A Breakthrough for the Medical World Comes in the Form of a Tiny Robot.

Robots are everywhere now, and the medical world is no different. There may not be complete robotic surgeons just yet, but various automated technology is making its way slowly into the operating room. A breakthrough for the medical world has come this month in the form of a tiny robot that is a world’s first. This marvelous device that replaces the need for a doctor entirely to perform certain segments of a larger surgical procedure.

Stefan Weber is a professor at the University of Bern, Switzerland’s ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research and lead author of the study, and he said, “We were on this project for more than eight years. And in contrast to a lot of research, we really stuck to one application for the entire time.”  Weber and his team designed and created a robot that was able to drill a very thin tunnel into a human skull during a cochlear implant surgery.  But, in theory there’s no reason why this device can’t be used on other types off surgeries too.

During a cochlear implant procedure, surgeons have to drill a 2.5 millimeter wide tunnel through a section of skull that’s surrounded by taste and facial nerves.  Because of the intricacy of this procedure, between 30 and 55 percent of patients actually lose some hearing during the process of getting the implant. Weber says, “Humans are operating at the limits of their skill-sets, haptically ad visually. But if it’s designed right, a robotic system can operate at any resolution – whether it’s a millimeter you need or a tenth of a millimeter.”

So after years of research and work building the robot, it looks like it’s finally paid off. The robot was first successfully used on a 51 year old patient last year and since then three more successes have followed.  Moving forward, Weber and team and now working on using a robot in a different step of the implant procedure – threading an electrode into the inner ear.


Contact lens with… inbuilt telescope to increase peripheral vision 3-fold in a wink — RT News

Reuters / Brian Snyder

The new technology is set to help sufferers of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can result in the loss of vision in the center of the visual field. This makes it difficult to read and recognize faces.

The 1.55mm thick lens contains an extremely thin, reflective telescope. Small mirrors inside bounce light around, expanding the perceived size of objects and magnifying the view, similar to looking through low-magnification binoculars.

It is very simple to operate with the lens working in conjunction with glasses. A simple wink of the right eye makes the telescope zoom in, while if the user winks with their left eye, then the telescope is turned off.

“The most compelling reason why you would want to have this is to help people with serious visual problems, such as macular degeneration, or other retinal illnesses where people have severe vision loss,”said Dr. Eric Tremblay, who is a designer with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which is based in Lausanne.

“In a lot of cases magnification is very useful. So what people usually use are head-mounted telescopes which don’t work for everything,” which was reported by the Daily Telegraph.

The contact lens had an unlikely source for funding, with DARPA, the Pentagon’s research agency providing the cash. They wanted it to be developed to give soldiers a form of bionic vision.

“They were really interested in supervision, but the reality is more tame than that,” said Tremblay at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose. So far, only five people have tested the latest version, according to the Guardian.

View image on Twitter

There are currently telescope glasses on the market, however they have proved to be cumbersome and expensive for the public, with the technology on sale at $9,240. The new makers of the lens say the new design will be much cheaper. However, it will need some more work before it can be sod publicly as the user can only currently wear it for 30 minutes, as it blocks oxygen to the eye.

Cathy Yelf, the acting CEO of the Macular Society, said: “There is virtue in having a zoomable contact lens for some people with macular degeneration who have lost their central vision. We will be interested to see how, in practice, it works for people with AMD. With an ageing population, investment in research and new treatments is a pressing issue as there,” she said.

Battery-less pacemaker is powered by heartbeats

Scientists in Switzerland have developed a new pacemaker that doesn’t need batteries – it’s powered entirely by the motion of the patient’s own heart.


Image: ESC

What’s better than a cardiac pacemaker? A cardiac pacemaker that never runs out of batteries. Because when that happens, the patient is going to have to go through surgery to get a replacement.

So to alleviate the stress and cost of having to constantly physically replace a pacemaker, researchers from the University of Bern in Switzerland have developed a pacemaker that works like a mechanical wristwatch and draws all its power from the beating of the patient’s heart.

