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For release: 05/22/03
Release #: 03-081

Wedowee native Joseph Kerr was co-inventor of eye screening system inducted into Space Technology Hall Of Fame

Joseph Kerr, a native of Wedowee and a former employee of Marshall Center, played an important, early role in developing an ocular screening system that now helps thousands of school children every year.

Picture a group of children in kindergarten giggling and fidgeting while standing in a line. They're getting ready for a test, but you'd never know it by looking at them. They're lining up for a simple, inexpensive eye test that is literally as quick as taking a photo. The scene is repeated thousands of time a year at schools and clinics around the United States.

Joseph Kerr, a native of Wedowee and a former employee of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., played an important, early role in helping the test become reality. He devoted his career to developing the technology and inventing a process that now provides the test that changes children's lives by identifying vision problems.

The Space Foundation of Colorado Springs, Colo., has honored the technology, the VisiScreen™ Ocular Screening System, as one of six inductees into the Space Technology Hall of Fame.

Kerr and his co-inventor, the late John Richardson, worked together at the Marshall Center in the 1980s to develop and patent the process. Kerr left NASA to form Electro-Optic Instruments Inc., of Wedowee, Ala., that would become Medical Sciences Corporation. In 1989, Vision Research Corporation of Birmingham, Ala., purchased Kerr's company, and turned the technology into a commercial product used in schools across America.

The technology for VisiScreen™ was first used in NASA space telescopes and Earth imaging systems during Landsat and Skylab missions in the 1970s. NASA's work on image processing and space optics led innovators at the Marshall Center to develop and patent a method and device for detecting human eye defects.

Under an exclusive license from NASA, Vision Research Corporation began marketing the technology in 1991. Over the past several years, Vision Research has screened almost 2 million children for eye problems in public schools.

The company works with corporate sponsors and local governments to conduct large-scale eye screening programs ranging from 5,000 to over 150,000 children per program. Also, pediatric clinics in more than half of the United States use the system.

"Children who can't see well are at an obvious disadvantage - both educationally and socially," said Jim Kennemer, president of Vision Research. "Even worse, one of every 50 children has an eye problem that will cause permanent vision impairment if not detected and corrected early enough. The NASA technology that has made our screening programs possible has truly changed the lives of tens of thousands of children."

"This is another tremendous example of how technology developed for the space program pays off in unexpected benefits for people on Earth," said Vernotto McMillan, manager of the Technology Transfer Department at the Marshall Center. "We are proud that technology created by Marshall Center scientists and contractors is helping millions of children."

VisiScreen™ is based on a process called "photorefraction." It involves taking a special, highly precise color photo of a child's eyes and analyzing it for a wide range of potential problems. Unlike any prior form of eye screening, it requires no response from the child, and it takes only a few seconds per test.

VisiScreen™ detects a wide range of eye problems, including nearsightedness, farsightedness, alignment problems, opacities such as cataracts, differences in the eyes that can indicate or lead to amblyopia (often called "lazy eye"), and a number of other ocular abnormalities.

The system includes a special camera, lens and electronic flash. The flash sends light into the child's eyes that is reflected from the retina back to the camera lens, producing a revealing image. Examination of the image by a trained observer then identifies abnormalities.

The Space Foundation, in cooperation with NASA, established the Technology Hall of Fame in 1988 to honor the innovators who have transformed space technology into commercial products, to increase public awareness of the benefits of space spin-off technology and to encourage further innovation. This year's inductees brings the total number of Hall of Fame recipients to 44.

To learn more about technology transfer managed by the Marshall Center, visit the Web site:

For more information about the Space Foundation and the Technology Hall of Fame, visit the Web site:

For more information about Vision Research Corporation and the VisiScreen™ system, visit the Web site:

For more information:
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Jerry Berg
Public Affairs Office
(256) 544-0034

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