THE BROWN BEAR clad in a fuchsia spacesuit on the third floor of the Maryland Science Center is on a unique journey.
Packing a "miniaturizer" and riding in a single-seat red spaceship, Eyecare Bear travels deep inside the human eye to discover the secrets of sight and tell them to children and parents.
The cuddly adventurer landed outside the K.I.D.S. room at the Science Center last week in an exhibit entitled "Flight into Sight -- Adventures in Ocular Space." His journey is captured in 12 large, colorful illustrations.
Dr. Stuart R. Dankner, the pediatric ophthalmologist from Cross Keys who dreamed up Eyecare Bear, said vision education is part of his preventive eye-care practice.
"It's a simple and fun way to learn about the eye," said Dankner, who is president of the Society for the Prevention of Blindness and chairman of the Public Information Committee of the American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmologists.
"The eye is the most valued of our senses. It affects everything a child does . . .," Dankner said.
Eyecare Bear begins his voyage by aiming his spaceship at the center of the human eye for a landing. To avoid damage, he activates the "miniaturizer" on his belt and makes himself and his spaceship small enough to fit.
"Egad!" he exclaims when he arrives. "So many details I never noticed when I was bigger." Inside, Eyecare Bear observes the corneal window and its five layers. Later, in a dark passage, he turns on his ship's headlights. When the headlights come on, the opening of the eye shrinks.
"He realizes what's happened," the caption reads. "The iris is the shutter mechanism of the eye, controlling how much light enters. When he turned on his headlights, the iris reacted by contracting."
Next, he encounters the lens and vitreous body, the transparent, colorless jellylike substance that fills the eyeball between the retina and lens. He moves on to the retina, which contains the secrets of color vision. Curious, he exits his ship.
Eyecare Bear walks through the retinal layers and nerve fibers. He learns that the retina has 10 layers of cells.
In the "magical forest of rods and cones," he learns about color vision. There are 130 million dim-light vision rods and 60 million
cones that allow us to see in color.
After visiting the retinal surface, Eyecare Bear boards his ship again, flies past the optic nerve and, later, the six ocular muscles that move the eye. He says a misaligned eye can cause amblyopia, or lazy eye.
"Hmmm. I hope this eye doesn't have lazy muscle!" Eyecare Bear declares. "If the eye is misaligned and untreated, lazy eye and weak vision could result."
Dankner said approximately 4 percent of children have a lazy eye. The sooner lazy eye is detected, the better it can be corrected, he said. If it's not treated, it can lead to legal blindness.
Dankner said he recommends a first eye exam for children at 6 months, and another at age 3.
Each year, he said, about 50,000 adults lose their eyesight because of eye injuries, glaucoma and cataracts.
"Half of them are preventable."
Children at his Cross Keys office got an early look at Eyecare Bear when he displayed the illustrations for them. They were drawn by an artist at his direction.
"The kids just love the bear," Dankner said. "They can relate to a soft, stuffed animal."
After June, Dankner plans to take Eyecare Bear into state schools. School officials who are interested can call Dankner at 433-8488.