According to Ben Coxworth at Gizmag, lead researcher and cardiologist, Rolf Vogel, first came up with the idea for a new pacemaker four years ago, and has since produced a prototype that’s based on the mechanism of an auto-winding wristwatch. Also known as a self-winding wristwatch, these nifty little devices are powered by the natural motion of the wearer’s arm, which winds the mainspring right up to capacity, and then allows it to unwind slowly, powering the rest of the watch like a tiny generator.

“In the case of the Bern device, it’s sutured onto the heart’s myocardial muscle instead of being worn on the wrist, and its spring is wound by heart contractions instead of arm movements,”says Coxworth. “When that spring unwinds, the resulting energy is buffered in a capacitor. That capacitor then powers a pacemaker, to which it is electrically wired.”

Presenting their device at the 2014 European Society of Cardiology Congress last week,the team said the system can so far produce 52 microwatts of power when attached to the heart of a live 60-kilogram pig, which is well above the requirements for a human pacemaker – about 10 microwatts.

Before they send it out to market, the team are now working on making their device smaller and more efficient in both its energy-harvesting and heart-motion-detecting capacities.

China retains supercomputer crown.

A supercomputer built by the Chinese government has retained its place at the top of a list of the world’s most powerful systems.

Tianhe-2 can operate at 33.86 petaflop/s – the equivalent of 33,863 trillion calculations per second – according to a test called the Linpack benchmark.

There was only one change near the top of the leader board.

Switzerland‘s new Piz Daint – with 6.27 petaflop/s – made sixth place.

The Top500 list is compiled twice-yearly by a team led by a professor from Germany’s University of Mannheim.

It measures how fast the computers can solve a special type of linear equation to determine their speed, but does not take account of other factors – such as how fast data can be transferred from one part of the system to another – which can also influence real-world performance.

Fastest supercomputers1. Tianhe-2 (China) 33.86 petaflop/sec2. Titan (US) 17.59 petaflop/sec3. Sequoia (US) 17.17 petaflop/sec4. K computer (Japan) 10.51 petaflop/sec

5. Mira (US) 8.59 petaflop/sec

6. Piz Daint (Swiss) 6.27 petaflop/sec

7. Stampede (US) 5.17 petaflop/sec

8. Juqueen (Germany) 5.09 petaflop/sec

9. Vulcan (US) 4.29 petaflop/sec

10. SuperMuc (Germany) 2.90 petaflop/sec

(Source: Top500 List based on Rmax Linpack benchmark)

IBM – which created five out of the 10 fastest supercomputers in the latest list – told the BBC it believed the way the list was calculated should now be updated, and would press for the change at a conference being held this week in Denver, Colorado.

“The Top500 has been a very useful tool in the past decades to try to have a single number that could be used to measure the performance and the evolution of high-performance computing,” said Dr Alessandro Curioni, head of the computational sciences department at IBM’s Zurich research lab.

“[But] today we need a more practical measurement that reflects the real use of these supercomputers based on their most important applications.

“We use supercomputers to solve real problems – to push science forward, to help innovation, and ultimately to make our lives better.

“So, one thing that myself and some of my colleagues will do is discuss with the Top500 organisers adding in new measurements.”

However, one of the list’s creators suggested the request would be denied.

“A very simple benchmark, like the Linpack, cannot reflect the reality of how many real application perform on today’s complex computer systems,” said Erich Strohmaier.

“More representative benchmarks have to be much more complex in their coding, their execution and how many aspects of their performance need to be recorded and published. This makes understanding their behaviour more difficult.

“Finding a good middle-ground between these extremes has proven to be very difficult, as unfortunately all previous attempts found critics from both camps and were not widely adopted.”

China’s lead

Tianhe-2 – which translates as Milky Way 2 – was developed by China’s National University of Defence Technology and will be based in the city of Guangzhou, in the country’s south-eastern Guandong province.

