History of the Contact Lens and Visual Optics Laboratory


The CLVOL was established around 1990 in the Centre for Eye Research at QUT. In those days, the school, clinic and research labs were at Gardens Point Campus beside the Brisbane River. We had been successful in being awarded 3 years funding from both the ARC (Collins, Brown and Atchison. Visual display terminals and accommodation/vergence efficiency. 1990-1992) and NHMRC (Collins and Brown. Monovision contact lenses: Predicting success and visual performance. 1990-1992). Vicki Shuley helped us to run the clinical monovision studies along with her teaching in the optometry clinic. She went on to become the much loved and respected director of the optometry clinic.

We also recruited some new staff to get the laboratory experiments up and running. They were Brett Davis (a recent Physics graduate from QUT), James Christensen (a recent Science graduate from Griffith University, right centre) and Andrew Goode (a recent QUT optometry graduate, left centre). I enforced a strict dress code in CLVOL in the early years. Andrew Goode had artistic talent and we asked him to create the CLVOL logo for us. Andrew always said that he never got to finish the logo properly before we started using it, but it has endured unchanged for 25 years and still looks good. Andrew went on to develop a successful career as a television and movie animator and web page designer. James has remained in the optical industry and now manages the OptiMed company.

James Christensen worked with us to develop the aberroscope technique for the objective measurement of wavefront aberrations of the eye, employed initially from a QUT grant (Wildsoet, Collins and Atchison. Aberrations: Their role in refractive error development. 1989). The aberroscope grid was donated to us by Howard Howland, who was visiting Christine Wildsoet and the analysis software was provided by Ray Applegate. These gifts got us started on the path of studying the visual optics of the eye and later contact lenses, but without Howard and Ray’s generosity this would not have been possible. This taught us an important lesson, that science progresses more effectively when we share our knowledge and techniques with other scientists and CLVOL has tried to live up to that standard in the subsequent years.

The early studies we conducted with the aberroscope were exciting times. By inducing accommodation in the fellow eye, we were the first to be able to measure in detail the changes in the eye’s wavefront during accommodation. The aberroscope grid was projected onto the retina and photographed with “fast” film and later push-processed in our darkroom (Kodak Tmax 400 pushed to ISO 2400). We would gather around the strips of film negatives and peer at the distorted grid patterns trying to discern if the photography was successful. We dreamed about being able to afford the first ever 1 megapixel Kodak digital camera (more than $20k) that would allow us to see the image in real time. Within a few years, Liang and Williams had published the first use of Hartmann Shack wavefront sensors for eye research and the aberroscope quickly became obsolete.

Brett Davis was employed to work on the development of methods to continuously measure accommodation for our ARC grant. We purchased a second hand autorefractor, the free space Canon Autoref R1 from Hong Kong and Brett set about converting the instrument from its static single shot mode to a continuous optometer (based on papers recently published by a research group in the UK – Pugh, Eadie and Winn). The Canon R1 became the mainstay of many exciting research projects over the subsequent years examining the dynamics of accommodation microfluctuations and factors influencing accommodation accuracy. That second hand Canon R1 finally stopped working twenty years later after serving CLVOL with distinction. Brett has outlasted the Canon R1 and the excellence of his work as a scientist has been one of the major foundations of the lab’s ongoing success.

In 1990 the Australian Government announced a new funding scheme to promote collaboration between Australian universities and industry, the Cooperative Research Centre scheme. Our lab was asked to join a consortium with the CCLRU, CSIRO and five other university groups to form the Cooperative Research Centre for Eye Research and Technology. Brien Holden’s drive and vision pulled the partners together into a successful bid. The CLVOL was a member of the CRCERT till 2001, working mostly on the visual optics of contact lens designs, and importantly learning how to work in partnership with industry. Along with Brett, James and Andrew we also had Jim Loughridge and Alan Tait helping us part-time with clinical and lab studies and George Racz worked on a number of engineering and software development projects with us during these years.

