PASADENA, Calif.- When it comes to vision, things get murky as we age. For many, the natural lenses in our eyes are impacted due to a cloudy condition known as cataracts. While there is no known way to prevent them, cataracts can be treated surgically by the replacement of the opaque lens with a synthetic one. This Wednesday, March 6, Julia A. Kornfield, a professor of chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology, will discuss the recent advances associated with synthetic lenses as part of the ongoing Earnest C. Watson Lecture Series that takes place on the Caltech campus.
Each year, roughly two million cataract operations are performed in the United States. Yet even after surgery, roughly half of the patients will still have to wear glasses or contact lenses. In her talk, "New Materials for Perfect Vision," Kornfield will discuss her collaboration with other Caltech scientists and an eye surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco, in developing new materials for synthetic lenses that can be tailored to provide optimal vision for every patient. Using polymers—long, chain-like molecules—the scientists are developing a replacement lens that can be adjusted using laser light to fine-tune the power of the synthetic lens as needed.
"These lenses are biocompatible, and can be adjusted noninvasively after the eye has healed following surgery," says Kornfield. "The lenses are made of materials that are probably familiar to most people," she adds. "The building blocks are silicone, similar to the polymers that make up caulk or the kid's toy Silly Putty."
In her talk, Kornfield will explain this new technology and the implications it holds for the future.
Caltech has offered the Watson Lecture Series for almost 80 years, since it was conceived by the late Caltech physicist Earnest Watson as a way to explain science to the local community. Seating is available on a free, no-ticket-required, first-come, first-served basis. The lecture will take place on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium, 332 South Michigan Avenue, on Caltech's campus in Pasadena.