Bionic Lenses, Night Vision and Stress on the Brain...

Lenses displaying emails before your eyes, flowing materials, stress on the mind and a night flowering orchid...
25 November 2011

Interview with 

Babak Parviz, University of Washington; Erno Hermans, Donders Institute; Zhengwei Pan, University of Georgia; Andrew Shuiteman, Kew Gardens


Human eye


Flashing emails before your eyes

contact lens capable of displaying electronic information, quite literally inAn eye front of your eyes, is being developed by US scientists.

Challenges include powering the device and displaying complex information such as text, But Babak Parviz and colleagues at the University of Washington  have so far combined a miniature radio receiver and light source within a lens and wirelessly sent single pixels of data safely into the eyes of rabbits.

Babak -   You can imagine your cell phone might some information to your contact lens and the contact lens has an antenna that can receive the information, has a radio that can process the information, and drawn a display with it, and there are some extra focusing mechanism that allows you to see the image.  If you think about our daily routines we interact with a number of displays, the TV screen and the computer displays, the cell phone display this, but in a sense, we don't really need all of them, if we have a personal display that is our contact lens, we can get rid of all these extra displays and just have one display that is personalised to the user.


Stress on the Brain

Sudden stress can cause
changes in connections between different regions of the brain

Short bursts of stress are known to sharpen senses, impair abilities to deliberate and create fearful arousal, although how this was achieved by the brain wasn't known.

Now, by exposing human volunteers to clips of violent and non violent films and imaging their brain activity, Erno Hermans and colleagues from the Donders Institute have discovered the changes in the brain causing these responses.

Erno -   We see change in the way brain regions communicate with each other.  Those are regions that are involved in reorienting attention and also regulation of your autonomic nervous system, and of regulation of the stress system.  So what we see here is that those regions sort of become active together and form a network as if they're integrating information across all these domains.  This might be a model for studying what happens in potentially traumatic situations.


Non-Stop Vision in the Dark

A new
materialthat can glow for over two weeks after just minutes of exposure to sunlight has been developed by scientists at the University of Georgia.

A mixture of chromium ions embedded in a matrix of zinc, gallium and germanium oxides can soak up the energy in visible light, releasing near infra-red  wavelengths and providing night vision for up to 15 days even in cloudy or overcast conditions.

Zhengwei -   The first one lies in military defence and the law enforcement, and the other thing is solar energy absorption and storage.  The third application is we can make the material into nanoparticles so that we can out these particles this molecule and particle into the body so that it can link to some tumour cells for bio-imaging.


Night Flowering Orchid

The first night-flowering orchid has been discovered by scientists at Kew Gardens.

The flower, now named Bulbophillum nocturnum, originates from the Island of New Britain near Papua New Guinea, and was found to open a few hours after dusk and remain that way until a few hours after dawn. But it only does this for one night.

The species is the only orchid known to flower only at night, with the reasons behind this behaviour a subject of speculation for Orchid expert Andre Schuiteman from Kew Gardens.

Andre -   Out of 25,000 species of orchids known approximately, this is the first one, officially we are certain that it is flowering at night.  This is quite strange because related species flower during the day time.  We think the flower opens at night because it is pollinated by flies that are active after dark or maybe early in the morning, when it's just getting dawn, probably to escape predators.

More information on the orchid can be found on the Kew gardens website at


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