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Is an artificial eye close to reality?

And can blind people see colour by touch?

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Also in this week's column:

Is an artificial eye close to reality?

Asked by Leo Sanualio of Green Acre, New South Wales, Australia

A California researcher predicts that an artificial eye is "in sight" in the near future. Dr Armand Tanguay Jr, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California is currently building the world's first implantable camera for the blind.

In addition, Dr Tanguay predicts, by 2014 we will see the introduction of a 1,000-electrode implant that will allow the blind to recognise faces and read half-inch type.

[Source: Dr. Armand Tanguay Jr, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Southern California. Reference: Stroh, M. (2005) "We see the future better than 20/20", Popular Science, June 2005, p. 59]

Can blind people see colour by touch?

German scientists are baffled by a blind woman proving on TV that she can "see" colours by touch - at least enough to tell one colour from another.

Gabriele Simon, 48, from Wallenhorst, Germany, revealed her ability on Germany's most popular TV show Wetten Dass. She uses her fingertips to recognise the different colours of various t-shirts and blouses while blindfolded.

Ms Simon says: "It took me 20 years to master this skill. It is a combination of pure learning and concentration. This ability really gives me more independence, as I don't need to ask my mother about what to wear anymore."

[Source: Dominican Today (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) 17 October 2005.]

What's worse: Reading in bad light or doing close activities?

Prolonged near activity is more hazardous to one's vision than dim light. This is according to Dr Michael Lawless of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, Australia.

"Near activities" refer those done "closer than arm’s length", such as reading, playing video games, doing homework, or staring at a computer screen.

Dr Lawless claims that Taiwanese research has demonstrated a link between extensive periods of time doing near activities and the development of myopia in children.

According to a study published in the August 2006 Optometry and Vision Science, one of the four major risk factors for developing adult myopia is " high proportion of time spent performing near tasks". The six researchers, led by Dr M A Bullimore are from the Ohio State University College of Optometry in Columbus.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

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