UC Berkeley press release

NEWS RELEASE, 10/11/96

Irving Fatt, specialist in contact lens physiology and professor emeritus of optometry at UC Berkeley, has died at the age of 76

by Robert Sanders

Berkeley -- Irving Fatt, a University of California at Berkeley chemist who contributed to many fields, including basic work on contact lenses, died Oct. 5 of cancer at his home in Berkeley.

A professor emeritus of engineering science in the College of Engineering and of physiological optics in the School of Optometry, he was 76.

Fatt's life-long interest was the flow of fluids through small pores, a specialty he applied to the flow of petroleum through porous rock, the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide through the cornea, and the flow of tears around contact lenses.

"He took the ideas he had developed about transport through porous media and applied them to understanding the physiology of the eye," said Clayton J. Radke, UC Berkeley professor of chemical engineering. "He was also a tinkerer, and until last year was still working in a lab he set up in his basement at home."

Fatt is perhaps best known for the work he did in the 1970s on contact lenses, when they first saw widespread use and problems began popping up. He developed an oxygen probe to measure oxygen flow to the cornea, and showed that for impermeable lenses made of polymethyl methacrylate, blinking was essential to bring oxygen-filled tears under the lens to nourish the cornea and allow normal functioning.

He also developed the concepts that led to today's soft and gas permeable contact lenses, which allow oxygen through to nourish the eye directly and allow longer wear. Until recently he operated the only independent laboratory equipped to evaluate new materials developed by industry for contact lenses.

"Irv's early basic science work on the physiology of the cornea provided the basis for many critical advances in the contact lens field, " said Anthony J. Adams, dean of the School of Optometry at UC Berkeley.

Fatt received many awards for his contributions to the fields of petroleum engineering, physiology and contact lens technology. Among those for his work with contact lenses were the Charles F. Prentice Award and the Founders Award from the American Academy of Optometry, the Herschel Medal of the International Society of Contact Lens Specialists, the Ruben Medal of the International Society for Contact Lens Research, the Dallos Award of the Contact Lens Manufacturers Assn., and a Gold Medal from the British Contact Lens Assn.

Born in Chicago (d.o.b. 9/16/20), Fatt graduated from Crane Technical High School in 1938 before moving to Los Angeles, where he attended Caltech. During World War II he served with the Air Force (1942-46) and graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant from the Air Force Technical School at Yale University before serving at various air bases in the U.S. and the Pacific.

After the war he attended UCLA, from which he graduated with a BS (1947) and MS (1948) in chemistry. While working as a reseach chemist at Chevron in La Habra, Calif., he began teaching petroleum engineering at the University of Southern California, eventually enrolling in their graduate program and obtaining his PhD in chemistry in 1955.

Fatt came to UC Berkeley in 1957 as an assistant professor of mineral technology, teaching petroleum engineering. He went on to create the bioengineering undergraduate and graduate programs in the College of Enginering in 1964, and served as assistant dean for graduate studies of the College from 1962 until 1966.

In 1967 he began collaborating with R. M. Hill in the School of Optometry, and by 1970 was teaching in the school. He eventually served as associate dean of the School, and then acting dean in 1978-79. Upon his retirement in 1984 he was awarded Berkeley's highest honor, the Berkeley Citation.

Among his more than 200 publications was the book Physiology of the Eye (1948), which was revised with B. A. Weissman for a second edition in 1993. He was a member of Sigma Xi, the American Chemical Society and the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers, among others.

Fatt also was an avid sailor and boater, and a member of the Berkeley Yacht Club for more than two decades. He once wrote a small book on celestial navigation for the recreational sailor.

Fatt is survived by his wife Constance Ruben of Berkeley, a daughter Lois E. White of Cassel, Calif., and two brothers, Paul Fatt of London and Milton Fatt of Long Beach, Calif.

The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Sam Ruben and Irv Fatt Memorial Fund for Graduate Education in the College of Chemistry at UC Berkeley, or to a charity of choice.

Two memorial services are planned. At UC Berkeley a memorial is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 24, at 3:30 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Faculty Club. At the Berkeley Yacht Club a memorial is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 27, at 3 p.m.

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