In the 1950s, the chemist Otto Wichterle researched materials that could be used to make contact lenses. Until then only very irritating and uncomfortable lenses were available. His collaborator Drahoslav Lím developed a gel that absorbed water well and could be shaped. Wichterle was convinced that it would soon be possible to use this material for the production of soft contact lenses, but the Ministry of Health stopped the research because it was said to be ineffective. However, Wichterle did not give up, and when he was at home with his family on Christmas day in 1961 he thought of using a children's building set. He assembled a "lens machine" from sheet metal pieces and cast the first four lenses on it. It was immediately clear to him that this would be the right way. Interest in his ever-improving lens grew, and in 1963 the invention was patented. Two years later, the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences signed a license agreement with the American National Patent Development Corporation.
Cake from a pot
Stubbornness also helped the electrician Oldřich Homut. In the early 1950s, he went to Sweden, where he was fascinated by an electric pot in which soup or meat could be cooked. After returning to Czechoslovakia, he thought about how to improve this practical tool. Homuta developed the first prototype Remoska in 1957. It is a small portable oven with a lid. Heat radiates from above and at the sides, thanks to which the food does not burn inside. This skilled kitchen helper was soon bought by housewives all over Czechoslovakia. When they went to a summer apartment with their family, they could not only cook the main course, but also bake a cake in this electric pot. After the Czechoslovak border opened in 1989, Remoska began being sold abroad, and in 2001 Prince Charles received one for his birthday. This practical pot found its place in 5 million households worldwide. You can see it in the National Technical Museum in Prague, where you will see not only the Remoska, but also Otto Wichtterle's lens machine and a number of other innovations by Czech inventors.
The Czech DIY tradition also helped during the coronavirus crisis. The entrepreneur Josef Průša invented a protective shield for healthcare professionals and carers. He has been interested in various inventions since childhood. While studying at the University of Economics, he began to focus on 3D printers. He knew that it was a progressive field that could gain many supporters in the Czech Republic, but the printers at the time were too large and unaffordable for do-it-yourselfers. Průša developed a smaller and cheaper type and soon gained thousands of clients throughout the country and abroad. In 2012, he founded Prusa Research a.s., which was named the fastest growing technology company in Central Europe six years later. Seven years later, the successful entrepreneur built a printing "farm" in Prague, where a thousand printers work simultaneously, which earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Since the coronavirus crisis began in spring 2020, Průša and his team have been in action. He immediately understood that hospital staff needed maximum practical protection, so he designed a plastic shield that could be made on a 3D printer. Průša published instructions on the Internet, which were downloaded free of charge by 250,000 do-it-yourselfers from all over the world enabling them to print shields for paramedics. In less than three months, Průša's team produced 160,000 shields, which he donated to hospital and social services staff.
An unusual bottle
However, original ideas not only arise in companies and help during times of pandemics is also offered by experts at universities. In mid-March, the Czech nuclear physicist and rector of the Czech Technical University, Vojtěch Petráček, published a video showing how a protective mask can be made from an ordinary plastic bottle. He and his colleagues soon came up with a more sophisticated model. The main part is made of a snorkelling mask, to which a filter is connected. The advantage is that this protective device covers the entire face and is 99 percent effective. Vojtěch Petráček's university team also developed the CoroVent lung ventilator and provided a temporary license free of charge so that it could be manufactured by individuals or companies in the Czech Republic and abroad. This device has similar features as the ventilator used in hospitals, but is easier to operate. Engineers from the Technical University of Liberec also aimed for simplicity, presenting handles made on 3Dprinters to the public. This device enables hospital staff to open doors without touching their palms but by elbow, reducing the potential for infection.