R&D magazine has awarded an R&D 100 Award to the Artificial Retina Project, recognizing it as one of the most innovative ideas of the year. Wentai Liu, professor of electrical engineering at the Jack Baskin School of Engineering, leads UCSC's participation in the Artificial Retina Project, which involves researchers at five national laboratories, four universities, and an industrial partner, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The retinal prosthesis developed through this collaborative effort is an implantable electronic device intended for patients blinded by diseases such as macular degeneration and inherited retinal disorders. These diseases destroy the light receptors in the retina, but not the nerve fibers that connect the eye to the brain. The implanted microchip stimulates the neurons in the retina, relaying visual signals that are transmitted to the chip from a tiny video camera integrated into a pair of sunglasses.

A device based on Liu's microchip design is currently being tested in clinical trials, while work continues on further improvements and refinements to the device. (See earlier story).