NASA scientists found inspiration in nature for a spinoff that now protects and enhances vision on Earth
A pair of shades is essential for the beach in summertime. Beyond Earth’s atmosphere, the Sun’s light is even more powerful, with the potential to cause serious damage to astronauts’ eyes.
In the 1980s, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists James Stephens and Charles Miller were studying the harmful properties of light in space, as well as that of artificial radiation produced during laser and welding work. To combat this danger, the JPL scientists turned to the animals known to have some of the sharpest eyes around: birds of prey. The birds require near-perfect vision for hunting and survival. Their eyes produce tiny droplets of oil that filter out harmful radiation and permit only certain visible wavelengths of light through, protecting the eye while enhancing eyesight.
The NASA researchers replicated this oil droplet process in creating a protective welding curtain capable of absorbing, filtering, and scattering dangerous light. The welding curtain was commercialized, and then the scientists focused attention on another area where blocking ultraviolet light would be beneficial to the eyes: sunglasses.
SunTiger Inc.—now Eagle Eyes Optics, of Calabasas, California—was formed to market a full line of sunglasses based on the licensed NASA technology that promises 100-percent elimination of harmful wavelengths and enhanced visual clarity. Today, Eagle Eyes sunglasses are worn by millions of people around the world who enjoy the protective and vision-enhancing benefits.
Alan Mittleman, president and CEO of Eagle Eyes explains, “When we’re born, our eyes are clear like drops of water. Throughout life, we start to destroy those sensitive tissues, causing the yellowing of the eyes and the gradual worsening of eyesight.”
When our eyes are exposed to the harmful, ultraviolet light rays of the Sun (UVA, UVB, and blue-light rays), damage to our eyes and their complex vision-enhancing processes can occur and not even be noticed until years later, long after exposure. This can result in conditions such as cataracts, which can lead to reduced vision and, if left untreated, blindness. In the United States alone, it is estimated that cataracts diminish the eyesight of millions of people at an expense of billions of dollars.
“It has only been recently,” Mittleman says, “that people started to realize the importance of this.”
The Eagle Eyes lens allows wearers to see more clearly because it protects from ultraviolet light, and more importantly, blocks blue light, allowing in the good visible light while filtering out the harmful wavelengths. Blue light, in particular, passes through the cornea and damages the inner retina.
To share the benefits of its NASA technology, Eagle Eyes often donates its products to places in sore need of eye protection, such as Alaska, where the incidence of cataracts is 300 times greater because of the Sun’s reflection off of the snow. In 2010, in recognition of the technology’s benefits and its origins in space research, the groundbreaking eyewear was inducted into the Space Foundation’s Space Technology Hall of Fame.
“Our goal … has been to promote healthy eyesight to as many people as possible, and we are most proud to be in the company of those who have worked so hard in promoting NASA-inspired technology to consumers worldwide,” said Mittleman about the honor.
So when you hit the beach this summer, know that there is a NASA spinoff that can keep you looking sharp—in more ways than one.
To learn more about this NASA spinoff, read the original article