Our interest in the topography of the cornea started with a grant from the NHMRC (Carney, Collins and Atchison. The influence of corneal topography on visual performance. 1994-1995). Leo Carney had run his own successful research labs in Melbourne (UM) and Ohio (OSU) before coming to QUT and we always enjoyed working with him, his knowledge and mentorship were greatly valued. Nicole Carkeet worked on this NHMRC project and we used our new TMS videokeratoscope, one of the first corneal topographers, to investigate the optical consequences of corneal optics on vision. The topography and optics of the cornea has remained an ongoing theme in the lab ever since.

We developed a close cooperation with our local contact lens manufacturer Capricornia and in particular we found a kindred research spirit in Steve Newman, who managed the laboratory. We worked together on many projects (Brown, Collins and Newman. Asphericity, ocular aberrations and contact lens design. Australian Research Grants Scheme.1988; Cooperative Research Centre for Eye Research and Technology, Asia lens project 1991-1995; Collins, Carney and Newman. Contact lens dynamics. ARC Collaborative Grant Scheme, 1997-1999). Steve taught us a lot about the design principles and manufacture of contact lenses and he has gone on to have a stellar career in the contact lens industry, now as Chief Technology Officer and Executive Officer, Global R&D, Menicon Co Ltd, Japan.

Since 1998, CLVOL has partnered with Johnson and Johnson Vision Care Inc. (JJVC based in Jacksonville, Florida) on a range of exciting projects related to the development of contact lenses and this work has been a major component of the labs research during this time. This enduring collaboration has been built on an open exchange of ideas and has provided a challenging set of scientific problems for our lab in areas such as visual optics, refractive error development, biomechanics and ocular imaging. Working with industry has many benefits, but publicly discussing your research is not one of them. The patent literature shows some of our areas of collaboration. Over 19 years we have developed a close working relationship and friendships with many of the scientists at JJVC.

Ross Franklin joined the lab in 1999 and worked primarily on JJVC projects, particularly in the field of visual optics and contact lens design. His insight and drive was responsible for many of the successes in these projects and also in many of the basic research developments in the lab. He now works at JJVC in Jacksonville, and we are lucky to continue to collaborate with him. Similarly Ben Straker joined CLVOL in 2007 and worked on various JJVC projects, developing some innovative imaging techniques and running many clinical studies. Ben too now works in Jacksonville with JJVC and we still see him regularly.

Our research interest in the dynamics of the tear film was boosted by a QUT initiative, the Strategic Collaborative Grant scheme (Collins, McElwain, Carney, Roberts, Iskander and Fulford. Eye dynamics: A joint mathematical and clinical approach. 2003-2004). This grant funded a collaboration between CLVOL and researchers from the School of Mathematics to model the dynamics of the tear film during and between blinks.

One of the strengths of CLVOL has always been the diversity of background knowledge and research skills that people have brought to the lab. A good research team needs people who think about the issues from different perspectives. We first worked with Robert Iskander in 1997 just after he had completed his PhD in signal processing and it soon became apparent to us that Rob brought some wonderful mathematical skills to the group along with his drive and enthusiasm for science. Rob worked with us for most of the next 13 years, taking a major role in developing our capacities to model retinal image quality, dynamic videokeratoscopy, dynamic wavefront analysis, image processing and biometry of the eye. He also played an important role in supervising many of our postgraduate students during this time. Rob is now a Professor of Biomedical Engineering in Wroclaw University of Technology in Poland and he and his wife and scientist Dorota Szczesna are still regular collaborators and visitors to CLVOL.

