New Webb Telescope Technologies Already Helping Human Eyes


Editor’s note: This NASA press release provides just one example of how developing technology for space missions often has practical, beneficial and sometimes unintended applications on Earth.

Even while construction of the James Webb Space Telescope is underway on the most advanced infrared vision of any space observatory, its technologies are already proving useful to human eye health here on Earth.

“The Webb telescope program has enabled a number of improvements in measurement technology for astronomy, mirror fabrication, and measurement of human eyes, diagnosis of ocular diseases and potentially improved surgery,” said Dr. Dan Neal, Research Fellow at Abbott Medical Optics Inc. in Albuquerque, N.M.

The Webb telescope will be the most scientifically powerful telescope NASA has ever built — 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope. The Webb telescope will find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. It will also peer through dusty clouds to see stars and planets being born, connecting star formation in our own galaxy with the solar system.

“The advanced wavefront sensing technology developed for testing the Webb telescope’s 18 primary mirrors led to the new applications in other areas,” said Tony Hull of L3 Integrated Optical Systems Division-Tinsley Facility in Richmond, Calif., where the Webb’s mirrors were recently polished to accuracies of less than one millionth of an inch.

“Wavefront sensing” is used to measure shape of the mirrors during fabrication and control the optics once the telescope is in orbit.

Ophthalmologists routinely use wavefront technology to measure aberrations of the eye. Those measurements help with diagnosis, research, characterization and planning treatment of eye health issues.

“The technology also provides more accurate eye measurements for people about to undergo Laser Refractive Surgery,” Neal said. “To date 10-12 million eyes have been treated with Lasik procedures in the U.S. alone. As technology improves, so does the quality of these procedures.”

James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA

A new “scanning and stitching” technology developed for the Webb telescope led to a number of innovative instrument concepts for more accurate measurement for contact lenses and intra-ocular lenses. Another benefit to eye health is that this technique can help “map” the topography of the eye more accurately.

Think of the surface of your eye as being as dented as the surface of the moon. Precise measurements of your eye’s surface are helpful when assessing eyes for contact lenses. The scanning and stitching technology improvements have enabled eye doctors to get much more detailed information about the shape and “topography” of your eye, and do it in seconds rather than hours. Four patents have been issued as result of innovations driven by the Webb telescope program. “These tools are now used to align and build the next generation of measuring devices for human eyes,” Neal said.

“The lasting impact of the Webb telescope may go beyond the vision of astronomers seeking to see the distant universe; the impact may be a better national technology base and better vision for people everywhere,” Hull said.

NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program Office (IPPO) is making available wavefront sensing and adaptive optics technologies, procedures and lab equipment to private industry through its “Can you See it Now?” campaign. All of the technologies associated with the campaign are available for licensing and can be found at

18 Replies to “New Webb Telescope Technologies Already Helping Human Eyes”

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I had heard that the launch of the James Webb was being delayed by budgetary concerns and cutbacks by Congress?

    1. That’s correct. The House committee responsible for NASA’s budget has actually ended funding for JWST, but there’s a long way to go before that gets into the final budget, and plenty of people are up in arms about the situation.

  2. It is a sad state of affairs when we cut funding for exploration and discovery in favor of feeding a bloated system of Government that can’t cut waste and reduce budgets and live within it’s means. Never do they say, “We need to keep valuable research” over “We have to cut spending on programs that explore instead of reducing our military presence and stopping handouts everywhere”

    1. Cutting military spending and letting the country come under foreign rule is not an option. Cutting handouts, and letting real people starve is not an option. There is something, though, that does have a priority much lower than the JWST. Keeping tax cuts for the wealthy. That’s what you should have mentioned. Particularly since cutting the JWST was a Republican idea, not a Democratic one.

      1. I did not say “Lets do away with the military” Nor did I say “Let people starve” , to put my remarks in context, Pull out of places we never belonged in the first place with our military. Yes we need strong military, we just need to stop trying to push our ideals on the entire world, and as for the handouts, I was referring to the money we just give to other countries, not the money we spend here, although that system needs a serious overhaul! It is not a Democrat/ Republican thing, it is a “Do what it right” thing! No problem was ever fixed by throwing money at it! That is what is causing most of the problems we have right now! When the US government is the largest employer in the United States, we seriously need to look at what fat can be cut from that entity, before it becomes the only thing in this country. With our lax treatments of our own borders, we will come under foreign rule without a shot being fired, and if we don’t figure a way to address our excessive government, kiss middle cl;ass goodbye for good!

      2. That doesn’t make sense.

        What would “lax treatment of our own borders” have to do with if they were moved around or even national take over by war with a foreign nation?

        I think you imply that immigration means “foreign rule”, but by definition it is democracy with (relatively more) naturalized citizens. We can’t devalue language too much or it will become useless.

        A nationalist would say at that point “keep US language pure” or something similar silly; but it makes the same basic point.

