By Patricia Daukantas
Before the end of this month – which has featured my article on “Lasers in Ophthalmology” as the OPN cover story – I wanted to mention at least one OSA Fellow who helped to develop laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, or LASIK.
This ophthalmic surgical procedure is not exactly new – it’s advertised all over the radio in my metropolitan area, and OPN published several articles about the technology within the past 10 years. But one OSA Fellow, James J. Wynne, and four of his colleagues were, just this month, awarded the Rank Prize for Optoelectronics for their application of excimer laser surgery to refractive correction of the cornea.
Wynne, who is with IBM Corp., was one of three winners of the 2004 R.W. Wood Prize from OSA for their invention of pulsed ultraviolet laser eye surgery. The trio was also inducted into the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame. The back story of their work in laser tissue ablation is fascinating and a little unusual.
In 1981, according to IBM’s Inventors Hall of Fame press release, Wynne, Rangaswamy Srinivasan and Samuel Blum were considering how to use ablative photo-decomposition as a surgical technique. “At Thanksgiving dinner that year, Srinivasan decided to run the first experiment on the turkey bone sitting before him,” the statement reads. “He brought the turkey bone to work, and the IBM team irradiated the cartilage on the end of the bone with both an ultraviolet excimer laser and a conventional, green laser. Looking at the startling difference between the clean incision produced by the excimer laser and the charred, damaged region produced by the green laser, the IBM team realized that they had uncovered a new phenomenon, which became the basis of their invention.”
Wnne graduated from Great Neck (N.Y., U.S.A.) High School 50 years ago, just as the first laser was fired up. He tells his classmates that he got his Ph.D. in nonlinear optics at Harvard under OSA Honorary Member Nicolaas Bloembergen. The “best personal reward” he got from his laser-related research was the surgery his formerly myopic and astigmatic son had a few years ago – the son now has 20/15 vision.
The LaserFest website has a fascinating profile of Wynne, with more details about the Thanksgiving-turkey experiments with the 193-nm laser. You can also see a snapshot of Wynne with his trusty Volkswagen Beetle, known as “Laserbug.”