Fluid dynamics simulation
IBM’s Sequoia recently carried out a simulation of a cloud of 15,000 bubbles

It uses a mixture of processors made by Intel as well as custom-made CPUs (central processing units) designed by the university itself.

The system is to be offered as a “research and education” tool once tests are completed, with local reports suggesting that officials have picked the car industry as a “priority” client.

Its Linpack score is nearly double that of the next supercomputer in the list – Titan, the US Department of Energy’s system at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

However, one expert said it was still too early to know whether the Chinese system would be able to outperform its US counterpart in real-world tasks.

“You can get bottlenecks,” said Prof Alan Woodward, from the University of Surrey’s department of computing.

“Talking about the number of calculations that can be carried out per second isn’t the same as saying a supercomputer can do that in practice in a sustained way. The processors might be kicking their heels some of the time if they don’t get the data as fast as they can handle, for example.”

Energy efficiency

Supercomputer applications do not tend to use all the processor power on offer.

IBM notes that its own Sequoia supercomputer – which came third on the latest list – used a relatively high 73% of the machine’s theoretical peak performance when it recently carried out what the firm describes as the biggest ever fluid dynamics simulation to date.

Piz Daint supercomputer
Switzerland’s Piz Daint will be used to model galaxy formations and weather patterns

The test involved creating virtual equivalents of 15,000 collapsing bubbles – something researchers are studying to find new ways to destroy kidney stones and cancerous cells.

“The thing you want to avoid is to throw away resources,” reflected Dr Curioni.

“For scientists, the most important thing is how fast you solve a problem using the machine in an efficient way.

“When we run these types of simulations we invest much larger amounts of money running the machines than buying them.”

He added that one of the biggest costs involved is energy use.

According to the Top500 list, Tianhe-2 requires 17,808 of kW power – more than double the 8,209 kW needed by Titan or the 7,890 kW needed by Sequoia.

Dr Curioni believes a revised leader board should take energy efficiency into account.

But Prof Woodward agreed with the list’s creators that getting researchers and the governments that sponsored them to agree to a new methodology might be easier said than done.

“There is a lot of kudos in having what is termed the fastest supercomputer,” he said.

“So, there will be resistance to a definition that favours one computer over another.”

Quantum Experiment Shows How Time ‘Emerges’ from Entanglement.

By collecting heat energy from the environment and transforming it into electrical power, thermoelectric energy harvesters have the potential to provide energy for a variety of small electronic devices. Currently, the biggest challenge in developing thermoelectric energy harvesters is to make systems that are both powerful and efficient at the same time.


One material that scientists have experimented with for making thermoelectric energy harvesters is quantum dots, nano-sized crystals with semiconducting properties. Due to their sharp, discrete energy levels, quantum dots are good energy filters, which is an important property for thermoelectric devices.

In a new study published in the New Journal of Physics, a team of researchers from Switzerland, Spain, and the US has investigated a thermoelectric energy harvester design based on quantum wells. Although quantum wells are also made of semiconducting materials, they have different structures and energy-filtering properties than quantum dots.

“We have shown that quantum wells can be used as powerful and efficient energy harvesters,” said coauthor Björn Sothmann, a physicist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. “Compared to our previous proposal based on quantum dots, quantum wells are easier to fabricate and offer the potential to be operated at room temperature.”

The energy harvester design that the researchers investigated here consists of a central cavity connected via quantum wells to two electronic reservoirs. The central cavity is kept at a hotter temperature than the two electronic reservoirs, and the quantum wells act as filters that allow electrons of certain energies to pass through. In general, the greater the temperature difference between the central cavity and the reservoirs, the greater the electron flow and output power.

In their analysis, the researchers found that the quantum well energy harvester delivers an output power of about 0.18 W/cm2 for a temperature difference of 1 K, which is nearly double the power of a quantum dot energy harvester. This increased power is due to the ability of quantum wells to deliver larger currents compared to quantum dots as a result of their extra degrees of freedom.

