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Adolf Eugen Fick (1852-1937)

Adolf Fick was a German doctor and physiologist. He invented the first contact lenses worn by patients, in 1888.

Fick’s parents died just five years after he was born, so he was brought up by his uncle and namesake, a physiologist who researched vision. Fick was inspired to take up medicine, and studied at the Wurzberg Academy where his uncle taught physiology.

In 1879, Fick contracted tuberculosis. He and his family emigrated to South Africa, where they hoped the climate would cure his illness. Fick’s wife Marie contracted typhoid there, so the family returned to Europe.

In 1886, Fick practised as an ophthalmologist in Zurich, Switzerland. Two years later, he started designing contact lenses, and experimented by fitting his first lenses on rabbits. They were made out of thin glass and had large lenses that sat across the whole eye. Fick also used plaster casts of human eyes taken from cadavers to make his glass lens moulds. He tested his lenses on himself, before fitting six patients with them. He was only able to wear his contact lenses for a few hours because they caused irritation to the eyes.

It is estimated over 125 million people worldwide use contact lenses.

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Bibliography

N Efron and R Pearson, ‘Centenary Celebration of Fick's Eine Contactbrille’, Arch Ophthalmology,106 (1988), pp 1370-77

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