a huge industry attempting to both stabilize chroma and capitalize on its emotional connotations.

We wish all of Dr. Jones’ students a semester of light-bending and mind-bending learning!

Newly discovered! The earliest color motion pictures

Lying dormant in the archive of Britain’s National Media Museum for decades, what everyone thought were black and white films, turned out to be the first color motion pictures ever made. British photographer Edward Turner made the films using his 1899 patented color film process in about 1903, shortly before his untimely death:

A complicated process, it involved photographing successive frames of black-and-white film through blue, green and red filters. Using a special projector…these were combined on a screen to produce full-colour images.

Highlights of these never-before-shared test films can now be seen on YouTube via our 21st-century RGB screens, and of course, at the museum itself, where the specially-formatted projector can be viewed as well.

Thanks to GLIMPSE subscriber, Francis H., for sharing this with GLIMPSE readers! A very well-timed discovery with our Cinema issue.

Visualizing Sound with the Ruben’s Tube

by Myya McGregory

Is it possible to visualize sound? The Rubens’ Tube invented in 1905 by Heinrich Ruben, a German physicist, might be able to help us answer this question.

Students of physics might be very familiar with this contraption, but for those that are not, it might be helpful to think of a gas grill burner. Just like a gas grill burner, a Rubens’ tube is just a tube with holes in it attached to gas tank. The only difference is the other side is attached to the speaker of a frequency generator.

The idea of being able to see sound is predicated on sound traveling in waves. Humans can only hear frequencies from approximately 12 hz to 20 hz. In addition to hearing the sounds, we can also feel the vibrations from these sounds.

Rubens’s Tube by Flickr member, Pete

The height of the flame is determined by Bernoulli’s Principle since pressure is equal throughout the tube. When sound waves travel through the tube combining with the pressure from the gas, flames peak at the antinodes of the sine wave. When the gas pressure is lowered the amplitude of the flames will be higher at the nodes.  Mythbusters explains it well.

Now that we have established that sound waves can be visualized, let’s have some fun with it!

Jared Ficklin takes the concept one step further in his most recent TED talk. He brings out a flame table and digital renderings to examine eigenmodes, the vibrational modes of oscillating systems. This way he can analyze the effects of more than one frequency and show the complexity of sound. He even created a rendering of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

How do you visualize sound? Have you ever seen a sound wave? Share your stories below!

Visualizing the Higgs Boson Particle

by Myya McGregory

If you follow science news you probably already know about the discovery of the Higgs boson particle. Having eluded scientists for years the so called “God particle” was detected in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Unfortunately those who need to see it to believe it might be a little disappointed. Most heavy particles live fast and die young. The Higgs boson is no exception. It’s mass is between 115 and 158 GeV and it’s half life is less than a billionth of a second. Much like the famous yet elusive designer, Martin Margiela, the Higgs boson doesn’t want its picture taken.

Known as the God particle because its field is believed to give mass to every other particle before it decays, the Higgs boson is in fact omnipresent. We just can’t see it.

So how do we visualize the Higgs boson particle?

The short answer is: we don’t.

We do however see the effects of its energy and we can watch it decay. The Large Hadron Collider is basically a giant particle accelerator. When the particles hurdle towards each other and collide, they release energy and decay into lesser particles upon impact. As explained in CERN’s animation of their experiment, they hope to excite the Higgs field through the collision of two protons. At that time the Higgs boson will be present, but it will quickly decay into other standard model particles.

If you want a GLIMPSE of the experiment click through these pictures to see particles collide, and read more on CERN’s website here.


Persistence of Vision

As  many of you will soon find out in the upcoming Cinema issue, persistence of vision is «the phenomenon of the eye by which an afterimage is thought to persist for approximately one twenty-fifth of a second on the retina». While the image is burned on the retina of the eye, we have time to send signals to the brain to identify the image.

Still from a flipbook created at the Museum of the Moving Image. Credit: Julia Rubinic

Persistence of vision, though thought to be a myth, could explain why our eyes perceive one continuous, moving image when we look at a progressions of stills.

This theory not only explains flipbooks but is also the basis of many film devices of the 19th century. The idea that images remain on the retina seconds after viewing means that images can be perceived as moving at speeds as low as 5 frames per second.

This  also means that if an image vibrates fast enough, it can be perceived as static rather than kinetic.

Check out this website by the American Museum of the Moving Image to discover more.

Is There Life on Gliese 581d?

Image courtesy of NASAblueshift

Forget men on mars; exoplanet Gliese 581d in the solar system neighboring ours may have conditions just right for supporting some forms of life. While the name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, French researchers made a pretty fascinating discovery about the planet. For a few years scientists have thought the planets orbiting the star Gliese 581 could support life, but until recently it was believed Gliese 581d was too cold. However, when the researchers simulated the atmospheric make-up of the planet, they found it rich in carbon dioxide, creating a warm enough climate to possibly support oceans and rainfall.

Though don’t get too excited (we’re looking at you, Lance Bass). The incredibly dense air on Gliese 581d makes for a red, murky atmosphere toxic to humans. It would also take roughly 300,000 years to reach the planet on a spacecraft. Visiting it may be out of the question for now, but it’s exciting and just a little scary to think about the vast and varying environments where life can exist.