Illustration by Garry Marshall

A power source behind the ear creates a negative charge in the electrodes, which attracts positively charged lithium ions inside the polymer strips. As a result, the band contracts, reshaping the eyeball.

Last year more than 1 million Americans had their eyes zapped with lasers to free themselves from eyeglasses. For the majority, the procedure was a success-but not for everyone. People who are farsighted, for instance, don’t generally have great results. Many experience side effects such as seeing halos around objects. And laser surgery won’t help people who need reading glasses because their vision continues to deteriorate as they age. So Mohsen Shahinpoor of the University of New Mexico decided to come up with an alternative.

Since most cases of poor vision are caused by deformities in the eyeball’s shape, Shahinpoor and his colleagues’ technique wraps a thin band of artificial muscles around the eyeball to squeeze it into place. The artificial muscles are made up of polymer strings with gold wires wound around them. Electricity is induced from a power source located behind the ear (see left); a person can direct the band to either expand or contract.

Compared with laser surgery, having the equivalent of a rubber band strapped around your eyeball may seem drastic. But Shahinpoor points out that the band could let people adjust their focus on both near and far objects. And unlike laser surgery, the procedure would be reversible. The device is now being tested on cadavers’ eyes and it’s likely to be at least two years before it is tested on people.