      3. I would agree about something needing to be done or we’ll kiss our middle class goodbye, but that would have more to do with our current policies that allow US corporate entities to have an employment base that is almost completely comprised of non-US citizens with the exception of their overpaid executives. Currently there is little to no drawback for them to use foreign workers (disregarding customer satisfaction, etc, as they only think about $), and since those workers are phenomenally cheaper to hire than any would be here, well it’s rather a no brainer for them.

        I believe HP, for example, has somewhere near almost 80% of all their employees based in countries like India to include pretty much all of their factories. I’m not sure how those figures were changed when they acquired EDS, but since they’ve laid off a massive amount of EDS’s US employees, I’d say it’s probably still pretty close to that figure. Globalization isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course, but things are starting to get ridiculous and the middle class are the ones that are directly suffering from it.

        Also, I’d say those employment #’s regarding how many are employed by the government in some fashion is largely affected by this since the government is one of the few places that your job cannot be outsourced to another country.

        It’s also a great incentive for kids to want to try and work in IT related fields if they know that the likelihood of keeping their job over the long haul is slim to none since the company can just go to another country to hire a dozen people to do the same job for less. I think the last helpdesk I saw them transition before I left was a situation where it was being supported here by 5 people, and they brought in approximately 35 to do the same job overseas. The worse thing being that I don’t think I ever saw those 35 replacements come even close to meeting the metrics for the client that the 5 people were easily surpassing before.

        So while I think the government has a lot of work to do (of course), I think if you want to point a finger at the problems with the economy for the country overall, and especially the middle class, you need to look at corporate America first.

      4. US won’t come under “foreign rule” just for scaling back to a national defense. It will however be unable to make _foreign nations_ change their rule willy-nilly.

        Most of us look forward to that, at least as long as US act in violence of international law instead of enforcing it (Say: Iraq, non-participation in ICC.)

        For an international law enforcement, we could place UN forces as the slow response team and some other international effort as the fast one. No need for US to pay it all.

      5. There is no chance the US could come under foreign rule with today’s arrangement of world powers. May I remind you that the US is separated by gulfs and oceans from other world powers. Even if the US eliminated it’s military outright (never going to happen) it would be prohibitively expensive to deploy and occupy the continent – especially one awash with guns and ideologues.

        Anyone feeding you this junk is appealing to your most irrational fears. This is done in order to justify a defense industry that directly or indirectly employes 1/4 of Americans.

      6. The business of nations engaging in military conquests to impose their power of other nations is coming to an end. The war-follies of the US in the Middle East pretty seriously point to this trend. Nations will of course influence each other, and nations which become enfeebled in some way will see their sphere of influence constrict and that they are more under the influence of other nations. This will come from a range of things, from economic prowess to cultural-scientific progress. As a general trend I think the world is becoming defined less by the status of various nations and more by an interdependent network of nations.

        This is presenting problems for “popular politics” in the US, where there is a lot of ideology about the uniqueness and special status of the US. It stems from the old idea of manifest destiny. Of course this sort of thinking is gibberish, but it plays will on the campaign stump.


  3. It is nice post, I like it. Awesome efforts in contents writing. IFSC CODES IFSCstands for ‘Indian Financial System Code’. If you are in India and wish to transfer money from one bank to another within the country, you can easily do it once you know the IFSC codes of both the banks. IFSC required whether you are using RTGS, NEFT or CEMS, which are different paymentsystems developed by RBI. IFSC is a 11 digit code

  4. It is nice post, I like it. Awesome efforts in contents writing. IFSC CODES IFSCstands for ‘Indian Financial System Code’. If you are in India and wish to transfer money from one bank to another within the country, you can easily do it once you know the IFSC codes of both the banks. IFSC required whether you are using RTGS, NEFT or CEMS, which are different paymentsystems developed by RBI. IFSC is a 11 digit code

  5. As long as we understand that it is for comparison only, let us take a similar state cost overrun project:

    The Joint Strike Fighter will overrun another 1 billion USD.

    However, that is peanuts: it is a project that will total 1 trillion USD in operating costs.

    However, that is not peanuts for non-US joint force participants: Australia is set to reconsider its order. (Well, actually they want it to cost more, since it is the accumulated delay that is their main problem. But they mention cost as part of the problem.)

  6. If you want to look up the physics behind this, check out Stokes’ parameters and the like. This characterizes the geometry of an electromagnetic wave front. This physics has been a employed a lot in adaptive optics. The wave front of an optical EM field may have certain ripples which are due to distortions in the media or the shape of an object it scattered from.


    1. @John Stock,

      As far as I can determine there has been no change in the determination at present, today, July 30th, 2011, late afternoon, early evening for the east coast. Could you post a link please.


  7. Very good article, Nancy!!!

    Once again, this proves that advances in one area can unexpectedly spill over into other areas. Technological progress is multi-dimensional – all forms feed off one another

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