The Giant's Eye: the Optical Munitions Exhibition Bright Sparcs Exhibition Papers

Optical instruments in Australia in the 1939-45 war:
successes and lost opportunities

H.C. Bolton, Department of Physics, Monash University, Victoria

Reproduced with permission from Australian Physicist Volume 27, Number 3, March 1990

The work of many University physicists in Australia during the 1939-45 war was channelled through the Optical Munitions Panel centred round T.H. Laby of Melbourne. An opportunity is taken here, not of giving details of the work but of comparing how it was organised compared with the development of radar in Australia. Looking back at this optical work, we can applaud its successes at the time and although there were scientific and commercial consequences we can regret that these were not as many as the effort deserved and reasons are suggested for this. Comparisons are made with similar work in Canada, Japan and New Zealand.


The work of Australian scientists in the war of 1939-45 has been admirably surveyed by Mellor (1958). Further details and a newer perspective have been given by Home (1988). Among the most successful work that physicists and engineers did was that of developing radar for Australian conditions and it is worth noting briefly how it was done to compare with the optical work. The radar grew out of fundamental studies of the ionosphere and radio propagation in the 1920s and 1930s in which many scientists were trained in Australia so that when in 1939 the UK radar technique was offered to Australia, there were trained workers ready to receive it. The consequences of this wartime work on radar were profound after the war, because the equipment could be adapted rapidly to make the early measurements in radio astronomy, a situation similar to that in the UK. The history of radio astronomy in Australia has been comprehensively studied (Sullivan 1984,1988). In broad terms this work on radar was performed by the CSIR Radiophysics Laboratory in Sydney and was Government-directed with a committment to a line of ideas.

When the UK offered the knowledge of radar to Australia there was a choice; should Australia take delivery of radar as it was or should she develop it for herself? Radar in the UK and indeed in crowded Western Europe was designed for its local geographical problems arising from short national boundaries and close countries, but Australia has a different problem with a long coastline and a scattered population. Also the war began in Europe in 1939 and the Japanese did not enter it until December 1941 so that the concept of local attack was at first not so important. The decision was made to undertake the research, development and manufacture of radar and there were far-reaching consequences. The technical problems in Australia required new solutions and they were found. More importantly, the scientific independence from the UK expressed in the decision engendered self-assurance and self-esteem.

There was thus a research climate created in which further impressive work was done, especially in radio astronomy using the same radar equipment. Solid ground on which to make the decision was created from the ten years' pure research of the Radio Research Board under T.H. Laby, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Melbourne and J. Madsen, Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Sydney. Melbourne concentrated on electrical atmospherics and Sydney on the ionosphere. This was exactly the right background against which the radar decision was sensibly taken. In science there can never be any avoidance of fundamental ideas; no-one knows the technological applications or the informed technical discussions that will have to be made. It is worth quoting from Mellor (1958 p.45), "There can be no doubt that Australian science made one of its most valuable contributions to the war effort by assisting the introduction of radar. That it was able to do so was to a large extent due to the sound foundations laid earlier by the Radio Research Board in training physicists and providing research facilities.... Few better illustrations could be found of the rewards that may come from scientific research undertaken in the first instance in the pursuit of knowledge alone".

The Australian work on radar was begun in the Radiophysics Laboratory of CSIR and there were many interchanges of personnel and ideas between Australia, UK, Canada and the USA, all of which must have strengthened the feeling of independence in Australia. The existence and the after-effects of these interchanges served after the war as a constant reminder to Australia of the world-wide scope of science and helped her away from her dependence on UK traditions of training and outlook. This work on radar helped to break the "Cambridge connection" that was so strong among the early physicists in Australia.

The Start Of The Optical Munitions Panel

The very successes of the work on radar both during the war and afterwards raises a question about the other major effort where physicists were employed, namely, in the work on optical instruments. Radar had drawn only a few university scientists into the war effort but the university physicists were eventually well-organized and the prime mover was T.H. Laby of Melbourne. In 1939 he was President of the Australian Branch, recently formed, of the Institute of Physics (IOP) and it is not an exaggeration to call him the leader of the community of physicists in Australia. In August 1939, just before the outbreak of war, he wrote to the Prime Minister, R.G. Menzies, to ask how University physicists could help in the coming war. Laby's character was built on devotion to the UK as the mother country and to Cambridge University as the source of all good science. When his research teacher Lord Rutherford died, Laby wrote an appreciation (1944). He said "Great as Rutherford was a physicist to me he was a still greater man; he rendered most valued service to science in all the member nations of the British Commonwealth". Laby felt himself an essential part of the Cambridge connection which he saw centred on Rutherford.

