A Moment of Science

SuperHero Vision

As Clark Kent, Superman was the very picture of meekness: the conservative suit, the mild-mannered smile. But the truly brilliant touch was the glasses, those decidedly geeky goggles that made Clark look like anything except the Man of Steel.

Soon, however, advances in corrective laser eye surgery may enable the Clark Kents of the world to see with superhuman vision. The current procedure, known as LASIK surgery, involves using a laser to correct errors on the cornea, a transparent tissue covering the front part of the eye. Once corrected, the cornea is able to focus light more accurately on the retina, the part of the eye that actually allows us to see.

The next wave of LASIK surgery may go one step further. In the current procedure, the laser typically does not detect and fix tiny aberrations unique to each person’s retina. A new system called adaptive optics that uses mirrors to fix light distortion may be able to correct even minute corneal imperfections.

Used by astronomers to correct distortions created by the atmosphere when they use telescopes, adaptive optics has more recently been researched as a way to improve human sight. By first mapping corneal defects using the adaptive optics system, surgeons can then guide the laser to erase even the smallest errors. The results, as some tests have shown, would be astonishing. After undergoing the procedure, a person could have greatly enhanced distance vision.

Although this surgery might soon be available to the public, it’s worth wondering why we would want such enhanced vision. Most of us, like Clark Kent, don’t really need it. Unless, that is, you’re considering a career in the superhero business.

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