A British atomic physicist is liaising with the World Bank on a revolutionary project to distribute spectacles to 200 million children in developing countries. Users will be able to adjust the glasses to their own personal prescription without help from an optician.
“All users have to do is look at a reading chart and adjust the glasses until they can see letters clearly,” said Professor Joshua Silver, who was last week shortlisted for a 2011 European inventor award at a ceremony in Budapest. “Glasses like these are perfect for use in the third world. We can send them to schools where teachers can direct pupils to set their spectacles to suit each one’s vision. It is as simple as that.”
At the Budapest ceremony, Silver revealed that he began working on his revolutionary glasses – which are covered by patents – as a hobby more than 20 years ago, while he was relaxing from his daytime job as a professor of physics at Oxford University. “I was curious. I did it for fun,” said Silver, who is now director of the Oxford-based Centre for Vision in the Developing World.
What Silver created was ingenious and, like most great inventions, amazingly simple: low-cost glasses that can be tuned by the wearer. His spectacles have “adaptive lenses”, which consist of two thin membranes separated by silicone gel. The wearer simply looks at an eye chart and pumps in more or less fluid to change the curvature of the lens, which adjusts the prescription.
Silver also acknowledges that his glasses – which have thick, round rims – are not particularly attractive. “If we want teenagers to wear them, we will have to make them less obtrusive and more stylish. In essence, we want to make them look just like standard glasses. I am very hopeful we will succeed.”