BY: MICHAEL LYONS
An independent research organization, Science for the Masses seeks to take the scientific process out of the hands of gatekeeping institutions.
Biochem researcher Gabriel Licina volunteered as a guinea pig for a solution that ultimately proved successful in giving him functional, temporary vision in low light.
The study used Chlorin e6 (Ce6), a natural molecule and photosensitizer—a molecule that produces a chemical change interacting with the effects of light—mixed with a saline and insulin solution. Through a careful process, 50 microlitres of this mixture were dropped into each of Licina’s eyes, and he was then tested in lowlight conditions against four controls. Licina and the controls were tested recognizing objects, symbols and moving figures in a darkened area.
“The Ce6 subject identified the distant figures 100% of the time, with the controls showing a 33% identification rate,” the study says.
Ce6, a photosensitizer historically used in laser assisted cancer treatment, is a fine black powder that was added to a sterile saline solution, but not before being mixed with insulin. The researchers explain that insulin in the solution aided Ce6 into being absorbed into the chamber of the eye.
Licina’s eyes were pinned open, flushed with saline and the Ce6 mixture was applied with a micropipette—like a tiny turkey baster. After allowing the solution to take effect, Licina and the controls were put through the testing.
“Eyesight in the morning seemed to have returned to normal and as of 20 days, there have been no noticeable effects,” the report says, though the study’s introduction describes how increased light amplification may have adverse effects on the eye’s cellular structure. Great care was taken to limit Licina’s exposure to reduce potential light damage.
This is only some of their most recent work addressing the possibility of superhuman vision. Another project the Science for the Masses team is working on concerns the possibility of humans seeing in a completely different wavelength:
“Color is not a physical property; it is merely the brain’s interpretation of different wavelengths of light. Human vision spans a visual spectrum of approximately 390-720nm. At the short end (390) is what we perceive as blue; at the long end (720) is red. This is nowhere near all light; in fact, it comprises less than an estimated 1% of 1% of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. The narrow range of light we can see is primarily a result of what wavelengths our photopigments are sensitive to; as an engineer would say, the pigments are the bottleneck.”
Through what they call a “brute force metabolic hack,” they hope to create a way for humans to see light on the infrared spectrum.
Science for the Masses is an independent, non-university or government funded organization that seeks to put science back into the hands of everyday people with all the weird and wonderful work that goes with it. “Our mission is to aid in the development of ‘citizen science’; we want to see the tools and resources necessary to perform scientific research made available to anyone that wants them,” their site explains. “To this end, all of our research is and will be published free and open source, and will be repeatable by the layperson—meaning no multimillion dollar lab equipment.”
“Look around you, at your local coffee shops and maker spaces; browse a little deeper than that interesting Wired or i09 article; you might be surprised how much is being accomplished by small, underfunded, decentralized scientific ventures,” they first explained when they began publishing work in 2013. “And these ventures are always looking for another mind.”