STEM History:

 Patricia Era Bath 


American Ophthalmologist, Laser Scientist, Humanitarian, and Inventor

Birth/Death Dates

 November 4, 1942 – May 30, 2019


As an ophthalmologist and laser scientist, Patricia Bath advocated for blindness prevention, treatment, and cure. She invented a device known as the Laserphaco Probe and a technique for cataract surgery known as Laserphaco. Bath’s Laserphaco Probe improves on the use of lasers to remove cataracts. The device, which quickly and nearly painlessly dissolves the cataract with a laser, irrigates and cleans the eye, and permits the easy insertion of a new lens, is used internationally to treat cataracts. Its use has restored vision to people who were blind for decades.

Bath, appointed as the first woman chair of ophthalmology in the United States at Drew-UCLA in 1983, was the first African American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose. The holder of five patents, Bath also founded the non-profit American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in Washington, D.C.

Educational Background

Hunter College (B.A.)

Howard University (M.D.)

Struggles this Innovator Overcame

In a published biography, Bath reported that sexism, racism, and relative poverty were all obstacles that she faced as a young girl growing up in Harlem. Bath recalled, “There were no women physicians I knew of, and surgery was a male-dominated profession; no high schools existed in Harlem, a predominantly black community; additionally, blacks were excluded from numerous medical schools and medical societies; and, my family did not possess the funds to send me to medical school.” [Bath said her mother scrubbed floors so she could go to medical school.]

Problems this Innovator Solved

Bath’s invention, the Laserphaco Probe, has helped restore vision to people who had been unable to see for decades. Bath recalled that her “personal best moment” occurred on a humanitarian mission to North Africa when she restored the sight of a woman who had been blind for thirty years by implanting a keratoprosthesis. “The ability to restore sight is the ultimate reward,” she said.

How this inventor changed the world (or at least their corner of it)

The Laserphaco Probe is used internationally to remove cataracts. The device has helped restore vision to people who were blind for decades. Bath holds five patents in the United States. Three of Bath’s five patents relate to the Laserphaco Probe. In 2000, she was granted a patent for a pulsed ultrasound method for removing cataracts. In 2003, she was granted a patent for combining laser and ultrasound to remove cataracts.

Lasting changes from this inventor’s work or how they trailblazed

Today, Bath’s Laserphaco Probe is used in hospitals around the world. It has restored sight to many individuals who were previously blind.

Bath has been honored by two universities. Hunter College placed her in its “Hall of Fame” in 1988. Howard University declared her a “Howard University Pioneer in Academic Medicine” in 1993.