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Patricia Bath b. 1942




Patricia Bath was born in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City in 1942. Her father was a subway train operator and her mother worked as a housekeeper when she wasn’t taking care of Patricia and her brother, so she could save money for her children’s education. Patricia’s parents always encouraged her to work hard in school, and her mother sparked her interest in science when she bought Patricia her first chemistry set.


Patricia was an outstanding math and science student in high school, and she discovered that she loved biology. When she was sixteen, cancer cell research she did at a workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation was so impressive that it was included in an academic paper. After earning a B.A. in chemistry, she attended Howard University’s College of Medicine, where she received her medical degree in 1967. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. that same year, she organized her fellow medical students to volunteer their time and talents to help people in their community who could not afford health care.


When Patricia Bath, now Dr. Bath, returned home to work at Harlem Hospital, she noticed there were more blind patients there than at a neighboring hospital where she also worked. She continued her education, doing a residency to become an ophthalmologist, which is an expert in eyes and vision. When Dr. Bath’s research demonstrated that certain groups of people suffered from more eye problems than others, she wanted to understand why and help address the problem. She set up an eye clinic at Harlem Hospital Center, where they started doing eye surgeries. In 1972, Patricia got married and had a daughter named Eraka.


After moving to Los Angeles, Dr. Bath continued working to improve surgical treatment for blind patients. She invented a medical device that dissolves cloudy lenses called cataracts, which can form on the eyes of older people. Once the cataracts are gone, new lenses can be put in. She patented four more devices for eye surgeries, and thanks to her inventions, people who were blind for decades were able to regain their eyesight. Throughout her career, Dr. Bath addressed issues in society that contributed to vision problems, such as poverty and inadequate access to health care. Dr. Patricia Bath was a partner of the American Institute of Blindness, whose motto is “Eyesight is a basic human right.” She died in 2019.


Dr. Bath’s contributions to surgical equipment and eye care are still used in eye clinics around the world every day.



Dr. Patricia Bath improved the lives of countless people with her inventions, such as medical devices for cataract surgery. Make binoculars with waxed paper lenses to experience for yourself how cataracts interfere with vision. See how replacing the cloudy lenses with a clear ones improves your sight.


  • Ruler
  • Paper towel roll
  • Scissors
  • Waxed paper or parchment paper
  • Clear plastic wrap
  • Rubber bands


1 Use a ruler to measure the length of the paper towel tube. Use scissors to make a notch at the center of the tube and cut the tube into two cylinders of equal length.

2 Cut two pieces of waxed paper or parchment paper into squares that will easily cover the openings at the ends of the tubes. Fig. 1, Fig. 2.


Fig. 1. Cut out parchment paper covers for the tubes.


Fig. 2. Make one for each eye.

3 Use rubber bands to attach the paper to the ends of the tubes and look through them as though you were looking through binoculars. How well can you see? Fig. 3.


Fig. 3. Look through the parchment paper “cataracts.”

4 Remove the waxed paper coverings.

5 Cut two squares of clear plastic wrap and use rubber bands to attach them to the ends of the tubes as you did with the waxed paper. Fig. 4.


Fig. 4. Remove the waxed paper and replace it with clear plastic.

6 Look through the tubes again and note the difference in your vision. This is similar to how vision changes for the better when cataracts are removed and replaced with clear lenses. Fig. 5, Fig. 6.


Fig. 5. Look through the tubes again.


Fig. 5. Note the difference in your vision.


Think about other medical devices that have improved the quality of life for people or extended their lifespans. How many can you name? Do you know anyone who has had a hip replacement, a pacemaker, or cataract surgery?


The lens in each of your eyes is suspended just behind the iris, which is the colorful part of your eye controlling the size of your pupil. Because it is a clear structure that focuses light onto the back of your eye to form images, a transparent lens is essential to good vision. Natural ocular (eye) lenses are made up of proteins and water.

The word cataract refers to the clouding of the lens. Cataracts usually occur in older people and form slowly, over time. People with cataracts often say they feel like they’re looking through a dusty or frosted window.

Fortunately, Patricia Bath and other inventors pioneered techniques for removing natural lenses with cataracts and replacing them with clear, artificial lenses made of silicone or acrylics. Today, cataract surgery is very common and restores the vision of millions of people each year.

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