Although the quantum well energy harvester has a good efficiency, the efficiency is slightly lower than that of energy harvesters based on quantum dots. The researchers explain that this difference occurs because of the difference in energy filtering: quantum wells transmit electrons of any energy above a certain level, while quantum dots are more selective and let only electrons of a specific energy pass through. As a result, quantum wells are less efficient energy filters.

Quantum well energy harvesters appear promising for applications. For one thing, they may be easier to fabricate than energy harvesters that use quantum dots, since quantum dots are required to have similar properties in order to achieve good performance, and there is no such requirement for quantum wells. In addition, the fact that they can operate at room temperature may make quantum well energy harvesters suitable for a variety of applications, such as electric circuits.

“The energy harvester can be used to convert waste heat from electric circuits, e.g. in computer chips, back into electricity,” Sothmann said. “This way, one can reduce both the consumed power as well as the need for cooling the chip.”

Lost Leonardo da Vinci painting of a noblewoman with same smile as the Mona Lisa discovered in Swiss vault after 500 years.

·         The oil portrait of Isabella d’Este had been missing for five centuries

·         It was discovered in a family’s bank vault in Switzerland

·         It is a rendering of a well-known pencil sketch, which hangs in the Louvre

·         ‘There is no doubt the portrait is the work of Leonardo,’ says world expert.

Isabella d’Este

For five centuries, it has been one of the art world’s greatest mysteries, with even its very existence in doubt.

But now, almost 500 years after he painted it, a priceless Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece has been unearthed in a Swiss bank vault. 

In a story that seemed to come directly from the pages of a Dan Brown novel, the portrait of Italian noblewoman, Isabella d’Este, was discovered as part of a private collection in a Swiss bank.

The Italian owners have decided to keep their identity a secret. 

The painting is a canvas and oil, finished rendering of a well-known pencil sketch of the same woman, the wife of the Marquess of Mantua and one of Renaissance Italy’s most influential women

The sketch, which was drawn in 1499, hangs in the Louvre, and is considered a forerunner to his most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. 

Isabella, who appears to share the world-famous subject’s mysterious smile and rounded chin, wanted to be painted by the all the greatest artists of the day, which naturally included da Vinci.

The preliminary sketch was greatly admired by the aristocratic lady’s friends so she asked him to finish the commission.

But art historians had long been divided over whether the finished version of the commission existed. 

Da Vinci soon after begun one of his most compelling and large scale projects, The Battle of Anghiari, in Florence town hall. Then in 1503, he began the Mona Lisa. 

Leonardo da Vinci
Original sketch

The painting is a canvas and oil, finished rendering of a well-known pencil sketch of d’Este (right). The sketch, which was drawn in 1499 and hangs in the Louvre, is considered a forerunner to da Vinci’s (left) most famous painting, the Mona Lisa

Now experts believe that the striking portrait is indeed the work of the Italian genius.

Professor Carlo Pedretti of the University of California, Los Angeles, the world’s leading expert in da Vinci told Italy’s Corriere della sera newspaper. ‘There are no doubts that the portrait is the work of Leonardo.

‘I can immediately recognise Da Vinci’s handiwork, particularly in the woman’s face.’

Carbon dating has shown that there is a 95 per cent probability that the portrait was painted during the Renaissance period. 

And scientific tests have revealed that the primer used to treat the canvas is the same as that used by da Vinci

Further tests will make clear whether some of the lady’s accessories, including the gold crown, could have been painted by one of da Vinci’s assistants.

Pesticide risks need more research and regulation.

Developing countries need stronger pesticide regulation and a better understanding of how pesticides behave in tropical climates, according to experts behind a series of articles published in Science today.

They also need an international body to carry out regular pesticide safety assessments — ensuring they are used properly by farmers who are given thorough training in their use — and to monitor the safety of chemical levels in food, the experts say.

