Otto Wichterle was one of the founders of the modern contact lens industry. Born and raised in the Czech Republic, he first studied mechanical engineering, but then switched to chemistry after being convinced by a friend that it would be more interesting. He developed the stable transparent gel, hydroxyethyl methacrylate (HEMA), which was then used for making soft contact lenses, and trialled these lenses in his own eyes in 1957. Subsequent developments such as using spin casting for making contact lenses, rather than cast molding, helped develop contact lenses further.
Otto Wichterle worked within the authoritarian regimes that at various times controlled the Czech Republic. During this time, he received little financial remuneration from his invention and was forbidden to travel. He was also jailed. When Communist rule collapsed in 1989, Professor Wichterle was elected to head the Czechoslovak Academy of Science, and when the country split, he became the first President of the Academy of the Czech Republic.
Otto Wichterle worked tirelessly in support of industry and the research community as a whole, and accepted the position of Patron to the ISCLR in 1978. The ISCLR is proud to have Professor Wichterle as its Patron. His high quality research, his vision and his humanitarianism provide an ideal example to all involved in contact lens research.