Visionary: Ophthalmologist Richard Koplin '64 Has Improved the Lives of Millions
by Dan Edelen
One of the world’s foremost ophthalmologists and a visionary inventor, Richard Koplin ’64 has brought sight to the blind and improved the lives of millions worldwide. His work led to the development and commercialization of the corneal modeling technology that is now used worldwide to evaluate and treat LASIK refractive surgery patients. He has performed thousands of
refractive eye surgeries.
While he was in medical school at New York Medical College, Koplin was the first physician to demonstrate the use of pituitary replacement hormonal therapy in postpartum pituitary necrosis, a disorder of pregnancy. But with a grandfather who was Einstein’s ophthalmologist and a father, A.H. Koplin ’33, who was an Army
eye doctor, Koplin set his sights on vision.
One of his collaborations resulted in an ultrasound scan designed to provide cataract surgeons with efficient, accurate lens calculations. The instrument was sold with the first personal computer developed in the United States. As a result of his early achievements, Koplin was chosen to be a U.S. Food and Drug Administration monitor for the development of a procedure for transplanting a cornea. He went on to design several computer-driven optical diagnostic ultrasound tools and a surgical adhesive for cataract surgery. Koplin is president of Ophthalmic Consultants, which is centered at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, where he founded the Department of Bioengineering and Computer Science. He is also the founding director of the Eye and Ear Infirmary’s
Eye Trauma Center.
Koplin’s inventiveness manifested itself early in life. As a record breaking high school sprinter looking to find another gear as a member of the Lafayette track team, Koplin envisioned an ultra-light running shoe years before a waffle iron spawned Nike. “Latex gloves had just come out,” he recalls. “I got a local guy in
Easton to make plastic plates that I screwed some cleats into, then I wrapped these rubber-glove-like devices around them in a way that wrapped my foot. I was sure I was going to be the inventor of a great track shoe that would take
the world by storm.”
There was a problem. “The sheer force of the shoes moving on the track tore them apart,” he says. But failure is no enemy to Koplin. “I’m a risk-taker. I’m not saying failure doesn’t sting. I just look at it as part of the job. You have to be prepared
to fail more than you succeed.”
He did succeed in inventing a way to gather fish for a study by using an electric seine in the Bushkill Creek. He and Bernard Fried, now Kreider Professor Emeritus of Biology, discovered a new fish parasite and published two
papers on it.
Koplin volunteers with Achilles International, which enables people with disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics. He and a partner restored the vision in one eye of Pyambuugiin Tuul, a Mongolian who lost his sight in an industrial accident. Tuul went on to participate as a sighted runner in the Barcelona Olympics, the sole member of the Mongolian track and field team and the first Mongolian ever entered in an Olympic marathon. ■