Dropping Light

[Image: Photo courtesy Nellis Air Force Base].

Black eyedrops made from a “chlorophyll analog” have allowed human subjects to experience night vision—without the use of special goggles.

The chemical, called Chlorin e6, “is found in some deep-sea fish and is used as an occasional method to treat night blindness,” according to Mic.

The group who actually ran the experiment, Science for the Masses, is based in Tehachapi, California, somewhat amusingly described by Mic as being “a couple hours north of Los Angeles,” which is rhetorically equivalent to saying they’re in the middle of nowhere (in fact, Tehachapi is quite close to California City).

In effect, the modified eyedrop procedure was just a tactical misuse of a known cancer treatment: that is, Chlorin e6, or Ce6, is normally used as “a photosensitizer in laser assisted cancer remediation,” the group explained. “The light amplification properties of the Ce6 are used to use the energy from a low power light source to destroy cancerous cells with literal laser precision.”

It is this “light amplification” that enables the alleged night vision.

“To me, it was a quick, greenish-black blur across my vision, and then it dissolved into my eyes,” Gabriel Licina, the team’s voluntary guinea pig, explained.

[Image: Screen grab via Mic, courtesy of Science for the Masses].

According to the team’s own report—which must be taken with a grain of salt, at least until other researchers have reproduced the results—it actually worked: it gave Licina night vision. From Mic:

It started with shapes, hung about 10 meters away. “I’m talking like the size of my hand,” Licina says. Before long, they were able to do longer distances, recognizing symbols and identifying moving subjects against different backgrounds.

The team has posted a “review” of the experience on their website, which offers some more insight into the process.

But, again, assuming this isn’t simply an exaggeration or even a hoax, the idea that humans can now see in the dark with the help of eyedrops based on chlorophyll—as if borrowing an optical superpower from the vegetable kingdom, incorporating other species and experiencing self-hybridization in order to capture light at even its wispiest and most ghostlike extremes—is jaw-dropping. Or eye-popping, as the case may be.

You can easily imagine this becoming standard for nighttime police operations or military raids—with Special Ops teams giving themselves eyedrops before sneaking into an unlit town—but one could even imagine this having an effect on global energy bills.

What if improving grid efficiency is at least partially also a medical question—that is, if you could just drop some Ce6 in a dark city without the need for streetlights, or even walk through your own apartment with pupils the size of dinner plates, seeing everything?

[Image: Photo courtesy Nellis Air Force Base].

The possibility that human self-augmentation might serve as an alternative to urban infrastructure is a pretty mind-boggling scenario, implying a whole new suite of possibilities for the future of urban design.

At the very least, it suggests a bizarre—if not quite dystopian—situation where we might find that redesigning the city is less effective than redesigning ourselves.

(Via @ziyatong).

2 thoughts on “Dropping Light”

  1. I think you go awful easy on a sexy story, here.

    As dyes these don't amplify light (they're not being pumped or carrying a source of energy to put into extra light), they just fluoresce — absorb light and emit it at a different color, losing a little light energy.

    You could tell a story that the dye is turning faint blue light into green the eye sees better. But fluorescence of a dye layer on your cornea is just going to get you a defocused glow.

  2. As a long-time devotee of "The X-Files" (and waiting very impatiently for the newly-announced 6 episode run in 2016), black oily eyeballs are very much not a Good Thing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.