Student speaker at TEDxUCDavis works to bring glasses to the masses

A photo of Rose Truong with VisionFinder.
Rose Hong Truong, right, and Jackie Lim work on their VisionFinder prototype.

Before she graduates this summer, Rose Hong Truong will be able to say she and three classmates have a patent pending and have created an inexpensive, portable device to prescribe eyeglasses in developing nations.

And she doesn’t even want to be an optometrist.

Truong will describe the device she helped create in a talk at the fifth annual TEDxUCDavis conference, this Sunday (April 26) at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. The student-organized conference is independent of the annual TED conferences that have been held since 1984 (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design), and “seeks to build a community of inspired and engaged people with open minds,” according to a news release.

The TEDxUCDavis theme this year is “Beyond the Conversation,” and organizers say the 13 talks and three performances will encourage audience members to take action after the event. Organizers took suggestions from the campus community to find speakers for the event.

Truong studied in Ecuador her freshman year, and while there realized how scarce optometrists can be in developing nations.

So she joined up with three other biomedical engineering students to try to create a device to simplify the process of determining the right prescriptions.

The VisionFinder team, from left, Frank Mai, Jackie Lim, Natalya Shelby.and Rose Hong Troung. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Bringing sight to developing nations

She said people in developing countries will sometimes try to find their prescription by trying on pairs of glasses until one looks about right — and they’ll often take home the prettiest pair instead of finding the right lenses.

For their senior design capstone class, the four created a prototype for what they call the VisionFinder, inspired by the View-Master, a toy introduced in 1939 and updated over the years, giving users a binocular-like view of three-dimensional images.

The VisionFinder shows different prescriptions as the patient turns a dial. The prototype cost $80 — less than 1 percent of the cost of a phoropter, the traditional testing device optometrists use.

Earlier this month, Truong and her team took their device to San Blas, a Mexican coastal city 100 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, with the volunteer medical aid organization Liga International. They were able to see 60 patients in a day, some of whom waited four hours to get into the clinic.

“At one point there were 10 people in the clinic and all four of us were working on something different,” she said. “We couldn’t take a break.”

Truong said she hopes to design more devices and tools for the medical field after graduation. She’ll go into more detail about the VisionFinder at her talk at the TEDxUCDavis event.

Inspiration: ✓

Also among the speakers will be TJ Lee, a 2014 UC Davis alumna who created the “77 Days of Davis” checklist to inspire others to make the most of spring quarter.

UC Davis alumna TJ Lee with her checklist

“The main point was, we’re always asking, ‘Where did the time go?’” Lee said. “We wanted to spread the idea (that) that’s not the right question, (and we should instead ask), ‘How can we make the most of our time?’”

Lee, who now works as a community manager at Internet openness nonprofit Mozilla, said she brainstormed her idea for about a week and then spent a week with a designer friend, Christine Gan, creating the physical checklist and website to go along with it. She then pinned copies all over campus and got permission to leave them at stores around town.

She said she enjoyed watching students share photos of themselves crossing items off their bucket lists and experiencing new things — from skydiving to hiking Lake Berryessa. She hopes the project encouraged students to spend time “taking action to do things that make you happy instead of just pushing things off.”

Lee said she has since come to another conclusion about the project, but won’t reveal it until her speech at the TEDxUCDavis conference.

Other speakers

  • Matthias Gruber, a cognitive neuroscientist in the Dynamic Memory Lab at the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience
  • Krishna Subramanian, a UC Davis alumnus and founder of two online advertising networks
  • Helen S. Koo, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Design, and a director of the Fashion Design and Technology Lab, or FT Lab
  • Clay Brandow, who, as a student in the 1970s, helped in the planning and construction of the Domes, and lived there.
  • Sarah Meredith, the director of the UC Davis Center for Advocacy, resources and Education, or CARE (formerly the Campus Violence Prevention Program)
  • Gurminder Singh, a professor of computer science at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, and the founder and chief executive office of OpunUp Inc.
  • Cathie Apple, a Sacramento-based professional flautist and yoga teacher
  • Akshay Oberai, co-founder and CEO of Tip’dOff, a social network that allows friends to share stock-buying information
  • Alisa Shubb, a UC Davis alumna and continuing lecturer in communication at UC Davis, and professor and chair of the Speech Department at American River College
  • Elizabeth Sweet, a postdoctoral scholar and lecturer in sociology at UC Davis
  • Wendy Meluch, who evaluates how museum exhibits can best connect with the public

Complete TEDxUCDavis information is available online. Organizers recommended purchasing tickets in advance on the Mondavi Center website. General admission tickets are $30 and student tickets are $15 (must show student ID at the door).

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