Any mention of the word ‘zari’ may remind you of the heavily embroidered Banaras silk sarees that your mother, sister or aunts may have. Embroidering silk sarees with zari, or golden and silver wrapping on silk threads, is an old and well known art in India.

A sari with zari work is a dream come true for most Indian women.

This One is For your Eyes Only [Illustration by Kusum Chamoli]
This One is For your Eyes Only [Illustration by Kusum Chamoli]

But if you mention zari to “eye doctor” or optometrist Dr Mohan Ram, he will probably remember a patient’s retina. For this optometrist from the LV Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, has pioneered a new, cheap and efficient method of testing the retina. No prizes for guessing what the replacement is – it’s the good old zari! A report on Dr Mohan Ram’s path breaking achievement was published in ‘The Hindu’ newspaper recently.

Optometrists spend a large part of their daily routines looking into the eyes of patients. They do so to check whether the retina is working properly. How it is done is interesting: they throw a beam of light on the retina and measure the electrical signals that the retina sends to the brain. It sends the signal through the optic nerve. These signals are called electroretinograms or ERG. They are measured with a special instrument called the DTL electrode.

There is nothing wrong with this procedure except for one thing. The DTL electrode costs are on the higher side. One metre of electrode fibre costs about Rs 2,500. This increased Dr L.S. Mohan Ram’s determination to find a cheaper and equally efficient method of measuring ERG.

He succeeded, and in a spectacular way. Unlike the traditional zari, which was made of silk thread, the modern zari is made of nylon threads that are covered with some metallic wrapping such as gold, silver or copper. Thin and flexible, it is a good conductor of heat and electricity. It can also be easily sterilized.

Dr Mohan Ram decided to check out the efficiency of zari on 14 normal sighted people. He measured the ERG of one eye with zari and the other eye with DTL. And the patterns of ERG obtained with zari compared favourably with the DTL patterns. Zari had another great advantage: it cost Rs 50 a metre and was easily available locally.

The young optometrist has received a number of honours for his path-breaking achievement. At a meeting in Sydney, Australia, recently, the International Society for Clinical Electrophysiology of Vision (ISCEV), spoke of Dr Mohan Ram’s innovation.

Meanwhile, the optometrist is busy at work. He is working with research laboratories to introduce a particular standard in zari, so that it can be used without any problems.

450 words | 4 minutes
Readability: Grade 8 (13-14 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: science news
Tags: #signals, #silver

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