Photo of Charles Kelman

Charles Kelman

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Medicine

For his innovations in cataract surgical technology resulting in reduced rehabilitation time for millions of Americans, significant savings, and the creation of a new industry.

Up until the mid-1960s cataracts– flaws in the lens that cloud the vision—required invasive surgery with a 10-day hospital stay and lengthy recovery. Today, it’s an outpatient procedure with many patients back to work the next day thanks to a procedure developed by ophthalmologist Charles Kelman.

Kelman was determined to figure out how to remove cataracts without having to take out the entire lens of the eye, which was then standard practice. In 1962, he invented the cryoprobe, which made it easier to remove the lens and cataracts by freezing them first — a technique still used in retina surgery.

Kelman was inspired by a visit to his dentist’s office when he had his teeth cleaned with an ultrasonic device. In 1967, he introduced a technique known as phacoemulsification that adapted ultrasonic technology. The method uses high-pitched sounds to help break up cataract tissue without damaging the surrounding eye. An estimated 10 million such procedures are performed worldwide each year, bringing sight back to many patients.