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Obama To Honor Mt. Kisco Co-Inventor Of LASIK Surgery

On Friday at the White House, President Barack Obama will honor Mount Kisco resident James Wynne and two other IBM scientists for the co-invention of LASIK eye surgery.
On Friday at the White House, President Barack Obama will honor Mount Kisco resident James Wynne and two other IBM scientists for the co-invention of LASIK eye surgery. Photo Credit: Courtesy of naeawards.org

MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. — Mount Kisco resident James J. Wynne and two other IBM scientists will be honored Friday by President Barack Obama for their innovations in laser technology, which includes the co-invention of the popular LASIK eye surgery.

Wynne, 69, and the team’s other scientists, Rangaswamy Srinivasan, 83, and Samuel Blum, will receive the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the country's most prestigious award given to leading innovators for technological achievement. Blum will receive the award posthumously, as he died Jan. 9 at the age of  92.

The award was announced in December, and on Friday Obama will personally bestow the award to the scientists at a special White House ceremony.

Wynne, a 40-year Mount Kisco resident, and his team of researchers were on the forefront of IBM's groundbreaking work in laser technology starting in 1981, which would go on to shape the course of surgical care.

LASIK eye surgery is the world's most popular vision correction surgery and has been performed on 25 million people worldwide, including Wynne's own son, who got the PRK variation of the procedure. 

The scientists' invention of excimer laser surgery laid the foundation for laser refractive surgery, or LASIK (PRK is another variation). In delicate surgeries like on the eye, the excimer laser can outdo mechanical instruments like the scalpel, which was not very precise and could permanently weaken the cornea.

LASIK is appealing to both doctors and patients due to its ability to precisely cut into materials via vaporization, rather than burning, leaving surrounding areas undamaged.

Wynne has worked for 43 years at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights. Srinivasan is retired. Wynne and his wife, Barbara, have a daughter, Alexis; a son, Keith; and two grandchildren.

Co-inventors Wynne, Srinivasan and Blum have received many awards for their work and were each inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

This month, the three scientists also received the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize from Ohio University and the National Academy of Engineering, considered one of bioengineering’s highest honors.

On his own, Wynne was named one of LaserFest's Important People in Laser Science in 2010 and has served on the board of directors of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America and various other boards.

Now, working with the office of IBM's director of research, Wynne recruits IBM employees to volunteer for technical education outreach, selecting scientists and researchers to visit local schools and get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

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