Soon after optical munitions work began at the Commonwealth Solar Observatory (CSO), R. v.d.R. Woolley realised that he needed more physicists. He asked T.H. Laby for help with the rapidly increasing work load; and Laby responded by sending him two of his research students. James Dooley was one.
Dooley was fortunate to live in the Bachelors' Quarters at the CSO on Mount Stromlo, along with S.G. 'Ben' Gascoigne, N.A. Chamberlain, F. Lord and K. Gottlieb.
Of all the CSO staff, Dooley was the only one to join a military unit. He was a young man and felt a great need to serve his country in the front-line, not as a physicist. Woolley sympathised with Dooley's eagerness and helped him to slip away and join an anti-aircraft unit in New Guinea. However, it was noticed that Dooley was a physics graduate and he was sent back to Australia (physics graduates were a reserved occupation and were not allowed to enlist as their services were needed at home).
Dooley then spent time working on newly-developed radar equipment, and later returned to the CSO, where he continued with optical munitions work.
After the war, Dooley left the CSO and joined the Commonwealth Mineral Resources Survey (later the Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics), as N.G. Chamberlain had also done.