small things: Josh Silver's adjustable glasses
Josh Silver is an atomic physicist at Oxford who invented adjustable liquid-filled lenses for eyeglasses. Given the lack of eye doctors in Africa especially, such glasses allow the wearer to adjust the lenses themselves. A clever little syringe on the frame fills flexible sacs, sandwiched between two durable plastic shields, with liquid and when the sac is the right thickness to correct the vision problem, the lens is sealed with a screw. Silver is the archetypal rumpled and brilliant inventor, seen demonstrating his glasses in a TED lecture here. There is a fairly complete description from 2008 in the Guardian here. There is, of course, the website asking for help in this project here.
I would say this is a small thing, with huge consequences. Esther Addley in the Guardian article points out that having glasses improves literacy rates and extends the working life of people who use their eyes to read, sew, embroider, mend nets – any kind of fine work. A large scheme would train thousands of eye doctors to work in remote regions without much infrastructure or services – a large task indeed. The small scheme is to put into production simple, self-adjusting glasses and to produce millions of them.
Issue 23 (call for articles) wants to look at how small moves, small projects, small things can make large changes. It is important to look at this for many, many reasons, not least of which is that western society is cut off from fine scale detail. We can't fix our own cars, make our own clothes, cut our own hair or fix our own glasses; we seem incapable of invention.
I would like a pair of these adjustable glasses – I'm wearing +1.25 readers bought from Nanaimo's Midland Liquidators in 1996 for $10 and they could use a bit of tuning.