Webb Telescope Mirror Tech improves eye surgery on Earth


While Webb sends back some of his first images, such as this alignment assessment image, eye surgery patients on Earth are benefiting from early research on the telescope’s huge mirrors. (Photo: NASA)

The James Webb Space Telescope is about to show us some of the first stars in the universe, with its huge, powerful mirrors capturing chunks of light from over 13 billion years ago. Meanwhile, technology developed as part of the decades-long effort to build Webb has already improved the vision of millions of people on Earth by bringing major improvements to LASIK eye surgery.

Part of a process for measuring Webb’s mirrors was incorporated into Johnson & Johnson Vision’s iDesign Refractive Studio, a device that takes precise eye measurements to map out imperfections in the visual pathways and corneal curvature. A Johnson & Johnson (J&J) executive called the resulting information “an optical fingerprint unique to each patient’s eye.”

iDesign Refractive Studio is now available to ophthalmologists in 47 countries, and iDesign technology has enabled more than 18 million successful LASIK procedures worldwide, according to J&J.

Johnson & Johnson’s iDesign Refractive Studio, shown here, takes precise eye measurements that map visual pathways and corneal curvature to help doctors diagnose and plan treatment for eye problems. (Photo: Johnson & Johnson Vision)

The technology got its start in the early 2000s, when Albuquerque, New Mexico-based contractor WaveFront Sciences worked with NASA to develop a system to measure gaps in Webb’s mirrors as were ground and polished to precise specifications.

“Mirrors were one of the really critical technologies we needed to develop to enable the observatory,” said Lee Feinberg, optical telescope element manager for Webb at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.

“We had to polish them in such a way that when they cool, they take on the mirror shape that we want,” he said. “We had to match the curvature of one mirror to the other, which was a very difficult problem.”

WaveFront Sciences incorporated some of the algorithms developed for Webb mirrors into a commercial product called the Comprehensive Ophthalmic Analysis System (COAS), which could diagnose eye conditions by mapping the eye.

The technology changed hands several times and was integrated into the iDesign system before J&J Vision, headquartered in Santa Ana, California, acquired it in 2017, incorporating it into its iDesign Refractive Studio, which obtained US Food and Drug Administration approval in 2018.

Once based on the limited information of a patient’s eyeglass prescription, today’s LASIK surgery – guided by the iDesign Refracted Studio – can involve more than 1,200 measurements for individualized vision correction that’s also fast. and safe.

Kristian Santana, now an electrical engineer at J&J Vision, worked with this technology early on, originally helping develop Webb’s mirror measurement system while working at WaveFront Sciences in the early 2000s.

“NASA was a really good partner,” Santana recalled, noting that the telescope work helped the company improve the seemingly unrelated eye-mapping system algorithms.

Indeed, the work of the space agency often benefits the inhabitants of Earth. “Ultimately, the investments NASA made helped the company develop the technology to be useful for other applications — in this case, LASIK eye surgery,” NASA’s Feinberg said.

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