Lasers Saving Sight

Lasers Saving Sight Photo Credit: Clipart.com


To understand that problems are solved, or new technology discovered, by scientists using information from disciplines other than their own; to appreciate the fact that discoveries today could not be made without the discoveries that came before.


Today, there is an outpouring of new scientific discovery. High-school students should start to understand that today's discoveries are built on prior history—a history filled with the concepts and inventions of scientists that came before us. As Sir Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to Robert Hooke: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." (Letter to Robert Hooke, 5 February, 1676) This famous quote aptly describes how today's science is based on yesterday's. Students should "encounter the historical roots of the concepts they are learning."

This lesson will not only review some basic biology by talking about how the eye works, but also cover the concepts behind laser surgery as a treatment for saving sight. Students will begin to recognize the overlap of disciplines (physics and biology) required for the procedure. They will encounter the historical roots of the procedure as they read an in-depth article that shows how Johannes Kepler from the 17th century made contributions that led to today's technology.

Aside from tracing the historical roots of technology, students also need to realize that there are various disciplines and specialties in the field of science. From this lesson, they will learn of several. Moreover, they will learn how these disciplines work together and overlap in many cases and how together they spin off into separate disciplines.

Note: "Some students of all ages believe science mainly invents things or solves practical problems rather than exploring and understanding the world…" (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 333.)

Benchmarks notes the connections and interdependencies of science, mathematics, and technology and how this should be considered in teaching. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 315.)

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Science Updates are short, radio news pieces (about 90 seconds long) that can be listened to on the Internet.

Have students listen closely to the three Science Updates listed below. They should write down the title of the person being interviewed and list what disciplines or areas of life they think are involved in the science they've just learned about.

After they have listened to all three, list on the board the titles of the stories and what jobs/disciplines/areas are involved with each. The list should look something like this:

  • "Restoring the Retina"—stem cell researcher, biology, eye doctors
  • "Eyeball Display"—Vice President of Microvision, video technology, surgeons, cell phones, video games
  • "Laser Eye Therapy"—ophthalmologist, laser technology (or physics)

Now ask students what all of these stories have in common. The obvious answer is the eye, but discuss the topic further to make the point that it's knowledge of how the eye works that has led to these new treatments and technologies.


Hand out the Lasers Saving Sight student sheet. Students will answer the questions on the sheet as they read the article called Preserving the Miracle of Sight: Lasers and Eye Surgery, from Beyond Discovery, a project of the National Academies of Science.

Tell students to keep in mind how history and a variety of disciplines have contributed to laser surgery. You can find answers to the questions on the Lasers Saving Sight teacher sheet.

Ask students verbally:

  • Do you see connections between early scientists and later scientists?
  • Do you see an overlap of disciplines in the technology of laser surgery?
  • Was this surprising? Did it change your view of what scientists do?


To summarize and assess ideas in this lesson, read the final paragraph of Preserving the Miracle of Sight aloud to the class:

"Just as Einstein could not have foreseen that the interesting phenomenon of stimulated emission would one day be used to correct myopia and prevent retinal detachment, today's scientists doing basic research in physics, biology, and other fields are undoubtedly laying the groundwork for breakthroughs that will lead to practical human benefits that lie just over the horizon."

Then have students write a short essay expanding on the idea expressed in this paragraph. What sorts of scientific breakthroughs might be on the horizon? For inspiration, students can search the resources below for current examples of the merging of distinct disciplines. They should then extrapolate where this work might lead in the future.


Allow students to share and discuss their own personal observations. Have each read his or her essay to the class. Then, open the discussion to the class. Some students may add to the essayist's observations or see things differently. An open seminar-like discussion will help students expand their thinking and questioning abilities.

Visit Lasers: From Science Fiction to Everyday Life from the Tech Museum of Innovation. This online exhibit provides examples of how laser technology has been applied in a variety of contexts, including medicine and home entertainment.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks