President Barack Obama recognized a team of three IBM (NYSE: IBM) scientists — James J. Wynne, Rangaswamy Srinivasan and Samuel Blum — with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, an award given to leading innovators for technological achievement. It was announced by IBM on Friday, Dec. 21.
With more than a combined 100 years of service at IBM Research, they are receiving this award for designing, developing, and implementing laser technology that improves people’s health, including LASIK eye surgery.
According to IBM, President Obama will personally bestow the award to the IBMers at a special White House ceremony at a later date. IBM has earned the National Medal of Technology and Innovation on nine other occasions.
IBM’s work in laser technology, which began in 1981 by this team of scientists, has shaped the course of surgical care, says the company.
Well suited for delicate surgeries, the excimer laser replaced mechanical instruments such as the scalpel which was not very precise, could leave the cornea permanently weakened and required a long recovery time.
The team of researchers originally demonstrated this technology’s capabilities to the medical community by using quick pulses of ultraviolet light to cut a clean pattern into a human hair without burning the strand.
This ability to precisely cut into materials via vaporization, rather than burning, was appealing to doctors and patients as it left surrounding areas undamaged, says IBM.
Today, LASIK eye surgery is considered to be the most popular vision correction surgery performed and has improved the vision of approximately 25 million people worldwide, according to IBM.
James Wynne still works at IBM’s TJ Watson Research Center while Srinivasan and Blum have since retired.
In the picture above: “IBM” on a strand of hair. Here, the excimer laser is used to demonstrate precision and scale, etching “IBM” onto a strand of human hair.
The name “excimer laser” is derived from the terms “excited” and “dimers,” molecules composed of two atoms that only bind together in an excited electronic state.
Photo courtesy: IBM