Published: Mon, March 04, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Technology developed to provide temporary night vision to mammals

Technology developed to provide temporary night vision to mammals

They turned infrared light, which mice cannot see, into green light, which they can.

Mice with vision enhanced by nanotechnology were able to see infrared light as well as visible light, reports a study published February 28 in the journal Cell. Yes, the human eye is a marvel in itself, but the ability to see beyond the visible spectrum is just not within its capabilities.

Mice are already masters of lurking in the shadows, well out of sight of prying human eyes, but researchers in the US and China just turned a few of them into serious superheroes. Furthermore, they exhibit considerable potential with respect to the development of bio-integrated nanodevices in civilian encryption, security, military operations, and human-machine interfaces, which require NIR light image detection that goes beyond the normal functions of mammals, including human beings. When the visible light was replaced with infrared, the mice that had been injected in the eyes detected this and avoided the brighter side.

Most mammals, including people, can only see in a narrow range of the electromagnetic spectrum, called visible light.

"In our experiment, nanoparticles absorbed infrared light around 980 nm in wavelength and converted it into light peaked at 535 nm,"University of Science and Technology of China scientist Jin Bao told Phys.org, "which made the infrared light appear as the color green". The nanoparticles used in this study only pick up a very specific infrared wavelength - anything outside this would remain invisible. The particles adhere to the photoreceptors in the animals' eyes, and when infrared light hits them it produces a signal that is sent to the animal's brain in the same way as visible light.

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When the light hits the retina, the rods, which are wrapped around the eye's natural photoreceptor cells, are able to absorb light at a much longer wavelength than our current vision can expect. The mice proved able to see infrared even in daylight conditions, with regular light also crowding their retinas.

Researchers found that those critters receiving injections showed unconscious physical signs of infrared light detection (like pupils constricting), while the control group didn't respond.

"In our study, we have shown that both rods and cones bind these nanoparticles and were activated by the near infrared light", says Tian Xue of the University of Science and Technology of China and senior author of the study's accompanying paper. Although there was a minor side effect (a cloudy cornea), it disappeared within less than a week.

The Chinese scientists behind the work said that it could pave the way for soldiers to be given "super vision" and help to treat forms of colour-blindness. (Mice are nocturnal, and ordinarily they prefer darkness.) Control animals showed no preference - because both boxes appeared dark to them - while treated mice showed a distinct preference for the dark box. Other tests found no damage to the retina's structure following the sub-retinal injections.

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