Why is October 27th important? Among other things, because on that day the inventor of contact lenses was born. You know, that soft, transparent lens that you put over your eye. If you can see clearly because of that, you can thank Otto Wichterle. He was commemorated with the Google Doodle for his 108th birthday.
Wichterle was a chemist from what is now the Czech Republic. And he is not only the inventor of soft contact lenses. He holds almost 200 patents in organic chemistry, plastics and biomaterials.
He was born in Prostějov in 1913 And as a young man he manifested a deep interest in science. Thus, he obtained his PhD in organic chemistry from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague (ICT) in 1936.
This man worked for a time in a shoe factory. There he invented a nylon fibre for industrial use. But from 1948 Wichterle became a lecturer in macromolecular chemistry at ICT. He also began to develop a transparent, absorbent gel for eye implants. A decade later, he manufactured the first hydrophilic soft contact lenses. He did this with a home-built device.
His invention has changed the lives of millions of people around the world. But Wichterle is also recognized as the pioneer behind other innovations. Some paved the way for cutting-edge medical technologies. One example is “smart” biomaterials. Where are they found? In pacemakers, heart valves and orthopaedic devices.
His work with biorecognizable polymers set new standards in drug delivery.
The inventor of contact lenses was appointed president of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. He became the first to hold the position, following the creation of that country in 1993.
During his lifetime he received numerous awards, accolades and commendations. Even an asteroid was named in his honor. He died in the town of Stražisko, near where he was born, on 18 August 1998, aged 84.