Robert B. Mandell attended the University of Southern California and matriculated at the Los Angeles College of Optometry in 1953, only 5 years after the corneal contact lens was invented. At the time, the clinical program in contact lenses was an elective and limited to one-third of his class. His instructors were Robert Graham, one of the first practitioners to fit corneal contact lenses, and Max Schapero, who encouraged Mandell to pursue graduate studies.
After receiving his OD degree, he wanted to gain a year’s experience somewhere outside of California, where he had spent all of his early life. He chose the graduate program at Indiana University, where he also worked as an assistant to Dr. Neal Bailey. The Director of the Optometry Program, Dr. Henry Hofstetter, encouraged him to continue for his PhD. degree in Vision Science. Dr. Mandell’s one year plan evolved into five years of dedicated study.
During his graduate work, Dr. Mandell developed an interest in corneal topography. His contribution had considerable influence on the early design of contact lenses and an understanding of the contact lens fitting process. As part of his studies, he built what is probably the most accurate corneal topographer ever constructed.
He also built the first portable photokeratoscope, which he used for animal studies and the first accurate measurements of human infant corneal topography, including his four-day old daughter. He showed that a small cylindrical target could achieve high accuracy, and the design became the prototype for the targets now used in modern corneal topographers.
Altogether, Mandell published a total of 157 papers over a period of 46 years. The subjects included corneal topography, corneal physiology, tear function, contact lens optics, contact lens design and many other subjects.
He is best known for his classic textbook, Contact Lens Practice, first published in 1965 and reprinted 14 times in 4 editions, the last in 1988. In his book, he introduced many of his previously unpublished experiments and concepts. He drew upon his photography knowledge by personally taking most of the photographs used for figure illustrations.
He organized the first workshop of the Association of Contact Lens Educators. He was the first optometrist to serve on The National Institutes of Health Planning Committee, Panel on Refractive Problems and Contact Lenses, 1977-78
Dr. Mandell was the recipient of the two most prestigious awards in his field, the Max Schapero Award by the American Academy of Optometry and the Kinsey Award Lecture by the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists. He was also recognized for his contributions to the contact lens industry by receiving its highest award, the Dallos Award of the Contact Lens Manufacturers Association. He received numerous other awards from various organizations and in 1998 he was selected by the Review of Optometry as the decade’s most influential person in the field of contact lenses.
Dr. Mandell was a faculty member of the University of California, School of Optometry for a period of 32 years. At one time or another he taught over half of the courses in the Optometry curriculum. After his retirement in 1994 he continued to teach classes for several years and remained a staunch supporter of the school.