Today marks the 104th anniversary of the birth of the outstanding Czech scientist and legendary inventor of the contact lens and the synthetic fibre "silon", Professor Otto Wichterle, who died in 1998.
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 his scientific work, however, by joining the research institute at the Bata works in Zlin, 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. During one political purge in 1958, Otto Wichterle was expelled from the university. The Academy and the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry, which was established largely thanks to his efforts, became the center for Otto Wichterle's work. There he continued his research into the use of hydrogels, which later gave birth to the first gel contact lenses in 1961.
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.