We have been lucky to have had many German optometry and engineering students come and spend time with us in CLVOL. Some have come for one semester practical sessions, where they mostly attend undergraduate classes and others have come to complete their diploma thesis research project (typically for 6 months). They have all been welcome visitors to the lab and two of them stayed on at CLVOL after their diploma projects, Stephanie Voetz (now Buehren) and Tobias Buehren. Stef worked on research projects with us while Tobi undertook his PhD and then worked on visual optics and myopia projects with us as a post-doc. They both did some excellent research in the lab and made important contributions to our basic and applied research. They returned to Jena in Germany and Stef now teaches optometry students part-time and Tobi is a senior research manager at Zeiss Pty Ltd.

A number of the outstanding PhD graduates from CLVOL have also stayed on in the lab as post-docs. Alyra Shaw, Scott Read, Steve Vincent, Fan Yi, David Alonso-Caneiro, Atanu Ghosh, Emily Woodman have all contributed to the ongoing research of CLVOL as post-doctoral fellows in the areas of visual optics, myopia, biomechanics and contact lens design. Fan has developed our adaptive optics laboratory that provides us with the capacity to quickly design and test complex optical designs. David Alonso-Caneiro has continued to develop novel methods for investigating tear dynamics, contact lens dynamics and novel image processing approaches to clinical images such as OCT images of the choroid.

Scott Read later became an academic within the school (now an Associate Professor) and continues to make an important contribution to CLVOL through his myopia research and postgraduate supervision. Of particular note was Scott’s ROAM project (Read. The role of outdoor activity in myopia development. ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) 2012-2014). He was helped in this landmark study by Steve Vincent and David Alonso-Caneiro which revealed for the first time the direct role of sunlight in influencing eye growth in children.

Steve Vincent has also been appointed as a Senior Lecturer in the school but continues to contribute to CLVOL through his research and postgraduate teaching. Along with his work on refractive error development and visual optics, Steve has also undertaken a series of important studies of scleral lens effects on the morphometry and physiology of the anterior eye.

Our postgraduate students have always been a major force in the success and progress of the science we undertake at CLVOL. Their hard work and dedication allows us to develop and test new ideas, which sometimes fail and sometimes work wonderfully. Our postgraduate students have been Steve Rostron (1989-91), Tom TenKate (1991-95), Michael Sydenham (1991-95), Wilfred Tang (1998-2001), Tobias Buehren (2000-03), Mingxia Zhu (2001-05), Russell Gillon (2001-06), Scott Read (2003-06), Alyra Shaw (2004-09), Fan Yi (2007-11), David Alonso-Caneiro (2007-11), Garima Tyagi (2008-11), Steve Vincent (2008-11), Shila Roshani (2009-11), Atanu Ghosh (2009-12), Ranjay Chakraborty (2010-13), Emily Woodman-Pieterse (2009-15), Beata Sander (2011-), Sekar Ulganathan (2014-), Samaneh Delshad (2014-), Hosein Hoseini (2014-), Hamed Neizmand (2016-), James Fuss (2017-) and Rohan Hughes (2017-).

The CLVOL continues to flourish with exciting new research projects and ideas surfacing on a regular basis. Pryntha Rajasingam and Brett Davis have been developing hardware and software modifications to enhance our capacity for scleral topography measurements. David Alonso-Caneiro, Hamish McNeill and Henry Kricanic have been developing a dual fluorescein and thermal imaging system for tear film assessment. Alyra Shaw, Brett Davis and Payel Chatterjee have been conducting high speed filming of blinking and contact lens dynamics. An Tran and Atanu Ghosh have been working with a head mounted eye tracking system to quantify eye movement patterns. Emily Pieterse and Fan Yi continue to run some exciting projects to measure the short term responses of choroidal thickness and axial length to blur. All of this research activity needs logistical management and this is provided by Cath Foster, who also takes care of our postgraduate students and acts as our interface to the university administration. Cath is a tireless worker, whose kindness and compassion is legendary within CLVOL.

The CLVOL is much more than a place where we work, it is the sum of the enthusiasm, hard work, integrity and friendship of the staff and students who have been a part of the history of CLVOL and those who are now members of CLVOL. We can be proud of what we have achieved together.

By Michael Collins
14th February 2017