Originally setting out to design safety glasses for use during laser surgeries, materials scientist Don McPherson instead designed a lens that enables color-blind wearers to see the full light spectrum. Rare earth iron embedded in the lenses capture a wider range of light than normal frames, resulting in oversaturated colors for those with normal vision. However, for those with deuteranomaly and protanomaly (commonly known as red-green colorblindness), colors that were previously indistinguishable become visible.
McPherson, who holds a PhD in Glass Science, founded EnChroma Labs, a company dedicated to improving color vision in humans, with two of his colleagues. Last week, EnChroma partnered with paint manufacturer Valspar Paints on viral campaign #ColorForAll. The campaign launched with a video featuring the rainbow-colored string art of Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus series.
Initially employed by surgeons in the operating room to help distinguish between blood and tissue, doctors began to “borrow” pairs for recreational purposes. McPherson himself would often sport the sunglasses while taking daytime strolls, recently telling the Smithsonian Magazine, “Wearing them makes all colors look incredibly saturated. It makes the world look really bright.” McPherson only discovered the glasses’ ability to improve the perception of color-blind people after a color-blind friend asked to borrow his pair. To both their surprise, this friend saw a traffic cone’s vivid orange hue for the first time.
The company is attempting to appeal to a broader consumer base, finally introducing a pair that can be used indoors (previous models required sunlight) and for sportswear and child’s frames. These models were made possible by switching from glass lenses to polycarbonite.
The colorblind community’s broadly positive response suggests the glasses are bound to become popular. However, the $349 price tag may make the glasses difficult to access without vision insurance. EnChroma has also found that other communities could benefit from the ability to see more color, including those with seasonal affective disorder. These glasses are slowly revealing color’s vital importance in several facets of human perception.