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LASIK Researchers to Receive the National Medal of Technology and Innovation

A team of IBM researchers who made a major discovery now used in LASIK eye surgery will receive the National Medal of Technology and Innovation at a White House ceremony this year.

On Dec. 21, President Barack Obama announced the 11 inventors as recipients of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor bestowed by the White House on engineers and innovators.

In 1981, Rangaswamy Srinivasan, Samuel Blum and James Wynne at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, New York – were exploring new ways to use the excimer laser.

“We wondered if the excimer laser could so cleanly etch polymeric material, what would happen if we tried it on human or animal tissue?” recalled Wynne in a blog on IBM’s Web site. “What really broke things open, after all the talk of what kind of tissue we would use, was that Sri brought his Thanksgiving turkey leftovers into the lab the day after Thanksgiving,” said Wynne.

“He used the excimer laser to etch a pattern in whatever bone, cartilage or meat was on the tissue sample. I had this moment of ‘Eureka, we have a new form of surgery,’” said Wynne, adding that the laser provided a very clean cut with no evidence of damage to the tissues surrounding it.
Fifteen years later, the team’s discovery was approved for use in LASIK eye surgery.

“The hallmark of this heatless, pulsed laser etching of tissue is the absence of thermal damage, which means living tissue can heal with virtually no scarring,” said IBM in a statement.

“I am proud to honor these inspiring American innovators,” Obama said Dec. 21. “They represent the ingenuity and imagination that has long made this nation great—and they remind us of the enormous impact a few good ideas can have when these creative qualities are unleashed in an entrepreneurial environment.”



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