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Russ Prize recipient details breakthrough technology behind LASIK and its future as smart scalpel for skin

Kaitor Kposowa and Adrienne Cornwall | Feb 24, 2014
James Wynne Visit

Russ Prize recipient details breakthrough technology behind LASIK and its future as smart scalpel for skin

Kaitor Kposowa and Adrienne Cornwall | Feb 24, 2014


In a Stocker Lecture presented by the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology, 2013 Russ Prize recipient James J. Wynne discussed his contribution to the discovery of laser ablative photodecomposition, the technology behind LASIK and PRK vision correction surgeries, on Thursday at Baker University Center Theatre.

Wynne was honored in February 2013 along with colleagues Rangaswamy Srinivasan and the late 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.

In his multimedia presentation, Wynne shared some of the science behind the pulsed ultraviolet excimer laser, which has enabled more than 25 million people to enjoy improved quality of life and increased job opportunities through LASIK and PRK vision correction surgeries.

Beyond the science, Wynne said his goal was to demonstrate to students that they’re also capable of great discoveries, with dedication and technical preparation.

“Science is an endless frontier,” he said. “Combine scientists and engineers, and you can just change the world. Young people should recognize it’s very important to go into these fields, because they can really change the world for the better.”

The laser’s unique ability to etch biological tissue without burning or scarring allows its use in ophthalmic applications and, Wynne explained, to possible future dermatological uses.

The discovery, made in 1981 by Wynne and his colleagues Rangaswamy Srinivasan and the late Samuel E. Blum while working at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center, found that the pulsed ultraviolet laser etched cartilage cleanly and left the surrounding tissue without thermal damage. Srinivasan, Blum and Wynne tested the laser under controlled conditions and found that lasers at longer wavelengths left surrounding tissue burned and damaged, while the shorter wavelength laser made clean incisions with no thermal damage.

Wynne and Srinivasan further tested the effects of the ultraviolet excimer laser on human tissue in collaboration with cardiologists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists, and dental anatomists, leading to similar results and the application of the laser to ophthalmic surgery.

While currently serving as the Watson laboratory’s Local Education Outreach program coordinator, Wynne is also developing a new application for the laser to treat thermal and chemical damage to skin.

“I was really impressed that he’s continuing on with his research,” said Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin. “He said the doors opened when he won the Russ Prize. It has enabled him to do some additional things that I think are going to be important, especially when treating burn injuries. That’s a great success story for the Russ College and the Russ Prize.”

Wynne also met with OHIO and Russ College leadership, faculty and students, including a group of student leaders from the Engineering Ambassadors program.

Wynne, who said he felt like a wise old man lecturing the ambassadors, offered them advice over the breakfast meeting.

“Set your sights high,” he advised the students. “Go after something very important and don’t settle for anything less than the best that you can do.”

In addition, Wynne received the commemorative game ball at the OHIO vs. Western Michigan University basketball game, which was sponsored by the Russ College in celebration of Engineers Week. 

Russ Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Gerri Botte, who like Wynne is a fellow inductee of the National Academy of Inventors, brought an entire class to the lecture as part of their studies of “Approaches to Chemical Engineering Problem Solving.”

“It was a great inspiration for the students,” she said. “This class has to do with computer programming, and the students are learning what engineers and chemical engineers do. It’s an excellent fit for them to see what they can do in the future as an engineer.”

One student, Lloyd Seiter of Lambertville, N.J., said the lecture inspired him to succeed as a chemical engineer.

“I’m really glad I came today,” he said. “It reaffirmed my decision to become a chemical engineer because I could see firsthand the success that comes to the field, and the advancements to society and science that accompany it.”