Thomas Young was an eminent physicist who had also studied medicine from 1793-1796 at London’s St Bartholomew’s Hospital, followed by Edinburgh and Gottingen. He could read by the age of two and knew Latin by the age of six. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1800 published his ‘Experiments on Sound and Light’. Young gave Bakerian Lectures ‘On the Theory of Light and Colours’ and ‘Experiments and Calculations Relative to Physiological Optics’, retiring from medical practice in 1814 to devote more time to science. He investigated the size of molecules and surface tension in liquids. The elasticity of materials is still defined by Young’s modulus. All of these have had application in the development of modern contact lens materials.

Young discovered both the cause of astigmatism and that the cornea was not involved in accommodation. He also first postulated the notion of neutralising the cornea with fluid:


“I take, out of a small botanical microscope, a double convex lens, of eight tenths radius and focal distance, fixed in a socket one fifth of an inch in depth; securing its edges with wax, I drop into the socket a little water, nearly cold, till three-fourths full, and then apply it to my eye, so that the cornea enters half way into it, and is every where in contact with the water. My eye immediately becomes presbyopic, and the refractive power of the lens, which is reduced by water to a focal length of about 16 tenths, is not sufficient to supply the place of the cornea, rendered inefficacious by the intervention of the water; but the addition of another lens, of five inches and a half focus, restores my eye to its natural state, and somewhat more.”


On Mechanisms of the eye. Bakerian lecture delivered November 27th 1800 published 1801 Phil Trans. R Soc. 16 23-88.

A Syllabus of a course of lectures on natural and experimental philosophy. W Savage for the Royal Institution London 1801.

A Course of Lectures on Natural Philosophy and the Mechanical Arts, 2 vols., London 1807.