February 20, 2013
The National Academy of Engineering and Ohio University last night awarded three pioneers in laser surgery the 2013 Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize, the world’s top bioengineering honor, at a National Engineers Week gala in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Rangaswamy Srinivasan, Dr. James J. Wynne and the late Dr. Samuel E. Blum developed laser ablative photodecomposition, enabling PRK and LASIK vision correction surgery and improving quality of life for more than 25 million people worldwide.
The visionaries received a cash award of $500,000 and gold medals at Union Station’s East Hall in a black-tie event celebrating the engineering profession’s highest honors and attended by pioneers and global leaders in the field.
Established in 1999 with a multimillion dollar gift to Ohio University by 1942 electrical engineering alumnus and esteemed engineer Fritz Russ and his wife, Dolores, the biennial prize recognizes bioengineering achievements worldwide that are in widespread use and have improved the human condition.
“Fritz and Dolores wanted to honor significant contributions to our quality of life and to our society,” said Ohio University President Roderick McDavis. “They also wanted to promote engineering education, in order to inspire future generations of engineers. This, we know, is so important to our country and our world, with the increasingly complex problems we face.”
In their experiments, the trio of 2013 honorees observed, tested and developed techniques for using an ArF (193 nm) excimer laser to cut animal tissue, leaving a clean incision without the burning or scarring left behind when the laser is applied at a higher frequency.
A researcher in the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, Srinivasan’s initial discovery in 1981 of the clean incisions on his Thanksgiving leftovers led to additional testing under controlled conditions with his co-worker Blum. Wynne conducted parellel studies applying the excimer laser to animal cartilage at higher frequency, which left significant thermal damage on adjacent tissue.
Srinivasan and Wynne later collaborated with physicians from many disciplines to apply the low-frequency pulsed ultraviolet laser to human tissue, leading to the opthalmic application that enabled PRK and LASIK. More than 25 million people have since undergone laser vision correction, including several hundred thousand military personnel and pilots.
In his remarks, Srinivasan reflected on the many years that the group spent translating their experiments into a viable process.
“In the beginning, we needed to educate practicing ophthalmologists, then a lot of engineering expertise was required to build a working machine,” he said. “There you have the merging of physical science, biology and engineering science: the recipe for the Russ Prize.”
Srinivasan, Wynne and McDavis were joined in the nation's capital by Dennis Irwin, dean of Ohio Univeristy’s Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology; Kenneth Johnson, dean of the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine; Joe Shields, vice president of research; other university representatives; Russ College board members; Russ Prize committee members; and about two dozen Russ family members.
Previous Russ Prize recipients are Leroy Hood (2011), inventor of the automated DNA sequencer; Elmer Gaden (2009), engineering and commercialization of biological systems for large-scale manufacturing of antibiotics and other drugs; Yuan-Cheng "Bert" Fung (2007), the father of biomechanical engineering; Leland C. Clark Jr. (2005), inventor of biosensors; Willem J. Kolff (2003), the father of artificial organs; and Earl E. Bakken and Wilson Greatbatch (2001), inventors of the heart pacemaker.
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