LASIK surgery pioneer details breakthrough discovery
Rangaswamy Srinivasan, a recipient of the 2013 Russ Prize, described his breakthrough discovery of the pulsed ultraviolet excimer laser, the technology behind LASIK and PRK vision correction surgeries, on Tuesday at Baker University Center Ballroom.
Srinivasan was honored in February along with colleagues James J. Wynne and Samuel E. Blum with the Russ Prize, the world’s top bioengineering award, which recognizes a bioengineering achievement in widespread use that improves the human condition.
The $500,000 prize is awarded biennially by the National Academy of Engineering in conjunction with Ohio University’s Russ College, to which late alumnus Fritz Russ and his wife, Dolores, made a charitable gift to endow the prize.
Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin said that more than 25 million people have undergone laser vision correction surgery, enjoying improved quality of life and increased job opportunities.
Srinivasan noted that his goal for his Stocker Lecture was to help attendees understand what a discovery is, how one is made, and how to build on that and collaborate with others to develop useful applications.
“You cannot do everything yourself. That is obvious,” Srinivasan said. “You have to draw other people in and make people interested.”
Srinivasan first made his discovery in 1981, when he irradiated cartilage from his leftover Thanksgiving turkey with the pulsed ultraviolet laser and found that it left the surrounding tissue undamaged. Srinivasan, Blum and Wynne tested the laser under controlled conditions and found that lasers at higher frequencies left surrounding tissue burned and damaged, while the lower frequency laser made incisions with no thermal damage.
Later collaborations with physicians from many disciplines led to the development of the PRK and LASIK procedures, which use the laser to reshape the cornea and correct visual impairments.
During his campus visit, Srinivasan met with OHIO and Russ College leadership and faculty, and also shared a meal with students. Members of the Engineering Ambassadors and Robe Leadership Institute (RLI) took advantage of the informal event to probe Srinivasan for professional advice and personal details.
“He’s the most interesting man in the world,” said Cody Burdwood, a mechanical engineering senior and RLI scholar, upon hearing Srinivasan’s response to Burdwood’s question about what he enjoys in his spare time: classical music, museums and traveling, specifically, to archaeologically historic sites. “The conversation transitioned to the great pyramids, which he has visited, and his thoughts on their construction. This conversation was paired with incredible knowledge he provided us on his technology,” Burdwood said.
Srinivasan noted that the students’ aspirations and questions spoke volumes about their potential to make a difference in their careers.
“They certainly asked me a lot of pertinent questions,” Srinivasan said. “They were really top of the heap. No question about it. The way they asked questions and the way they reacted were impressive.”
And he offered some practical advice: “Have an honest picture of yourself before you try to convince anybody else. Make up your mind what it is you want in life, what would be most meaningful. If you say ‘make money,’ then how much money is enough?”
Professor Bob Williams, undergraduate chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said the lecture was inspiring to his research in robotics and biomechanics.
“I was struck by how fantastic his research is. It has affected positively millions of patients,” Williams said. “That’s what I want to look for in my life. How can I do some research to have such a major impact? I was inspired by the far reach.”
When asked his thoughts on the Russ College’s motto, “Create for Good,” Srinivasan said he saw it as a two-part deal. “First of all the ‘creating’ part -- you have to be in the right mentality for creating things. Be observant be reacting to things and look for opportunities to create. Then, the ‘good’ part is, make sure that what you’ve done is meaningful. If you cannot convince yourself, you’re not going to convince anyone else.”