In the face of projections that the global population will reach nine billion by 2050, scientists must develop new technologies to make pesticides safer, and continue research into crops that will not require pesticides at all, according to the special section in Science.
Millions of tonnes of pesticides are used each year in agriculture, sometimes with poor oversight and knowledge regarding theirenvironmental impact, particularly in developing countries.
A review article by a team led by Kathrin Fenner, a senior scientist at the Eawag aquatic research institute in Switzerland, looks at pesticide degradation. It also identifies knowledge gaps in what happens to pesticides once they are applied in the field.
According to Fenner, the biggest challenge is relating what is measured in laboratory studies to what is observed long-term in the environment. One example is what happens to pesticides that have been in the soil for a long time and what products they leave behind as they degrade.
“There are situations that are not covered, or not fully covered, by laboratory studies, especially situations in low concentrations in groundwater,” Fenner says.
Furthermore, laboratory studies carried out for pesticide regulation in the United States or Europe look at factors specific to those regions, such as
climate and soil type, and not at the warmer climate zones where many developing countries lie.
“How relevant that really is to more tropical settings, where you have more organic, carbon-rich soils and higher temperatures, is also somewhat of a knowledge gap,” says Fenner.

“If you reduce plant diseases, you could feed 20 to 30 per cent more calories to people.”

Jeffery Dangl

Efforts to lower dependency on pesticides altogether is one option addressed in the Science articles.
A review article by Jeffery Dangl, a biology professor at the University of North Carolina, United States, and his colleagues, reveals developments in the understanding of plant immune systems and DNA sequencing that allow scientists to engineer crops that are less susceptible to pests and disease, and thus require less pesticides.
The technology could help tackle environmental concerns, such asgroundwater contamination. It could also help reduce plant diseases and recover crop losses.
“We lose 20 to 30 per cent of our global food supply to pests and pathogens every year,” Dangl tells SciDev.Net. “If you reduce plant diseases and recover that, you could feed 20 to 30 per cent more calories to people.”
The research would have a significant impact on developing countries, where, Dangl says, there are health issues and poor regulation of pesticide use.
“One often sees farmers throwing chemicals on their plants, using their hands, and without proper clothing, and they often use fungicides and pesticides that are no longer allowed in the developed world,” he says. “There’s poor regulation and poor administration of the regulation.”
One solution could be to strengthen the international body that works to maintain regular safety assessments of pesticides.
According to an article by Philippe Verger, from WHO and Alan Boobis, from Imperial College London, this would be done through improved cooperation with the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues, an expert body that aims to harmonise the requirements and risk assessments on pesticide residues.
“We know developing countries don’t have the resources to adequately assess the risk of these various chemicals,” says Verger. “So the WHO, together with FAO, is providing this regulation to give a framework for evaluating these compounds.”

The importance of improving such a body would not be limited to the developing world. It would ensure internationally that pesticides are licensed and used properly, and that farmers have instructions and training for their use. Most importantly, it would monitor the safety of the levels of chemicals in the food we eat.

“If we want to continue to feed the world population, we have to increase productivity. To do that, pesticides will increase globally, so the sector needs to integrate the protection of public health,” says Verger



Sound Waves Levitate and Move Objects.

A new approach to contact-free manipulation could be used to combine lab samples–and prevent contamination

Water droplets, coffee granules, fragments of polystyrene and even a toothpick are among the items that have been flying around in a Swiss laboratory lately — all of them kept in the air by sound waves. The device that achieves this acoustic levitation is the first to be capable of handling several objects simultaneously. It is described today in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Typically, levitation techniques make use of electromagnetism; magnetic forces have even been used to levitate frogs. It has long been known that sound waves could counter gravity, too, but so far the method has lacked practical application because it could do little more than keep an object in place.

To also move and manipulate levitating objects, Dimos Poulikakos, a mechanical engineer at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, and his colleagues built sound-making platforms using piezoelectric crystals, which shrink or stretch depending on the voltage applied to them. Each platform is the size of a pinky nail.

