Space Science and Medical Technology: To See or Not to See

human eye
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November 11, 2004

Vision is the primary sense used by astronauts in space. Visual information is essential during critical phases of space flight, such as rendezvous and docking, robotic operations and landing. The spaceflight environment has many significant effects on the visual and ocular system that can adversely affect astronaut performance, and may lead to long-term health consequences.

In two free public lectures, Dr. Wolfgang Fink, JPL senior research scientist and assistant professor of ophthalmology and neurosurgery at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, will describe tools for early detection, diagnosis and prevention of eye disorders in space and on Earth. The lectures will take place Thursday evening, Nov. 18, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and on Friday evening, Nov. 19, at Pasadena City College.

"Blindness is not necessarily an irreversible stroke of fate any more," said Fink. "We are at the dawn of artificial vision, thanks to recent developments in microdevices and image processing." Fink and his visual and autonomous exploration systems research group at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena are working on computer-enhanced vision for patients wearing visual prostheses.

On Earth, there are many conditions that, if not detected, may lead to irreversible vision loss or blindness. The human eye and vision system can be likened to a camera consisting of an optical lens system (cornea and eye lens), film (retina), and an image- processing unit (retina and visual cortex). The malfunctioning of only one of these components will impair vision.

The free lectures are part of JPL's Theodore von Kármán Lecture Series. Both will begin at 7 p.m. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. The Thursday lecture will be in JPL's von Kármán Auditorium at 4800 Oak Grove Dr., off the Oak Grove Drive exit of the 210 (Foothill) Freeway. The Friday lecture will be in Pasadena City College's Vosloh Forum, 1570 E. Colorado Blvd.

For more information, call (818) 354-0112. Thursday's lecture will be webcast live and available afterwards at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/lectures/nov04.cfm.

Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Contact: Natalie Godwin (818) 354-0850

2004-277



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