Our vision is a result of over half a billion years of evolution. It is fascinating how a rudimentary photon sensitive cell turned into a complex organ that can perceive light, depth, and millions of colors. But let’s face it, we are surrounded by stuff that keeps on getting upgraded all the time. Like how I always complain about the lack of features in every product, I feel that specifications of our eyes are quite dated. For instance, our eyes can’t zoom in on an object. Seriously, carrying a binocular is so 1954! We also lack night vision. I’m not even asking for full-fledged night vision. Something close to raccoon’s level will cut it for me. And where’s my 360-degree vision, God? Why do only dragonfly and chameleon get to have all the fun. Thankfully, armed with opposable thumbs, us humans transformed from a bunch of hunters-gatherers to a space faring civilization. No more do we have to be on nature’s mercy to amend things. Science enables us to play God and going by the latest experiments conducted by the Chinese scientists, we may soon get infrared vision! Yes, pretty much like sci fi movie Pitch Black’s protagonist Riddick.
Infrared, as we all know, is electromagnetic radiation invisible to human eye. Sometimes you can sense these waves due to their significant heat release. Those who never paid attention in school, the infrared spectrum ranges from 700 nanometers (nm) to 1 millimeter (mm). These waves are longer than those of visible light but share similar characteristics. We can’t see light over 700 nm in wavelength due to the physical limitations of light sensing proteins dubbed opsins connected to the retina. Most animals including humans are warmer than their surroundings and emit infrared light. By detecting this infrared light, you can see things in the dark and that’s exactly how current night vision equipment’s work. But, to do away the need of special gear to detect infrared signature, scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China developed pbUCNPs (photoreceptor-binding upconversion nanoparticles). From now, let’s just call it the ocular nanoparticles to manage this article’s word count and my sanity.
Scientists injected these nanoparticles into rodents’ eyes. Ouch, can’t say those mice willingly signed up for this. But, let’s face it, every superpower has a painful origin story. These rodents could then see infrared lights for around five days without any significant side effect so far. These nanoparticles turn non-visible infrared spectrum into visible light right inside a mammal’s eyes. At this point, it is capable of transforming infrared of 980 nm wavelength to a visible wavelength of 535 nm. So, the mice are not actually seeing infrared but its representation in a perceivable form. Scientists claim that ocular nanoparticles turn infrared into a green hue. And it is established with multiple experiments that the conversion is interpreted by the brain. These nanoparticles do not require external power to work.
This is the closest it gets to the coolest action character ever played by Vin Diesel. But, will I ever take a needle to my retina for that? Well, all I can say right now is that an eye-drop method to deliver these ocular nanoparticles would be awesome. There’s no doubt that large corporations and militaries across the globe will be showing great interest in this technology. The Chinese scientists seem quite confident that this method will work also on humans with minor adjustments. And let’s not question the dedication of our neighbors as a Chinese surgeon performed over 1,000 head transplants a couple of years ago. One thing even skeptic cannot dispute is the fact that it sucks to be a mouse in China.