The platforms emit sound waves which move upward until they reach surface lying above, where they bounce back. When the downward-moving reflected waves overlap with the upward-moving source waves, the two ‘cancel out’ in the middle, at so-called node points. Objects placed there remain stuck in place because of the pressure of sound waves coming from both directions.

By adjusting the position of the nodes, the researchers can tow the objects between platforms. The platforms can be arranged in different ways to adapt to various experiments. In one demonstration involving a T-shaped array of platforms, the researchers joined two droplets introduced at separate locations then deposited the combined droplet at a third location.

Hands-free reactions
The system could be used to combine chemical reactants without the contamination that can result from contact with the surface of a container. Sound waves are already used in the pharmaceutical industry to obtain accurate results during drug screening. Yet Poulikakos’s method is the first to offer the possibility of precisely controlling several items simultaneously.

Poulikakos suggests that the system could be used to safely try out hazardous chemical reactions. “We had fun demonstrating the idea by colliding a lump of sodium with some water, which is obviously an aggressive reaction,” he says.

Peter Christianen, a physicist who works on electromagnetic levitation at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, says that he’s impressed with the invention. “I really like it; this is a very versatile platform — almost anything you want to manipulate, you can.”

Source: Scientific American


Microscopic ‘Tuning Forks’ Could Make the Difference Between Life and Death in the Hospital.

A patient admitted to a hospital with a serious bacterial infection may have only a few hours to live. Figuring out which antibiotic to administer, however, can take days. Doctors must grow the microbes in the presence of the drugs and see whether they reproduce. Rush the process, and they risk prescribing ineffective antibiotics, exposing the patient to unnecessary side effects, and spreading antibiotic resistance. Now, researchers have developed a microscopic “tuning fork” that detects tiny vibrations in bacteria. The device might one day allow physicians to tell the difference between live and dead microbes—and enable them to recognize effective and ineffective antibiotics within minutes.


“It’s a brilliant method,” provided subsequent investigations confirm the researchers’ interpretation of their data, says Martin Hegner, a biophysicist at Trinity College Dublin who was not involved in the work.

The research involves tiny, flexible bars called cantilevers that vibrate up and down like the prongs of a tuning fork when they receive an input of energy. Cantilevers are an important part of atomic force microscopy, which is useful for making atomic scale resolutions of surfaces for use in nanotechnology or atomic physics research. In this technique, a minute needle attached to a cantilever moves across a surface, and the deflection of the cantilever gives information about how atoms are arranged on the surface. It can even be used to shunt atoms around. More recently, however, they have been used without the needle as tiny oscillators, allowing scientists to investigate matter directly attached to the cantilever.

Biophysicist Giovanni Longo and colleagues at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and the University of Lausanne in Switzerland immersed these cantilevers in a liquid bacterial growth medium and monitored their movement using a laser. They found that the bare cantilever moved very slightly as a result of the thermal movement of the liquid molecules in the medium. They then covered both sides of the cantilever withEscherichia coli bacteria, which can cause food poisoning, and immediately found that the oscillations became much more pronounced. The researchers believe that chemical processes that occur inside the bacteria as they metabolize energy are driving the oscillation. “What we see is that if you have some sort of a moving system on the cantilever, you are going to induce a movement on the cantilever itself,” Longo explains. “Exactly what kind of metabolic movement we see is something that we are still studying.”

To determine if the cantilevers could detect the impact of drugs, the team added ampicillin, an antibiotic that the cultured bacteria were sensitive to. The size of the cantilever’s oscillations decreased almost 20-fold within 5 minutes, the researchers report online today in Nature Nanotechnology. Fifteen minutes later, the scientists flushed the antibiotic out with fresh growth medium, but the movement of the cantilever did not increase again. This, the researchers say, suggests that the antibiotic had killed the bacteria. When they used an ampicillin-resistant strain of E. coli, however, they found that the oscillations initially decreased but returned to normal within about 15 minutes, indicating that the microbes had recovered.

Hegner cautions that the research is still “basic science. … It’s not yet an applied tool which is robust enough to be used in an ER or something.” That, he says, might take another 5 or 10 years.

