This material is prototype soft contact lens material, invented by Otto Wichterle. The substance is Polyhydroxyethyl methacrylate (pHEMA). There are two circular pieces of the material, one large and one small. They are accompanied by a card which reads “The original Czech. / Soft lens material / 1965”. This sample was given to Eugene Hirst by Professor Otto Wichterle during one of his early lecture tours in Czechoslovakia circa 1967.
pHEMA is hydrophilic – it absorbs water, meaning the material is comfortable enough to wear on the eye all day. It is also permeable, allowing oxygen to pass through to the eye. This was particularly significant because hard contact lenses did not allow the eye to “breathe”, so they were only able to be worn for short periods while the soft is able to be worn all day, with the eye remaining healthy.
The original Czech. / Soft lens material / 1965 Hand-written
Otto Wichterle. Prototype for Soft Contact Lens (pHEMA), 2018.1.4. The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).
First Contact: Eugene Hirst and New Zealand’s Innovative History of Contact Lens Production