The Eye Lasers

Excimer lasers are weird. They use ultraviolet light, and they have the strangest effect on human flesh. That is, they don’t burn. Instead, they light has the right amount of energy to hit the molecular bonds and break them, disintegrating biological matter and launching it into the air. So you can remove tissue without heating it up, which means you don’t damage the surrounding tissue.

That said, as someone who has gotten some lasers in his eyes (on purpose!), it still doesn’t smell great.

But the point is that you can use excimer lasers to do some extremely precise work on the human body. Enter the late Dr. Patricia Bath, who pioneered laser photoablative cataract surgery:

Dr. Bath, undated photo

See, over time, the cornea can become cloudy. This happens slowly, and can eventually blur vision. Using an excimer laser, the cataract can be removed and an artificial replacement lens can be implanted. The results are dramatic and can result in an immense improvement in quality of life.

Dr. Bath had a number of patents on the process:

But I know what you want to see. You want to see lasers shooting at eyeballs.

USP 5,919,186, FIG. 1

These days they use ultrasound to remove the lens by emulsification, which isn’t quite as fun as lasers, but is definitely a bit grosser. Dr. Bath also held a couple of patents involving ultrasound emulsification of cataracts, but their pictures unfortunately didn’t beat this one.

Dr. Bath had a long career working to cure blindness, traveling around the world to help treat those afflicted by cataracts.

Dr. Bath at UCLA, 1984

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