Liquid crystals were discovered nearly 150 years ago, though it was not until 1962 that they were viewed as a way to create flat panel displays. The cigar-shaped molecules have the useful characteristic of aligning with each other under normal circumstances, but will align themselves with an electrical field when a current is applied. They are now the dominant display technology for everything from smartphones and tablets to laptop computers and large screen televisions. And they may soon be coming to your eye.
As we age, the lens at the front of our eye gets stiffer, and it resists changing shape when our eye muscles try to focus on objects at different distances. As a result, we need corrective glasses or contact lenses to adjust for this limitation. Sometimes, the lens gets cloudy — cataracts — resulting in reduced vision or even blindness. A doctoral candidate at the University of Leeds have created a bionic lens that eventually could be used to give people perfect vision. They have created a liquid crystal lens that responds to the eye’s muscle movements to change focus, just like a natural lens. A surgeon would remove the old lens — as is done in cataract surgery — and replace it with the liquid crystal lens. The result is clear vision with the ability to focus near or far.
The plan is to develop a prototype by 2018, and the technology could be commercially available in six to ten years.