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Surgery by Sunlight

Amplifying solar energy can create a laserlike device able to kill most cancerous tumors.

By Lauren GravitzMarch 1, 2003 6:00 AM


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Jeffrey Gordon, a mechanical engineer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, and his colleagues have created a solar-powered tool that could perform laserlike surgeries at one-hundredth the cost.

The device collects sunlight in a mirrored dish, concentrating it by a factor of 10,000, and then transports the beam to an operating room through an optical fiber. A six-minute-long exposure can excise almost one-fifth of a cubic inch of tissue, enough to kill most cancerous tumors.

Gordon came up with the idea while visiting his university hospital, which has two laser-surgery units that cost $130,000 each. He realized solar energy could provide an affordable alternative and created his sun-driven prototype for $9,000; future versions should cut the cost to $1,000.

He has demonstrated clean incisions on chicken breasts and livers and is beginning to test solar surgery on live rats.

The device cannot match the collimation of a laser, and it depends on sunshine. "But in most Sunbelt climates, there are at least 250 days out of the year when it's viable," Gordon says.

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