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Ophthalmic inventor, world expert, visionary

Prescott, USA, 3 October 2013: Behind the scenes of any profession, there are great people. It is difficult to imagine where some industries would be without those who helped shape them. For vision science, without the dedication and inspiration from the likes of Dr Tom N. Cornsweet, it would possibly be a very different profession.

When you have a career that spans more than 50 years, and you have been at the forefront of optical research and progression, it’s impossible to summarise your achievements on one sheet of paper. This would definitely be the case if you were the inventor behind the world’s first commercially available auto-refractor and the first automated fundus camera. We can only wait for the next instalment to Dr Cornsweet’s impressive résumé, and we hopefully won’t have to wait too long.

Currently, working alongside the Brien Holden Vision Institute, Dr Cornsweet is spearheading a project that will bridge the gap between patient and practitioner in developing communities throughout the world to assist in the detection of blinding eye diseases. But, before we begin to look into the future, it’s important to recognise Dr Cornsweet’s achievements to date.

An academic powerhouse

Having graduated from Cornell University (USA) in 1951, he enrolled on a postgraduate course at Brown University.  He gained a Ph.D. in 1955 following his dissertation on experimental psychology involving small movements of the eye. Dr Cornsweet then spent four years as an Assistant Professor at Yale University before taking up the roles of Associate Professor and then Professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. In the following years he taught at Stanford, Baylor College of Medicine, and UC-Irvine, where he is Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Sciences, Electrical Engineering, and Ophthalmology.

Widely published

With over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and  five book chapters, Dr Cornsweet has been widely published in scientific and technical readings. He is also known for his pioneering book, Visual Perception.

A prolific Inventor

During his career, Dr Cornsweet has been a prolific inventor and has over 40 patents to his name, many for ophthalmic imaging technologies. A major innovation, a key optometric advance, was his work creating the world’s first commercially available auto-refractor. This cutting-edge development measured a patient's refractive error and prescription for glasses or contact lenses. He also invented the first automated fundus camera, an important diagnostic tool that detects various eye conditions including diabetic retinopathy. A fundus camera is a standard piece of equipment used in everyday optometric practice.


Dr Cornsweet is heavily decorated having been awarded a Distinguished Teaching Citation from UC Berkeley and the Charles F. Prentice Medal Award from the American Academy of Optometry. He has also been given three awards by NASA, for ‘outstanding achievement’.

Looking to the future

Dr Cornsweet is currently Chief Scientist at Brien Holden Vision Diagnostics who design high-quality medical devices that can easily and conveniently detect and screen diseases. Dr Cornsweet’s latest collaboration is the high-resolution Retinal Imaging System which will screen Aboriginal communities in rural areas, who are twice as likely to have never seen an eye care provider. This ground-breaking innovation, which will help reduce avoidable blindness in Australia, will significantly reduce false referrals, lowering healthcare and social costs - assisting government in Aboriginal health policy development. It is also hoped that this model will be adopted by health systems worldwide.

“Many of us followed Dr Cornsweet’s innovative work during our training years”, said Professor Arthur Ho, Chief Technologies of the Brien Holden Vision Institute, “But working directly with Tom is even so much more inspiring.” He continued “It is really exciting to be involved with his group in this range of diagnostic systems.”

Professor Brien Holden, CEO of the Brien Holden Vision Institute, said: “Dr Cornsweet has been an inspiration to vision science. We are delighted to be in partnership with him and his team, developing the Retinal Imaging System which will help healthcare workers reduce preventable blindness in remote areas worldwide. He has given much to the profession over a very distinguished career.”


Notes to editors:

1.    Brien Holden Vision Institute believes in vision for everyone...everywhere. The Institute is a global multidisciplinary research, development, commercialisation, education and public health organisation, focused on developing breakthrough vision correction and eye care solutions that will improve the quality of vision people experience, prevent blindness and deliver equity in eye care access worldwide. Share the vision:

2.    Brien Holden Vision Diagnostics is a majority owned commercial enterprise of Brien Holden Vision Institute focusing on the design, manufacture, and sale of affordable, easy to use, high-quality devices to detect and measure the progression of eye diseases and other chronic conditions. Our first product is an affordable retinal imaging system.

3.    Just under half of all Australians, and 80% of Aboriginal Australians, with diabetes do not have the annual eye examinations needed to detect diabetic retinopathy and the rates of undiagnosed glaucoma are much higher in rural areas than in urban areas.



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