Making Eyeglasses That Let Wearers Change Focus on the Fly
Friday, August 7, 2009
As a promising Caltech graduate student in applied physics, Stephen Kurtin could have taken a job offer from Intel at the dawn of the microelectronics era 40 years ago.
Instead he followed the path of a lone inventor, gaining more than 30 patents in fields including word processing software and sound systems, culminating in the pair of glasses resting on his nose, which he believes can free nearly two billion people around the world from bifocals, trifocals and progressive lenses.
The glasses have a tiny adjustable slider on the bridge of the frame that makes it possible to focus alternately on the page of a book, a computer screen or a mountain range in the distance.
Dr. Kurtin, 64, has spent almost 20 years of his career on a quest to create a better pair of spectacles for people who suffer from presbyopia. After many false turns and dead ends, he has succeeded in creating glasses with a mechanically adjustable focus. He says they are better than other glasses and some forms of Lasik surgery. And they make an intriguing fashion statement: a bit of Harry Potter with a dash of “Revenge of the Nerds.”
Several international efforts are under way to adapt both fluid lenses and the Alvarez approach to the 1.3 billion people at the bottom of the economic pyramid that the World Health Organization estimates as having no access to eyeglasses.