India is home to the world’s largest population of blind children. The visual handicap, coupled with extreme poverty, greatly compromises the children’s quality of life, prospects for education, employment, and even basic survival. The humanitarian mission of Project Prakash is to bring light into the lives of curably blind children by providing them sight-restoring surgeries.
Embedded in this mission is an unprecedented opportunity to study one of the deepest scientific questions: How does the brain learn to extract meaning from sensory chaos? By following the development of visual skills in these unique children who are just setting out on the enterprise of learning how to see, we have gained insights into fundamental questions regarding visual learning and brain plasticity. Besides their intrinsic scientific value, these findings have also shaped our thinking in domains such as autism and artificial intelligence.
True to its name (Prakash in Sanskrit means light), the project has helped illuminate lives while also illuminating science. And it has demonstrated that the pursuit of knowledge can proceed hand in hand with the pursuit of compassion.