Welcome to practical physicsPracticle physics - practical activities designed for use in the classroom with 11 to 19 year olds

Variable focus eye


A model eye that demonstrates how accommodation occurs.

Apparatus and materials

Variable focus eye

Lamp, holder and stand with comb slits and cylindrical lens

Power supply for lamp

Health & Safety and Technical notes

Read our standard health & safety guidance

1 The model eye is obtainable from ASOL, catalogue number P33-0450, Variable Focus Model Eye. 

2 The jelly for the eye can be made by warming together, not boiling: 

  • 13 parts glycerine 
  • 10 parts water 
  • 3 parts gelatine 
  • 2 parts cane sugar (all by volume) 

3 There are a number of variable focus eyes on the market which demonstrate accommodation. Other models have hollow plastic lenses which water can be forced into to change the curvature. Calculations can easily be carried out using this model. It has been developed from cheap lenses for use in developing countries.



Apparatus set-up

a The model incorporates a lens and multiple slit. Adjust the position of the lamp so that the ray streaks fall on the 'retina' of the eye. Using the screw, vary the curvature of the lens and observe the effect. 

b Put the lamp as close as possible to the eye so that an image is formed on the retina with the lens as fat as possible. Move the lamp farther away, and show how the curvature has to be decreased to bring the streaks to a focus on the 'retina'. 

Teaching notes

The curvature of the lens is changed by tightening or releasing the screws. Care should be taken when explaining this, as the ciliary muscles contract all around the lens to make the eye lens fatter. A normal eye looking at infinity has relaxed muscles.


This experiment was safety-checked in January 2007





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