Published on 15/10/2021
Eye Aston University


•    The CooperVision Future Ocular Research Creativity Event (FORCE) aims to inspire excellence in research

•    Ishvinder Bahra and Charis Hedges won for their joint project on the optimization of blink exercises to improve dry eye symptoms

•     The winners will present their papers at the Netherlands Contact Lens Congress in Veldhoven in March 2022.

Two optometry students from Aston University have been named as winners of the CooperVision 2021 FORCE Student of the Year competition.

Run annually by CooperVision, the Future Ocular Research Creativity Event (FORCE) brings together students from universities across Europe with the aim of inspiring excellence in research and developing their knowledge base.

Ishvinder Bahra and Charis Hedges from Aston University took the 2021 title, while Marika Martena, from the University of Salento in Italy, received the 2020 Student of the Year accolade.

The final took place virtually, bringing together finalists from the 2020 competition (cancelled last year as a result of the pandemic) and the 2021 final.

The finalists, from eight countries across Europe, presented their research projects related to contact lens and the anterior eye to a panel of four judges.

Bahra and Hedges received the recognition for their joint research project on ‘optimisation of blink exercises within the Blinkful app’.

Noting that the need for improved blinking appears to have increased during the pandemic, particularly with symptoms such as mask-associated dry eye, Bahra and Hedges evaluated the Blinkful app, which was developed at Aston University to help with blink exercises. The app can be programmed to notify users to carry out bursts of blinking at intervals through the day.

Using data from 98 users with dry eye symptoms, the pair found that symptoms improved overall with the use of the app and suggested that the optimum exercise was 15 repeats of blinking, three times per day, while the addition of a forced squeeze did not appear to be beneficial.

They concluded that the new app could help patients with dry eye disease and be beneficial for contact lens wearers experiencing discomfort. Further research is planned.

Competition judge, Dr Stefan Bandlitz, senior lecturer at Cologne School of Optometry in Germany, commented: “The topic is one we deal with in everyday practice and the study was well-designed and conducted in an impressive way.”

Charis Hedges said: “Ishvinder and I were truly thrilled when they announced our project as the winner. We believed all the talks were so informative and I learnt a lot by taking part.”

Ishvinder Bahra added: “Being able to win the competition and knowing that all the hard work and effort we put into the presentation had been worthwhile, was incredible. It was a fantastic experience being able to network with the board members of CooperVision and the other students from different universities.”

The winners of this year’s FORCE competition will present their papers at the Netherlands Contact Lens Congress in Veldhoven in March 2022.

Fabio Carta, EMEA professional services manager for CooperVison, said: “I am so happy to know that there are people across Europe who have the skills to drive our profession forward through the 21st century. They are truly an inspiration to us.”


Notes to editors

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long-established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the University’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.


Aston University was named University of the Year 2020 by The Guardian and the University’s full time MBA programme has been ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking. The Aston MBA has been ranked 12th in the UK and 85th in the world. The University also has TEF Gold status in the Teaching Excellence Framework. 


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