Steve Newman, innovator and genius
In my 35 years working in contact lens practice, I can honestly say that I have not met anyone as brilliant or amazing as my good friend Steve Newman. Originally trained and employed as a cartographer, Steve began his career in contact lenses because of a personal interest in contact lens wear. More precisely, Steve could not understand why no one could develop a toric soft contact lens that would successfully correct his high degree of astigmatism. Working at Hydron Contact Lenses in Australia during the 1980s, Steve pioneered many contact lens related technologies on behalf of Hydron. With respect to toric soft lens prescribing, the two most important were dynamically stabilized toric lenses and the use of lasers in the marking of contact lenses for the purposes of toric axis location. Both of these innovations greatly improved the success rate in toric soft lens fitting throughout the world, such that many challenging patients with significant degrees of astigmatism – such as Steve! – can now happily wear toric soft lenses.
In 1987 Steve was a co-founder (with his good friend and another brilliant contact lens innovator, the late Don Noack) and director of Capricornia Contact Lenses in Queensland which today is still one of the major contact lens laboratories in Australia. At Capricornia, he was responsible for the design and establishment of the soft and hard lens manufacturing facility and it was during this time that I got to know Steve very well in my role as Head of Contact Lens Teaching Clinics at the University of Melbourne. Steve was always very supportive of the teaching program at the University, both in terms of financial support from this company and in the giving of his time to present lectures to the undergraduate students. I also did not hesitate to ‘pick his brain’ at every possible on all aspects of contact lens design as I will still relatively new to this area of optometric practice as that time.
After leaving Capricornia in 1997, Steve has continued to work in the contact lens industry in Asia, Europe and the USA. His contributions to contact lens practice over the last 20 years or so have been immense and when writing a blog about Steve it is probably easier to list what he hasn’t done! Having said that, some – but definitely not all – of his innovations (often developed in conjunction with other brilliant researchers) include soft paediatric aphakic lenses, prosthetic lens tinting, diffractive soft bifocal lenses, aberration type contact lens designs, disposable contact lenses and a unique tooling design process that significantly improved moulding and parts accuracy in cast moulding lines. During his career Steve also branched into intraocular lens (IOL) design and production of same, particularly in the area of adaptive IOLs.
Two of Steve’s inventions warrant special mention. First, in 2006 while working with Clearlab International Pty Ltd, Steve developed a new flat pack packaging designed to revolutionise the usage of disposable contact lenses. The patented packaging has now won virtually every major design award in the world. This flat pack technology was subsequently acquired by Menicon Co Ltd and Steve joined that company to lead the research team that was to fully develop the flat pack and daily process. The flat pack measures an astonishing thickness of just 1 mm, about the same as a credit card. As the world’s flattest and most compact lens pack, it offers unprecedented convenience for storage and carrying. The flat-pack’s unique design is also highly hygienic due to Menicon’s SmartTouch technology. Besides ensuring easy lens removal, it exposes the outer surface of the lens first, reducing the possibility of touching the inner surface of the lens and therefore the risk of bacteria or debris from coming into contact with the eye. In Australia, the Miru 1 Day Upside lens has just been launched by Menicon and it is the first silicone hydrogel daily disposable to incorporate this flat pack packaging with the SmartTouch technology.
Steve is currently Chief Technology Officer and Executive Officer of Menicon Global Research and Development and his other recent brilliant innovation involves taking the moulds that are used to make the disposable contact lenses and recycling them using a special grinding and blending process into the plastic secondary boxes in which the daily disposable contact lenses are stored. These storage packs can then be recycled into other products later in their lifestyle. Steve developed this process as he became aware that most patients were throwing their boxes away as they became wet in the bathrooms (where they were mainly being used) so he designed this recycled waterproof pack made from the plastic contact lens moulds that was still environmentally friendly. As the title states, he is a genius and an innovator. He is also the same friendly guy who will come over and give you a big hug whenever he sees you at a conference or other similar event.