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OSA | Living History

Otto Wichterle

OSA Awards & Distinctions



Otto Wichterle was born in 1913 in Moravia. After earning his doctorate in 1939 from the Czech Technical University in Prague, he was forced out of the University for political reasons but was able to begin work at a shoe company in Zlin. There, he developed a material similar to nylon called Silon. In 1942, he was imprisoned by the Gestapo.

In 1949, he earned a second doctorate and was named Dean of the Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague, a position he held only briefly, again due to politics. However, the Institute of Chemical Technology was established, and hired him as director. Throughout the 1950s, Wichterle developed a material suitable for long-term contact with living tissues, and ultimately using a child’s toy and household items developed the first soft contact lenses in 1961. The American productions rights were sold to Bausch & Lomb.

Throughout his life, Wichterle was active politically, and often his career was impacted. In 1970, he was again dismissed from his position, and it wasn’t until 1989 when he would resume another full-time appointment. In 1984, he received OSA’s R. W. Wood Prize “for his contributions to the development of soft contact lenses.” In 1990, he was named President of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences.

He passed away in 1998.



Document Created: 24 Dec 2020
Last Updated: 24 Dec 2020