Project Prakash Transforms Lives
I was delighted to see Anne Trafton’s article “The Gift of Sight and the Science of Seeing” (July/August 2012). In January 2010, I traveled to India as an undergraduate to help conduct visual cognition experiments with the Project Prakash team. During my visit, I collected data from the patients, observed cataract surgeries, and helped plan the creation of educational materials for children with untreatable blindness.
I will never forget my encounters with the Project Prakash patients, who often arrived with visually impaired family members. As an aspiring medical student, I was fascinated by the patients’ histories and the surgeries but also by the families’ stories. Some had relatives who’d died from the consequences of their visual impairments or who had previously undergone botched surgeries in makeshift rural clinics. Yet all the families had made the long journey to Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital in Delhi to give their children a chance to see the world around them.
Working with Project Prakash under the guidance of Dr. Pawan Sinha fortified my resolve to pursue a career in medicine and public health. I am grateful to have been part of an organization that is transforming the lives of young patients and advancing the scientific community through discoveries that reach far beyond India’s boundaries.
Nina Suresh ’10
India is not the only place where a frighteningly large number of children born with cataracts are not receiving surgical help. But India also has the latest infrastructure for sophisticated experimentation, along with excellent eye-care facilities, so untreated blindness and sophisticated eye care coexist, often within 10 miles of each other. At Project Prakash, which I work on as a postdoc in Pawan Sinha’s lab, we are mindful of this inequity as we study the science of sight development. We have already gained valuable knowledge about visual function that is demonstrable after long-term visual deprivation starting at birth. Now the project aims to use behavioral experiments and brain imaging to understand specific aspects of visual development: contrast sensitivity, motion awareness, face processing, illusions, and many more.
To track visual development, it is important that the children return for repeated testing over many years, and they do. This is a testament to the special bond that has developed between the children and the scientific team. It is this human element of the project that constantly reminds us of the potential in every one of these children. After a long day of experimentation, I had a meeting in Laxminagar, near Delhi. Being from Kolkata, I asked around for directions. Junaid, a teenager whose congenital cataracts were removed through Project Prakash years ago, was visiting our facility and said he lived there. In the next half-hour, he got me on the right bus, pointed me to landmarks, and then helped me get to my destination. Our roles reversed as Junaid led me through the complicated alleyways of Laxminagar, while I followed him blindly. The confident ease that Junaid exudes today is to me the heart of the project.
The TMRC/PDP-1 Connection
Your article on the Tech Model Railroad Club (“Miniature Technology,” July/August 2012) noted that the club has declined in membership since its 1960s peak, when it was a 24-hour operation. In 1961–’62 I was a frequent participant in the ad hoc experimental programming group that clustered in Building 26 around the new PDP-1 computer donated by the founders of Digital Equipment Corporation. The foundation of this community of early programmers and experimenters was a smaller group of people who had been playing with the TX-0 next door as members of the TMRC. Among these were people who pioneered concepts in personal-computer usage that did not gain much public traction for more than 20 years. Members of this group wrote a number of milestone programs. Among the best known is TECO, the Text Editor and Corrector, which was based on a slightly more primitive program called “Expensive Typewriter” (because the PDP-1 could perform the tasks normally done while editing paper tape on a Flexowriter, but with a machine costing 50 times as much). TECO, implementing an extensible, interpreted language for efficient text editing, became the foundation for the even more famous EMACS editor. Some of Marvin Minsky’s students were doing projects on the PDP-1, and a few years later a significant part of this community migrated to Project MAC, with its amazingly capable PDP-6 machines. One person I remember clearly from this period was Alan Kotok, who subsequently worked for DEC and designed the very advanced KA-10 processor, which was the foundation of the PDP-10 systems that dominated time-sharing for years. Another was Peter Samson, who demonstrated digital polyphonic (three-part) music synthesis on the PDP-1. Although most of the PDP-1 crowd had been or was engaged in building a crude programmable device to run the model railroad layout, the heyday of the TMRC didn’t have much of anything to do with trains.
Dan Massey ’63
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