Before that happens, Hegner says, researchers need to determine what the sensors are picking up and whether that signal can be conclusively linked to the bacteria and their antibiotic resistance. They also need to find out if properties of the medium affect the results, he says. “If you inject a bacterium into a medium with different viscosity and different density, this also might affect the vibration of the sensor.”

The Swiss researchers are continuing to investigate clinical applications of their system. They have recently obtained access to a more secure lab licensed to handle highly pathogenic bacteria and are working on confirming their results in these microbes. They are also thinking beyond the clinic. “Our dream is to send something like this to Mars to see if there is life,” Longo says. “It’s much faster than any other technique one can imagine—you just put some of the martian dirt inside the liquid and whatever attaches to the cantilever, if it moves it’s alive.”

Source: sciencemag.org

Contact lenses bestow telescopic vision.

Researchers have created contact lenses which, when paired with special spectacles, bestow telescopic vision on their wearers.

lens _68497754_lens

The contact-lens-and-spectacles combination magnifies scene details by 2.8 times.


Polarising filters in the spectacles allow wearers to switch between normal and telescopic vision.

The telescopic sight system has been developed to help people suffering age-related blindness.

Age-related macular degeneration is one of the most common forms of blindness and damages the part of the eye, the macula, that handles fine detail. As this area degenerates, sufferers lose the ability to recognise faces and perform tasks, such as driving and reading, that rely on picking up details.

Precise control

The contact lens created by the researchers has a central region that lets light through for normal vision. The telescopic element sits in a ring around this central region. Tiny aluminium mirrors scored with a specific pattern act as a magnifier as they bounce the light around four times within the ring before directing it towards the retina.

In ordinary use, the magnified image is not seen as it is blocked by polarising filters set in a companion pair of spectacles. Wearers can switch it on by changing the filters on the spectacles so the only light falling on their retina comes from the magnified stream.

For their filtering system, the researchers, led by Joseph Ford at UC San Diego and Eric Tremblay at Switzerland’s EPFL, adapted a pair of glasses that Samsung produces for some of its 3D TV sets. In normal use, these spectacles create a 3D effect by alternately blocking the right or left lens.

The prototype contact lens produced by the team is 8mm in diameter, 1mm thick at its centre and 1.17mm thick in its magnifying ring.

“The most difficult part of the project was making the lens breathable,” Dr Tremblay told the BBC. “If you want to wear the lens for more than 30 minutes you need to make it breathable.”

Gases have to be able to penetrate the lens to keep the parts of the eye covered by the contact, especially the cornea, supplied with oxygen, he said.

The team has solved this problem by producing lenses riddled with tiny channels that let oxygen flow through.

However, said Dr Tremblay, this made manufacturing the lenses much more difficult.

“The fabrication tolerances are quite challenging because everything has to be so precise,” he said.

Despite this, gas-permeable versions of the telescopic lens are being prepared that will be used in clinical trials in November, he said. Eventually it should be possible for those with age-related sight problems to wear the telescopic lenses all day.

The lenses are an improvement on other ways these sight problems have been tackled which has included surgery to implant a telescopic lens or wearing bulky spectacles that have telescopic lenses forming part of the main lens.

Clara Eaglen, eye health campaigns manager at the RNIB said the research looked “interesting” and praised its focus on macular degeneration.

“It is encouraging that innovative products such as these telescopic contact lenses are being developed, especially as they aim to make the most of a person’s existing vision,” she said. “”Anything that helps to maximise functioning vision is very important as this helps people with sight loss to regain some independence and get out and about again, helping to reduce isolation.”

The lenses may one day find their way into other areas as the research was being funded by Darpa, the research arm of the US military.

“They are not so concerned about macular degeneration,” he said. “They are concerned with super vision which is a much harder problem.

“That’s because the standard is much higher if you are trying to improve vision rather than helping someone whose eyesight has deteriorated,” he said.

Source: BBC