Public lecture explains optical principles behind the latest eye-based medical diagnostics

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Professor Melanie Campblell presents her public lecture at THEMUSEUMMore than 65 members of the local community came to hear Professor Melanie Campbell present her public lecture, “The eye, a window on the brain,” at THEMUSEUM in downtown Kitchener last week.

A professor in both the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the School of Optometry and Vision Science, Campbell presented her unique perspective on how the properties of light can be harnessed to image the human eye and diagnose a variety of diseases, including Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

Campbell’s lecture opened with a basic explanation of light’s properties and components. Individual demonstration kits provided to the audience allowed people to test properties such as dispersion during the lecture.

Christmas lights  Christmas lights diffractedPortable demonstration kits loaned out during Campbell's public lecture allowed the audience to experience fun properties of light for themselves.

She then presented the challenges researchers face in imaging the human retina, particularly as the optics within the eye vary from person to person. Researchers have adapted an approach used by astronomers to correct telescope images and miniaturized the setup for imaging the back of the human retina.

The result is crystal clear images of individual cells that can be used to diagnose a variety of conditions like diabetes and vision conditions that worsen progressively from birth. These images may determine eligibility for eye repair therapies.

Campbell explained how she combined basic polarization properties with this imaging technique to detect amyloid beta proteins, a characteristic deposit found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. She demonstrated the principal for the audience by placing pieces of scotch tape between two polarizing filters creating a striking design.

The tape stands out from the background because its refractive index in one direction changes as it’s stretched during the manufacturing process,” says Campbell. “Amyloid proteins are similar in that they are made up of fibres of protein with different refractive indices along and across the fibres.”

Afterwards, the audience was invited for a special tour of LIGHT Illuminated, an exhibit created by Waterloo Physics and Astronomy graduate students in celebration of the United Nations’ Year of Light. Two of the exhibit’s creators, Science graduate students Aimee Gunther and Ian Andrews, were on-hand to answer questions and demonstrate fascinating facts behind the displays.

The public lecture was coordinated by the Faculty of Science Outreach. A special thanks goes to THEMUSEUM for hosting the event. LIGHT Illuminated continues on display at THEMUSEUM until March 28, 2016.

Audience using demonstration kits provided at the lecture

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