Have you ever cosplayed as the Predator? Were you bummed that there wasn’t some intra-mask device that could give you heat vision? Do you just want to ditch the equipment and see in infrared for real?
Humans could soon be seeing what the mice in a mind-blowing experiment saw when their eyeballs were injected with a solution that allowed them to see beyond the spectrum of visible light. Led by scientists Tian Xue and Jin Bao at the University of Science and Technology in China, along with Gang Han at the University of Massachusetts Medical school, the study was recently published in Cell magazine.
“The visible light that can be perceived by human’s natural vision occupies just a very small fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Xue. “Electromagnetic waves longer or shorter than visible light carry lots of information.”
Xue and his team used nanotechnology to alter the vision of the unsuspecting mice, which obviously had no idea they were being transformed into creatures straight out of sci-fi. This tech worked with the structures that already exist in the eye to push vision beyond the realm of visible light.
“When light enters the eye and hits the retina, the rods and cones—or photoreceptor cells—absorb the photons with visible light wavelengths and send corresponding electric signals to the brain,” says Han. “Because infrared wavelengths are too long to be absorbed by photoreceptors, we are not able to perceive them.”
When infrared light hit a mouse’s retina, nanoparticles introduced to the eye latched onto those photoreceptor cells and acted as micro-transducers. They captured longer near-infrared waves that the eyes of mice (or humans) normally can’t absorb, emitting shorter wavelengths within the range of visible light. The closest rod or cone then absorbed that wavelength and zapped it to the brain. Because wavelengths that were too long had now been morphed into something more digestible, to the brain, it was as if the retina had been hit by visible light.
By the way, near-infrared light appeared green to the mice. That takes the cool factor to a whole other level.
Could this experiment, which surprisingly had almost zero side effects (the cloudy corneas that were observed in some mice quickly cleared) actually give humans Predator vision? Xue believes that it will work not only as an extreme vision enhancer, but possibly as an antidote to red colorblindness. Human eyes have a retinal structure called the fovea, which has a much higher density of cones than rods, while mice have more rods than cones. Cones are sensitive to spectrum and intensity in different ways than rods, so the technology will have to be adjusted.
So it might be a while before we’re seeing in the near-infrared. But still ... Predator vision!