Windows to Eyes: A Left Brain Perspective


I have always been obsessed with the subject of the eye as the window to one’s soul. In art, I am inspired by surrealists such as Kahlo, Dali, Man Ray, and The Man Magritte. As a scientist and educator, I translate this interest in the fields of genetics and technology.

The eye is a fascinating organ. The iris  is used as a biometrics tool, and iris scanning is used by many airports (though more frequently in Europe than here in the United States, presumably due to cost-effectiveness). The iris is less likely to change, even after surgery.

retinahuman eye

Is it possible for Josh to be blue-eyed if both his parents are brown-eyed? This initial question is my ultimate anticipatory set tool for lesson planning. It engages students both at the secondary and higher education levels, and an inquiry that starts with eye color inevitably transitions into a panoply of genetics-related concepts.

In genetics, color-blindness and hemophilia are the classic examples of  sex chromosome-related and inherited genetic disorders. Prior to this is a discussion of the photoreceptors in the eye that allow distinction among colors. Animals see differently than humans. The mantis shrimp is not only a beautiful crustacean but an organism that has twelve different photoreceptors  .

peacock mantis shrimpMantis_shrimp

On land, human eyesight (left) may be compared and contrasted with that of dogs (middle) and birds (right).

Untitled   dog vision  bird vision

Cataracts, the clouding of the lens of the eye, is a degenerative disorder that is age-related. An article cites that birds that are characterized by brightly-colored feathers have a higher incidence of cataracts. In comparing the different species, it was found that these birds were linked by a common pigment called Pheomelanin, which is responsible for bright coloration in birds and, interestingly, red hair and freckles in humans.

Presentation5       redhead

This finding is currently tied to current studies in human cataracts. The article led me to an ophthalmology research publication that discusses how cataracts affect vision, and the discussion focuses on Monet’s art before and after his cataracts became severe.

Left to right: Giverny  bridge photograph; Monet’s painting prior to the manifestation of cataracts


Left to right: the bridge as may be seen by moderately severe cataracts; the bridge, as may be seen by disabling cataracts.

monetc  monetd

Windows to Eyes


Ask a Biologist (2014). How do you know if an animal can see color? ASU School of Life   Sciences.   Retrieved from

Images from the following sites:

Marmour, M. (2006). Ophthalmology and art: Simulation of Monet’s cataracts and Degas” retinal diseases. Journal of the   American Medical Association Ophthalmology, Arch Ophthalmol. 2006;124(12):1764-1769. doi:10.1001/  archopht.124.12.1764

National Eye Institute (2014). Cataracts. Retrieved from

Nature News (2014). Animal colour through animal eyes. British Broadcasting Company. Retrieved from http://

Nature News (2014). Red-feathered birds suffer from eye damage. British Broadcasting Company.


Stanford at the Tech Museum (2014). What color will your children have? The Tech Museum of Education. Retrieved from

Statistic Brain (January, 2014). Eye color distribution percentages. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Retrieved from


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