British inventor’s spectacles revolution for Africa

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.”

Silver estimates that more than a billion adults in developing nations have poor eyesight. This seriously limits their education and employment prospects. He is now working with the World Bank and the Dow Corning Corporation – which makes the silicone materials used in his revolutionary glasses – to supply 200 million pairs of self-adjusting spectacles to schoolchildren in Africa and Asia. Ultimately, he hopes a billion pairs of the glasses will be made.

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.

“It is incredibly easy. You don’t need an optician, just a little bit of basic instruction,” said Silver. “Our tests – which have ranged from trials with pupils in rural schools in China to inner-city schools in Boston – have found that more than 95% of adolescents can handle these glasses quite easily and set their own prescription without problem.

Edited from British inventor’s spectacles revolution for Africa

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