Before Webb depicted our universe, he helped advance human vision

  • The James Webb Space Telescope was a starting point for measuring people’s eyes more accurately for LASIK surgery.
  • A machine used to analyze the curvature of the eye was modified to measure Webb’s mirrors, and these superior results ended up improving the LASIK technology.
  • NASA technologies have found their way into many different areas of life, such as freeze-dried foods.

Due to a nerve problem, Lee Feinberg is legally blind in his left eye. The irony that Feinberg has been the director of optical telescope elements for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) for the past 20 years is not lost on him.

“I first got into optics with sort of the idea of ​​finding something to fix my left eye,” he explains. Although he has yet to find a solution to his vision problem, Feinberg’s work with NASA on the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has helped improve the eyesight of millions who are enjoying the clear vision benefits produced by LASIK surgery using the technology separated from the program.

Laser eye surgery

Close-up of the eye and laser during surgery to correct vision.

arctic pictures//Getty Images

Successful technological results are a constant feature of the work that NASA has done since its inception in 1958. From freeze-dried foods and dialysis machines developed for the Apollo space program in the 1960s, to a powerful infrared camera and manufacturing process, stronger, less polluting, commercially-licensed concrete this The year, the agency’s programs led to about 2,000 subsidiaries in total.

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In the early 2000s, Goddard engineers at NASA were grappling with the problem of how to produce a large, multi-segment mirror for JWST. The successor to the Hubble Telescope has been envisioned as the largest optical telescope in space, with a sensitivity to seeing things too early, far away, or dimmer relative to the Hubble telescope. By the time it launched last December, JWST development had long since sowed the seeds for better visibility here on Earth.

Calculated approach in a golden mirror

LASIK and other techniques from webb

Animation showing the James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The Webb Telescope has a large, 21-foot-diameter gold mirror; A thin layer of gold helps the JWST mirror reflect infrared light. It’s amazing to look at, but it was hell to do.

Space telescopes “see” by using mirrors to collect and focus light from distant stars. The larger the mirror, the more details the telescope can see. Many of these details are hidden from human eyes, which cannot see through the dust in our universe.

By looking out into space at an invisible wavelength, JWST can see through the dust to stars and planets so far away that the expansion of the universe has caused the light to shift from visible to infrared.

LASIK technology from NASA

The The golden mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The large mirror is actually a combination of 18 hexagons that must be folded to fit inside the French Ariane 5 missile that launched the JWST. Each of the parts is exceptionally light — 10 times lighter than the Hubble mirror in air density, says Feinberg. Producing them with the necessary curvature and surface in the frigid space environment wasn’t something NASA was sure they could do 20 years ago. After all, the Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope scheduled for launch in 2003 only had a 33-inch-diameter mirror.

“We expected to make mirrors in [the] Compared to previous Spitzer mirrors, it would take 75 years,” Feinberg He remembers. “We had to find a way to make it a lot faster.”

NASA needed a way to accurately measure the mirrors as close as possible during production, ensuring that each part achieved the same intended accuracy and curvature as it was built. “We had to polish it in such a way that, when it cooled, it became the mirror shape we wanted,” Feinberg says. “We had to match the curvature of one mirror to the mirror after it, and that was a very difficult problem.”

Feinberg and his colleagues thought they could do this using a device called the Shack-Hartmann wavefront wave sensor, an optical instrument used to describe the imaging system. NASA has asked for help from New Mexico-based WaveFront Sciences in Albuquerque.

WaveFront was already using a Shack-Hartmann sensor to measure the surface of the human eye to create 3D images of contact lenses and interocular lenses, developing a system called the Complete Ophthalmic Analysis System (COAS). By using a superluminescent diode (similar to a laser) to measure the surface and circumference of the eye, COAS will eventually find application in LASIK procedures and in a system called iDesign.

natural intersection

Christian Santana recalls that crafting new algorithms to adapt COAS to measure the surface of JWST’s mirrors was something the company saw as a natural intersection between astronomy and ophthalmology. Today, Santana is the chief electrical engineer for Johnson & Johnson Vision based in Santa Ana, California, but at the time, he was part of the WaveFront team. “We were eager to see what we could do to help NASA achieve its goal.”

NASA’s investment in WaveFront helped accelerate COAS development while both learned how to measure Webb’s mirrors. There were meaningful parallels in the need for consistent surfaces and curvatures across 18 telescopic mirrors or eyes, although Feinberg admitted he had not seen them at the time.

“I didn’t really get that potential. There were other technologies in Webb that I thought might be useful for this or that. Later [LASIK] The application seems straightforward,” he says.

johnson and johnson vision idesign refractive photography studio

The Seeing Johnson and Johnson iDesign Refractive Studio. Patients look at the iDesign device for 20 seconds or so. It processes 3D eye measurements, which are recorded on an integrated monitor. The doctor enters the measurement data into the laser to perform LASIK surgery.

Seeing Johnson and Johnson

Santana says that working on the JWST problem has helped WaveFront “really push the boundaries of measuring people’s eyes in a more accurate and faster way with better equipment.”

WaveFront fleshed out iDesign and rolled out the system commercially in 2015. By that time, it had been acquired by Abbott Medical Optics. In turn, Johnson & Johnson acquired iDesign in 2017, which included it in iDesign Refractive Studio, which received FDA approval in 2018.

If you’re someone who’s had LASIK, you may remember looking at the iDesign device for 20 seconds or so. It processes 3D eye measurements, which are recorded on an integrated monitor. The doctor enters the measurement data into the laser to perform LASIK surgery.

iDesign Refractive Studio is used extensively throughout the optical care industry, and its results have been widely praised. So are the first images from JWST released in July, including a stunning image of young stars forming in the Carina Nebula.

Other sub-benefits of JWST range from optical interferometers to laser measurement, cutting and engraving applications and flat screen televisions. Feinberg thought all along there would be other applications of the technologies developed for Webb, “but I’m still really happy that this [LASIK] Spinoff became a reality. ”

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