A Nonstick Lens To Cure Red Eye

Contact lenses can offer sight but sore eyes. Often the problem is the buildup of proteins deposited by tears on the surface of the lens. Now, help may be on the way. A University of Washington bioengineering professor, Buddy D. Ratner, and a PhD student, Gabriel Lopez, have figured out a way to deposit an ultrathin layer of a polymer film--just 10 atoms thick--that repels the tear proteins and prevents buildup on the lens.

The economical process borrows a standard technique used in chipmaking: radio-frequency plasma deposition. Researchers put the contact lenses into a vacuum chamber, add a gas, jolt it with radio waves, and the gas is transformed into a polymer that permanently coats the lens so that tear proteins don't stick. The process can also be used to coat equipment needed in food processing to block the buildup of milk proteins, and on yacht hulls to keep away slime and barnacles.