US President Obama Recognizes LASIK Eye Surgey Scientists

Not many of us actually know that IBM research was part of the team who founded the LASIK (Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis) that we know today. Their remarkable journey took them 14 years from initial experiment until FDA approval in 1995.

President Obama recognized a team of three IBM scientists -- James J. Wynne, Rangaswamy Srinivasan and Samuel Blum -- with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the country's most prestigious award given to leading innovators for technological achievement. With more than a combined 100 years of service at IBM Research, they are receiving this award for designing, developing, and implementing laser technology that improves people’s health, including LASIK eye surgery.

President Obama will personally bestow the award to the IBMers at a special White House ceremony at a later date. IBM has earned the National Medal of Technology and Innovation on nine other occasions.

IBM’s seminal work in laser technology, which began in 1981 by this team of scientists, has shaped the course of surgical care. Well suited for delicate surgeries, the excimer laser replaced mechanical instruments such as the scalpel which was not very precise, could leave the cornea permanently weakened and required a long recovery time.

The team of researchers originally demonstrated this technology’s capabilities to the medical community by using quick pulses of ultraviolet light to cut a clean pattern into a human hair without burning the strand. This ability to precisely cut into materials via vaporization, rather than burning, was appealing to doctors and patients as it left surrounding areas undamaged.

Today, LASIK eye surgery is the most popular vision correction surgery performed and has improved the vision of approximately 25 million people worldwide. This type of modern surgery technology is one reason why the world has looked to the United States for leadership and best practices. James Wynne still works at IBM's TJ Watson Research Center while Srinivasan and Blum have since retired.


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