University of Rochester

Optical Scientist Honored for Understanding and Improving Vision

October 23, 2007

David R. Williams, William G. Allyn Professor of Medical Optics and director of the University of Rochester's Center for Visual Science, has won the 2007 Alfred W. Bressler Prize in Vision Science, awarded each year by the Jewish Guild for the Blind.

Williams is being recognized for his extensive and groundbreaking research on the mechanisms of human vision. He accepted the award and the $37,500 prize at a ceremony this weekend in New York City.

Williams and colleagues have developed a camera that incorporates "adaptive optics" to see inside the human eye more clearly than ever before. The camera can take pictures of structures as small as single cells at the back of the living eye.

A key to the camera is a precision device known as a deformable mirror, equipped with 140 tiny computer-controlled pistons arranged on the back surface of a 4 mm square mirror. These pistons push and pull ever so slightly on the mirror to correct the particular pattern of optical defects in each person's eye. Williams's adaptive optics technology is now used at dozens of research laboratories around the world to study blinding diseases such as glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.

Not only has the team used adaptive optics to see into the eye, they are also using adaptive optics to allow people to see out into the world more clearly. The technology provides a detailed description of the optical defects in a person's eye that make possible customized contact lenses and refractive surgery for each particular patient. Bausch & Lomb's Zyoptix laser system, which provides customized refractive surgery tailored to the needs of each patient, is one technology that has already emerged from Williams's research.

Williams has appointments in the University's Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Ophthalmology, Biomedical Engineering, and the Institute of Optics. He has eight patents and has authored more than 100 scientific publications. In addition to many other awards, Williams is a 2003 and 2007 recipient of an R&D Magazine R&D 100 award for the 100 most technologically significant inventions of each of those years. Williams received his doctorate in psychology from the University of California at San Diego.

The Bressler Prize in Vision Science at the Jewish Guild for the Blind was established in 2001, through a bequest of Alfred W. Bressler (1905-1999). Bressler was a New York attorney for more than 70 years, most of that time with the law firm of Moses & Singer. A graduate of the Columbia University School of Law in 1927, Bressler received recognition in1998 when a professorship at Columbia was named in his honor.




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