2013 Russ Prize
On Feb. 18, 2013, the National Academy of Engineers and Ohio University presented the 2013 Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize to Rangaswamy Srinivasan, James J. Wynne and Samuel E. Blum for the development of laser ablative photodecomposition, enabling LASIK and PRK eye surgery.
In 1981, while working at IBM Research, Srinivasan observed that the lab’s recently acquired excimer laser delivering its 10-nsec pulses of far ultraviolet radiation could etch organic tissue without fibrosis or scarring on healing. He and Wynne, then manager of the Laser Physics and Chemistry department at IBM Research, reasoned that living skin or other tissue would heal similarly. Srinivasan conducted initial experiments on his leftover Thanksgiving turkey, finding that the laser indeed etched cartilage producing a clean incision. Srinivasan, Wynne and Blum conducted further testing under controlled conditions, and completed their invention disclosure on New Year’s Eve that year.
Srinivasan and Wynne then embarked on collaborations with experts in the medical/surgical field to develop this discovery into a real-world surgical tool. Through collaboration with ophthalmologists, the excimer laser was subsequently applied to the development of laser in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) and photorefractive keratectomy (PRK). More than 300,000 members of the U.S. military have benefited from these vision correction surgeries, eliminating the problems of wearing corrective lenses in combat conditions, and an estimated 24 million total patients have undergone these procedures since 1995. The work of these visionary technologists has led to vision improvement, increased personal productivity and greater economic opportunity worldwide.