Dr. Rangaswamy Srinivasan

Dr. Rangaswamy Srinivasan,

Inventor of LASIK, IBM.

Rangaswamy Srinivasan is an inventor at IBM Research. One of the famous inventions he has contributed to is LASIK. President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Technology on Feb 2, 2013 for his contributions to laser eye surgery.

In 1981, Srinivasan discovered that an ultraviolet excimer laser can be used to etch a living tissue precisely without causing any thermal damage to surrounding area. He named it Ablative Photodecomposition (APD).

In 1983, Srinivasan collaborated with Stephen Trokel, an ophthalmic surgeon, to use APD for a surgery of the cornea. This led to development of LASIK. In 1998, Srinivasan was awarded the Biological Physics Prize by the American Physical Society.

In 2012, Srinivasan along with two other scientists, James J. Wynne and Samuel Blum, of IBM Watson were honored with National Medal of Technology and Innovation by the President of The United States Barack Obama for breakthrough in Excimer laser that enabled LASIK Surgery.

Inducted into the US “Inventor Hall of Fame” in 2002, Srinivasan has spent 30 years at IBM’s T J Watson Research Center. He received both bachelors and master’s degrees in science from the University of Madras, in 1949 and 1950.

Excerpts from Interview with Dr. Rangaswamy Srinivasan (For full interview, please checkout TAP 2015 Book at http://tinyurl.com/2015tap)

CK: Can you explain the differences between lasers that are used in a laser pointer versus the laser excimer, the UV excimer, specifically that’s used in the Lasik, that you lead the invention of?

RS: Laser was invented only in 1960. It was not invented at IBM. That was a red laser and then of course very quickly lots of lasers appeared, there was nitrogen laser, there was carbon dioxide laser, but there was no laser in the ultraviolet and I was interested in doing ultraviolet photochemistry. So I waited and waited and it was in 1970s somebody invented the excimer laser which is what I needed. It was not invented here, it was invented somewhere else. So and of course, we were not in the business of building lasers, it had to be commercial and so when the commercial laser came along, right there, I jumped into it and so the UV laser was the backbone of my research from 1970 onwards. For the next 20 years, that’s what I did.

CK: Can you explain why it’s called the Excimer laser? What signifies the difference between a normal laser and an excimer laser?

RS: All lasers work on the same principle that is, what you do is you create an excited state usually by an electrical pumping and this excited state, comes back to the ground state and emits a photon. Now the radiance of a photon depends on the degree of its citation. So if the citation level is very low you would get a red light as indication of a fine laser pointer that you see everywhere. But if you excite it to a very high level, high I’m talking about the energy level, it would emit in the ultraviolet, even in the ultraviolet there are 4 principle lines that are available, and so the line that I wanted was the one that was particularly efficient when it came to eye surgery.

CK: It’s that 193 nanometer wavelength.

RS: Correct, and at this point I should tell you that I was set up for using it on tissue because way back, I told you, for my PhD work, I was working with proteins. So now, IBM was interested in using this laser to make patterns on plastics which were used in the chip making. But then I start thinking about and I said, “Well, you know these plastics have exactly the same kind of chemical bonding as proteins so.” So I said, “I should try this on a protein.” And it so happened the thought occurred to me on Thanksgiving day and I was sitting in front of a turkey. And so I saved a piece of the turkey and the next day worked in the lab. It was a day off, the day after Thanksgiving, but Friday was always a day off. In those days we were so casual about going in and out of the lab and no security, nothing. So I was there by myself and I tried out this laser and it worked beautifully. That was the start of the whole thing.

CK: So congratulations again on the National Medal of Technology and Innovation Award from President Obama. So, how was your experience going to the White House, meeting the President, and getting the award from him?

RS: It was a thrill, of course, meeting President Obama, of course he’s a skilled politician and when the awards are presented, I mean there were another 20 people who got awards. There was an army assistant, a young kid who read out the awards and Obama was kidding him saying, “Are you sure you practiced these words, do you know how to say “ablative”” And he had everybody laughing, he had complete control of the situation.

CK: So, how do you define success, in general, for the people who are reading this or will be at the program today? How do you define success?

As they say, success is 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration. That is still true. But if you, as the starting point, don’t have inspiration, not much is going to happen.

Dr. Rangaswamy Srivasan’s TAP Tip For Success

You cannot inspire others unless you have the inspiration yourself. Somebody has to be a leader and not leader meaning “giving orders” but leader meaning “giving ideas”