Czech inventors

Otto Wichterle


Otto WichterleOtto WichterleOtto Wichterle was born on the 27th of October 1913 in the Moravian town of Prostějov to the family of a co-owner of a successful farm-machinery plant. However, young Otto chose science for his career. After graduation he stayed on at the university and in 1939 he submitted his second doctorate thesis on chemistry, but the wartime Protectorate regime blocked any further activity at the university. Otto Wichterle was able to continue in his scientific work, however, by joining the research institute at the Baťa works in Zlín, where he also taught those who could not study after the German occupants closed all Czech institutes of higher education.

After the war, Otto Wichterle was appointed professor of macromolecular chemistry at the Czech Technical University. In 1952 he was made a corresponding member of the newly constituted Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences and earlier that year he had been made dean at one of the faculties of the newly established University of Chemical Technology. Universities were under a great deal of scrutiny at that time, however, and during one political purge in 1958, Otto Wichterle was expelled from the university.

'Lens machine' made from condtruction set Merkur'Lens machine' made from condtruction set Merkur The Academy and the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry, which was established largely thanks to his efforts, became the centre for Otto Wichterle's work. There he continued in his research into the use of hydrogels, which later gave birth to the first gel contact lenses in 1961. Professor Otto Wichterle, used the metal construction set Merkur for children to construct his "cockostroj" or "lens machine" to make the first pair of contact lenses. It was on Christmas Eve and he had nothing else about the house but Merkur. Using a small dynamo and a small motor he built this primitive machine and produced the lenses.

Otto WichterleOtto Wichterle Because of his open activities during 1968 and particularly after the August Soviet-led occupation, the "normalisation" regime punished Otto Wichterle by removing him from his executive positions and by gradually making his research work more difficult.

After the fall of communism, Otto Wichterle was appointed President of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences at the age of 76. He died in August, 1998.