Scrappy Biohackers Test Night-Vision Eyedrops

“Science isn't a mystical language that only a few elite people can speak.”

Night vision cat by Rodrigo Lorca via Flickr

If you’ve been looking for something interesting to put into your eyeballs, but don’t know where to start, great news! Science for the Masses, a biohacking group out of California, has devised a method to give people temporary night vision by dripping a chlorophyll-related chemical directly onto the eyes. Mic reports that the substance is a “kind of chlorophyll analog called Chlorin e6 (or Ce6), which is found in some deep-sea fish and is used as an occasional method to treat night blindness.”

Before the experiment, the team had written a paper on the subject, called A Review on Night Enhancement Eyedrops Using Chlorin e6. It features a disclaimer, admitting, “Increased light amplification may have adverse effects on the cellular structure of the eye if improperly used.” But despite any theoretical risks, research team member Gabriel Licina—who according to the Science for the Masses website is “working on various projects within the fields of material sciences, microbiology, and mammalian cell biology”—bravely volunteered for the experiment.

Photo courtesy of Science for the Masses

Licina had his eyes propped open with a speculum, to prevent him from blinking out the Ce6 (Think that scene in A Clockwork Orange). Slowly, Jeffrey Tibbetts, the lab’s medical officer, dripped a small dose of the substance into Licina’s eyes.

“The speculum was the worst part,” said Licina, responding to a commenter on the group’s site. “The rest was just liquid getting dropped in.”

“To me, it was a quick, greenish-black blur across my vision, and then it dissolved into my eyes,” Licina told Mic.

The team then did a series of tests, having Licina identify shapes and forms in the dark, and comparing his success rate with others who did not receive the chemical. “The other test, we had people go stand in the woods,” he said. Licina was able to locate the shadowed figures 100 percent of the time, compared to the 30ish percent rate managed by his untreated colleagues. By all accounts, the experiment worked.

Licina with dark contact lenses, to block out some of the light the experiment exposed his eyes to. Photo courtesy of Science for the Masses

While this is obviously not a rigorous scientific study, Science for the Masses’ outing could serve as a proof of concept for further research. And considering the group is basically just a bunch of smart guys working out of a garage, their work is still pretty amazing to those of us that wouldn’t even begin to consider putting strange stuff in our face holes for science.

“For us,” Tibbetts told Mic, “it comes down to pursuing things that are doable but won't be pursued by major corporations. There are rules to be followed and don't go crazy, but science isn't a mystical language that only a few elite people can speak.”

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