“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is
success.” – Henry Ford
This may sound weird, but you know when you’re lying in bed too excited or too stressed
to sleep, and you just stare at the ceiling and think? I do that almost every night, except I’m not
thinking about a project, test or even that pizza I’m going to get tomorrow — I’ve got science
on my mind. I get excited thinking about projects that aim to cure diseases or help a poor
community gain access to clean water. I once spent an entire night thinking about a research
paper that addressed researchers’ hopes to grow back limbs we have lost (search HOX genes
and regenerative medicine).
During one of these late night sessions, I wondered what kinds of methods were being
used to help people who have lost their sight. One scenario that came to mind was the X-
Men character Cyclops and the pair of shades he wears on his head to see and shoot lasers.
I wondered, can there be a device like his shades that allows blind people to see? It turns
out there already is. The U.S. Department of Energy started working on the Artificial Retina
Project in 2002 to help restore sight to those with debilitating eye diseases. The concept they
used resembles what powers Cyclops’ glasses, and they created a device that allows users to
The Department of Energy reported that federal funding for this project ended in 2011.
In the nine years the project was funded, the Department produced three iterations of the
device which was life-altering to those who received them. The device, a pair of sunglasses,
has cameras that captures what’s in front of the user and sends that information wirelessly to
a processor. The processor then sends electric signals to a small thin pad on the retina of the
user’s eye and allows the user to see what the glasses are seeing.
Perhaps most importantly, the project required the interest and teamwork of many
different disciplines. The department had labs, universities, individuals, private industries and
more working on it. Scientists from a wide breadth of fields, including engineering, chemistry,
szphysics, biology (bio and physics together?!), and psychology, combined their expertise and
created this revolutionary device.
Because funding ended in 2011, the future of expanding the artificial retina project is
with my generation — us students. As we pursue our education, we must be reminded of the
many reasons we are here. We have a chance to enact real change for millions of lives, and this
retina project is one of the many examples we can leap into. Who better to enhance this than
students like ourselves?
I applaud our university and the many achievements it has made in the areas of science,
technology and health. I believe we can do better. One thing that has always driven me up
the wall about large universities is the disconnect people might feel from areas outside of their
discipline. Since research universities like UC Davis are so large, many undergraduates tend to
stick to their own area of study. The retina project brought scientists from many fields together
— working under one “roof” so to speak, and sharing ideas as well as teaching others. As the
task of expanding on the retina project and spearheading like-minded ideas has been given to
our generation, why don’t we create a unified effort within our university to make these projects
Cue the “One World, One UC Davis” mantra.
I’m talking about an ongoing research opportunity — run by our university students
— that brings folks from different disciplines together to contribute to solving problems. By
combining the power of our faculty with the unique and inquisitive minds of our students, we can
approach a problem and work as one family. I don’t mind if we don’t solve it — just creating a
hands-on, team approach would tell our student body that great ideas can be collaborative and
use each others’ skills to solve problems.
The artificial retina project brought a team from different backgrounds to produce a life-
changing result. While the product is amazing and its benefits are important to learn about, the
collaborative effort in which this project was conducted had me thinking,
One World, One UC Davis — let’s work on making that a reality.
Want to discuss what projects you think about in bed (I swear I’m not creepy)? Shoot
UMAYR SUFI an email at email@example.com or tweet him @umsufi.