Rangaswamy Srinivasan

Rangaswamy Srinivasan

Photo courtesy of: Russ College of Engineering and Technology

James Wynne

James Wynne

Photo courtesy of: Russ College of Engineering and Technology

Samuel Blum

Samuel Blum

Photo courtesy of: Russ College of Engineering and Technology

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Trio of scientists to receive 2013 Russ Prize

Award is top bioengineering honor in world

Ohio University and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) announce that the bioengineering profession's highest honor, the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize, has been awarded to Rangaswamy Srinivasan, James J. Wynne, and Samuel E. Blum for advancements that enabled LASIK and PRK eye surgery.

Modeled after the Nobel Prize, the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize is a $500,000 biennial award recognizing a bioengineering achievement that significantly improves the human condition. Srinivasan, Wynne and Blum are being recognized for their development of laser ablative photodecomposition, which made pulsed ultraviolet laser surgery possible.

"The winners of this year's Russ Prize exemplify the impacts that can be made when engineers and medical professionals work together," said NAE president Charles M. Vest. "Because of their discoveries and collaboration with the surgical community, more than 25 million people enjoy improved eyesight and the technology they developed holds the promise for other applications as well."
Dennis Irwin, dean of the Russ College at Ohio University, noted the trio's work is just the kind of achievement that the Russes hoped to celebrate.

"LASIK and PRK corrective eye surgeries have given millions of people throughout the world better vision," Irwin said. "Clearly, the enabling technology, ablative photodecomposition, is responsive to the overarching goal of the Russes, to improve the human condition."

In 1981 while working at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, Srinivasan, Wynne, and Blum discovered that pulsed laser radiation at 193 nm from an argon fluoride (ArF) excimer laser could etch animal tissue, with sub-micron precision. Just as important, the laser caused no thermal damage to the adjacent tissue.

The initial discovery was made on Nov. 27, 1981, when Srinivasan brought leftovers from his Thanksgiving meal into the lab. He irradiated turkey cartilage with pulses of light from the ArF (193 nm) excimer laser, and found it made a clean "incision" in the tissue. On subsequent days, Srinivasan and Blum carried out additional turkey cartilage procedures under controlled conditions, measuring the laser's effect and the number of pulses used to produce incisions.

In parallel studies, Wynne conducted a comparable experiment using pulsed laser radiation at 532nm from a Q-switched, frequency-doubled, Nd:YAG laser (532 nm), which did not result in a clean incision like that of the excimer laser. Instead, it left a burned and damaged region of tissue.

In 1982 and 1983, Srinivasan and Wynne began to study the effects of the ultraviolet excimer laser on human tissue through collaborations with cardiologists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists, and dental anatomists. The two men, along with co-workers, obtained fresh arterial tissue from a cadaver at New York Hospital and irradiated a segment of the aorta with both 193 nm light from the ArF excimer laser and separately with 532 nm pulses from the Nd:YAG laser. The experiment yielded the same results as the turkey experiment. The excimer laser left no detectable evidence of thermal damage to the underlying and adjacent tissue while the 532 nm pulses caused visible thermal damage.

In 1983, Srinivasan, his IBM colleague Bodil Braren, and ophthalmologist Stephen Trokel published a paper on the potential for laser eye surgery in the American Journal of Ophthalmology. The publication detailed an excimer laser experiment conducted on several enucleated calf eyes, which also yielded excellent results and is regarded by the ophthalmic community as a seminal paper in laser refractive surgery.

Ohio University President Roderick McDavis noted that part of the Russes' goal in creating the prize was to inspire a new generation of engineers by increasing awareness about how engineering benefits society.

"We are very grateful to the Russes and their desire to promote engineering education by creating this extraordinary award, which recognizes how engineering achievements improve the human condition," he said. "Ohio University is proud to partner with the National Academy of Engineering to steward the Russes' vision," said Ohio University President Roderick McDavis.

Srinivasan, Wynne and Blum are the seventh recipients of the Russ Prize. They will receive the award at a National Academy of Engineering gala ceremony in Washington D.C., on Feb. 19.

About Samuel Blum

Samuel Blum worked at Batelle Memorial Institute before joining IBM in 1959 where he studied semiconductor materials for 31 years until his retirement. He holds 11 patents, one of which is the ultraviolet excimer laser surgical procedures invention. In 2002, Blum, along with colleagues Wynne and Srinivasan, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 2010, they shared the Rank Prize in Optoelectronics with ophthalmologists Steven Trokel and Francis L'Esperance.

About Rangaswamy Srinivasan

Srinivasan joined the IBM Research Center in 1961 as a research staff member. He was given freedom to work on problems of his choice in the area of ultraviolet photochemistry of organic compounds. In 1963 he was promoted to the position of manager of fundamental photochemical research, a position he held until his retirement in 1990. During his tenure at IBM, Srinivasan and his team published 130 scientific articles and obtained 10 patents related to excimer laser ablation. He has received several IBM Honors for the excimer laser surgery achievement, together with Wynne and Blum, including the Outstanding Innovation Award, the Research Patent Portfolio Award, and the Corporate Patent Portfolio Award. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1999. He is currently the president of UVTech Associates, a consulting company.

"I am delighted that along with my co-workers, I have been selected to receive the Russ Prize for 2013. Among major engineering awards, the Russ prize is notable for its emphasis on the impact of an engineering invention on a field of biology/ medicine," Srinivasan said. "Our discovery involved me in extensive collaboration with ophthalmic surgeons over many years. It resulted in FDA approval in 1996 for the first of two procedures that are in worldwide use today for the improvement of visual acuity."

About James Wynne

Wynne joined IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory in 1969 and came to the IBM Research Center in 1971. He was the manager of the laser physics and chemistry group when his team discovered the use of the excimer laser for surgery. Wynne has written numerous articles in scientific journals, holds patents in laser dentistry and laser dermatology, and has received numerous awards. Like his partners, Wynne is a member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Wynne, still working at IBM, is currently exploring a new application of the excimer laser to remove necrotic lesions of the skin, including char from third degree burns, and decubitus, stasis, and neuropathic ulcers from diabetic wounds and bed sores. It is anticipated that this application will result in a "smart scalpel," producing no collateral damage to the viable tissue underlying the necrotic tissue.

"I was absolutely thrilled to learn I would be receiving the Russ Prize. I've known of the Russ Prize, and I've known of Dr. Leroy Hood, the 2011 recipient," Wynne said. "To be considered in the same league is a tremendous accolade. To be recognized at the same level as other scientists of that stature is a great honor."

About the Russ Prize

The Russ Prize was established in 1999 with a multimillion dollar gift to Ohio University by alumnus and esteemed engineer Fritz Russ and his wife, Dolores. Awarded biennially by the National Academy of Engineering, the prize recognizes bioengineering achievements worldwide that are in widespread use and have improved the human condition. Previous recipients include the inventors of the implantable heart pacemaker, kidney dialysis, and the automated DNA sequencer.

About the National Academy of Engineering

The National Academy of Engineering is an independent, nonprofit institution. Its members consist of the nation's premier engineers, who are elected by their peers for seminal contributions to engineering. The academy provides leadership and guidance to government on the application of engineering resources to social, economic, and security problems. Established in 1964, NAE operates under the congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences in 1863.

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