Colloquium: From Flash Gordon to Laser Surgery
As a child, I was fascinated by television programs about Flash Gordon. His partner in conquering the universe was Dr. Alexis Zarkov, a physicist, who had invented, among other things, a death ray gun. In my senior year of high school, I had a fabulous physics teacher, Lewis E. Love, and I knew after one week that I wanted to be a physicist, not a medical doctor, which is the career my parents wanted me to pursue.
In the late 1970s I had the inspiration to acquire an excimer laser for the Laser Physics and Chemistry group at IBM. Using this laser, my colleagues and I discovered excimer laser surgery, capable of removing human and animal tissue with great precision, while leaving the underlying and adjacent tissue free of collateral damage. This discovery laid the foundation for the laser refractive surgical procedures of PRK and LASIK, which have been used to improve the visual acuity of >50 million people, including my son Keith, General Mark Milley, and Michelle Obama.
Today, I am working on validating my concept that the argon fluoride excimer laser can serve as a “smart scalpel,” capable of debriding necrotic lesions of the skin without damaging the underlying and adjacent viable tissue, leading to faster healing, reduced pain, reduced probability of infection, and minimal scarring.
I will describe these innovations and the path to their discovery.
To quote Louis Pasteur, “Chance favors the prepared mind!”