Solar Cell #3668 Flying around the Globe.

This is the location of solar cell number 3668 on the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft. This special plane is currently flying around the world. Solar cell number 3668 is the solar cell that I have sponsored on behalf of the Eye Research Institute of Oakland University. Funds derived from sponsors of solar cells on this aircraft are used by the Solar Impulse Foundation to develop educational materials for use around the globe. While I am a vision scientist, gene expression researcher and biochemist, I am also a science and research educator. A Professor here at Oakland University in Rochester and Auburn Hills, Michigan.

I spent much time poking around the map of available photovoltaic cells, choosing just the correct one for sponsorship. I settled on 3 6 6 8. The numbers have meanings to us here in the Eye Research Institute.

Three 3 is the number of different cone opsin genes and thus cone photoreceptors in Humans and other species that are trichromats. We can differentiate colours using three overlapping color sensitive windows for short, medium and long wavelengths of light. Call them blue, green and red for simplicity.

Six 6 is the number of different major types of retinal neurons that provide us with light detection and vision. They are rod cells, cone cells, bipolar cells, amacrine cells, horizontal cells, and ganglion cells. I also like 6 because  “building 6” housed most of the National Eye Institute’s intramural labs at the NIH in Bethesda MD, when I was a post-doctoral fellow there in 1995 to 1997.

Sixty Eight 68: the year that the founder of our Eye Research Institute, and first Director, V. Everett Kinsey PhD, began eye research here at Oakland University. Dr Kinsey shared the Lasker medical prize in 1956 with Dr Arnall Patz MD, for designing and managing the research to demonstrate that oxygen was an important driving factor in affecting the severity of retinopathy of prematurity in premature infant eyes. This turns out to have been one of the first pioneering examples of a very important concept in human medical research used today: the multicenter clinical trial.

Dr Kinsey is also known at the father of the NEI, as the person who proposed and then convinced other vision scientists, clinicians and the US Congress that the NIH should also have a National Eye Institute. Dr Kinsey then chaired the first national advisory panel of the NEI and chaired the committee that selected the NEI’s first Director, Dr Kupfer. The NEI also got started in 1968.

Finally, I have spent much of my own research career studying how genes are regulated and expressed to give different cells their different identities and functions in the body. One favorite model was the Rhodopsin gene itself, the gene encoding the protein that captures a single photon of light using bound cis-retinal and thus converts the energy of light into a neural network signal that is transmitting to our brains, one of the most important senses available to a sighted person. Our retinas recycle cis-retinal and it is used many times, in a sustainable fashion, which mirrors the concept of renewable energy demonstrated so well by the Solar Impulse 2 team flying around the globe now, using only the power of the Sun.

You can learn more about Solar Impulse 2 at :






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