College of Optometry engages community members about eyecare during First Fridays at the Saint Louis Science Center

by | Aug 29, 2022

The monthly event offers visitors the opportunity to learn the real science behind science fiction, featuring hands-on activities, trivia, presentations and more.
Optometry First Fridays

At a recent First Fridays event for “The Princess Bride,” the College of Optometry handed out pirate eye patches and engaged guests with optical illusions. (Photo courtesy of the College of Optometry)

You may not immediately associate your favorite tabletop card game or movie with the field of optometry, but thanks to a new monthly partnership, the University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Optometry just might have you thinking deeper about your eyes.

On Aug. 5, the College of Optometry attended its first “First Fridays” event at the Saint Louis Science Center. The monthly event offers visitors the opportunity to “learn the real science behind science fiction and mingle with others interested in the geekier side of life,” featuring hands-on activities, trivia, presentations, photo opportunities and food and drink specials. Each month features a different theme, from “Star Wars” to Nintendo to “Top Gun.”

Dr. Tareq Nabhan, who frequently visits the Science Center with his children, was inspired to get the College of Optometry involved in the event after noticing the success that Keith Miller, the Orthwein Endowed Professor for Lifelong Learning in the Sciences, and several graduate students in the College of Education have had at the event. Nabhan says the events offer a fun way to educate and engage the community – including both kids and adults – about eyecare.

“Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness amongst working adults, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness globally, age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in older adults and glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness,” he said. “Just not having a pair of glasses is a leading cause of visual impairment globally. We have a responsibility to help solve some of those problems, and the barriers that are resulting in a lot of those problems are access, awareness and affordability issues.

“We can work on improving access by getting into the community and improving awareness by letting people know how important vision is and how it can play into so many other aspects of quality of life. Ultimately, there’s an educational component to what we do in eyecare – pedagogy is a component of public health, public policy and awareness.”

In addition to Nabhan, faculty and staff including Carl Bassi, Dean Larry Davis, Jacqueline McNair, Erin Schaeffer, Dr. Patrick Stark, Linda Stein, Janice White and Dr. Brittany Wright all came together to get the event off the ground.

“It’s been really wonderful to see the support of the dean, the administration, the faculty and the students,” Nabhan said. “We’ve had several faculty and staff members come together to brainstorm ideas of how we can relate ocular and visual phenomena with the theme of each First Friday and we’ve had a really good time doing it.”

This fall’s lineup of events kicked off with “The Princess Bride” in August. In addition to Optometry faculty and staff, students Matt Bozdech, Halle Neyens and Danielle Treat, as well as Dr. Evan Strong, an UMSL alumnus and former classmate of Nabhan’s, represented the college. They handed out pirate eye patches and squishy eyeballs to attendees and engaged them with different demonstrations. Inspired by the many tricks cinematographers use to alter viewers’ visual perception, such as depth cues including lighting, setting and staging, the UMSL group offered a few activities with optical illusions.

“The mind can be tricked, and Hollywood has known that they can do that with visual representations for a long time,” Nabhan said. “Cinema has really clever ways of simulating or eliciting certain visual experiences to give you the impression that there’s scenery behind the actors that looks real, for instance.”

For the next event in September, the Optometry team will take a more anatomical approach, playing off visual cues from characters featured in “Magic: The Gathering.” They’ve compiled several posters connecting cards from the game to examples found in everyday eyecare. The Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore, for instance, bears a striking resemblance to a Christmas tree cataract.

The College of Optometry will continue to host a table at “First Fridays” events at the Science Center throughout the rest of the year. Upcoming themes include “Magic: The Gathering” on Sept. 2, “The Addams Family” on Oct. 7, “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” on Nov. 4 and “Harry Potter” on Dec. 2. Find more details at

Heather Riske

Heather Riske