Laby was a master of "classical physics". He was a greal admirer of the Cambridge tradition of research with its emphasis on fundamental studies. Laby's scientific work had been largely a blend of the classical area of measurements of thermal conductivity together with the modern subject of X-rays especially soft X-rays. With the latter work he carried on the Australian tradition of X-rays started by W.H. Bragg in Adelaide and R.H. Threlfall in Sydney (Home, 1986). Laby is known to every science student through the book of tables of data (Kaye & Laby). Making an optical instrument is a classical problem and its use is at the heart of many classical scientific experiments. The problems of making and using optical instruments were exactly what Laby's fertile classical imagination could handle so well. Added to this was an ability to be a good if dominant administrator. Laby recognized also the difference between Australia and the UK. Quoting from the appreciation again; "The relation of scientific activities of the State in Great Britain to pure science is very different from of any scientific society but in England the position is very different. There the Government has for long relied on the advice of the Royal Society of London.... "

This was no new feeling for Laby; in the 1914-18 war scientists were not on the whole organized to contribute to the war effort and Laby found himself helping D.O. Masson, Professor of Chemistry in the University of Melbourne, with his experiments on gas masks but was frustrated at not being able to do more (Hartung, Tape). Laby, in writing to Menzies in 1939, was trying to make Australia a little like the UK. Menzies answered his letter by asking the physicists for their detailed proposals and although there was a meeting of Laby and A.D. Ross (Professor of Physics at the University of Western Australia and secretary of the Australian Branch of the IOP) with members from the Departments of Supply and Defence there was no call from the Government until June 1940.

The delay of nearly one year in organizing parts of the science community occurred in the UK also. There was a dramatic change in the tempo of the war after the rapid advance of the German armies to the channel ports in the middle of 1940 and there was a corresponding response from the scientific community. At the same time there appeared an anonymous book in called "Science in War" (1940). This book was produced at white heat and some of the authors are now known, among them being S. Zuckerman and J.D. Bernal brought together by Zuckermn's dining club, the Tots and Quots (Zuckerman, l978). The publication of this Penguin, while it irritated some of the leaders of science, can scarcely be claimed to have had a deep primary significance in the crisis in British political and military life in l940.

The President of the Royal Society of London was then W.H. Bragg who played a leading role in the harnessing of science and scientists to the war effort (Caroe, 1978). One of the British responses was the interviewing of all science undergraduates by C.P. Snow and the psychologist H.S. Hoff who together placed them in the most appropriate scientific organization. The combination of Snow and Hoff was known familiarly as the Snowhoff and its appointees were later called Snowmen and Snowwomen, of whom the author was one. The response of the physicists in Australia to the crisis of June 1940 was a meeting in Melbourne taken by L.J. Hartnett and attended by physicists T.H. Laby, E.L. Sayce and H.J. Frost (both of the Munitions Supply Laboratories), together with others. Hartnett had been Manager for General Motors Holden in Australia and in May 1940 was asked by the Prime Minister to take over the Head of Munitions at the newly formed Department of Munitions. The Director-General of Munitions was Essington Lewis, formerly of BHP. The new Department had the task of organizing the production of all ordnance for the services and anti-tank guns were a special task. Australia was making a two-pounder anti-tank gun from British designs and the GMH factories were converted to its production. Hartnett was alerted to the fact that the telescopic sight for this gun formerly coming from the UK was no longer available after Dunkirk. At the meeting, Laby suggested calling in physicists from several laboratories in Australia thus enabling many of the Australian university physicists to be brought together in common action. Harnett's meeting also recommended that Laby should set up a group to provide the optical specifications of telescopic sights and other instruments, the lenses of which could be manufactured in Australia.

This group became the Optical Munitions Panel and its first meeting was a month later on the 23 and 24 July. Of the six Australian Universities only Queensland was not represented eventually on the Panel but its physicists did other war work. Three Government Laboratories were drawn into the Panel; Munitions Supply Laboratories, Melbourne, Commonwealth Solar Observatory at Mt. Stromlo (now Mt. Stromlo Observatory) and the CSIR National Standards Laboratory, Sydney. There were service representatives on the Panel. Between July and December 1940 inclusive there were six meetings of the Panel and from then on it met at two monthly intervals; there were 32 meetings in all (Minutes). The Panel designed and arranged to have made optical instruments, mainly for the Army. The headquarters of the Panel were in the Department of Natural Philosophy of the University of Melbourne. The photograph shows a meeting of the Panel, most likely in the University of Melbourne. Some optical instruments are shown on the tables.

The war of 1939-45 started as an optical war; there were still service traditions of being able to see the enemy by eye. At the beginning there were strong connections to the 1914-1918 war exemplified by the decision of the Panel to manufacture optical glass, the first time it has been made in Australia, which was helped greatly by the book by Wright which had been written to explain the work in the USA to develop her own optical glass industry during the 1914-18 war (Wright, 1921). Largely because of the development of radar in Britain and Australia just before and during the war of 1939-45 there was a change in the character of the assistance that physical scientists gave to war work. Following the discussion at the Panel meetings on 30 November, 1 & 2 December 1943 the Panel changed its name and in 1944 was called the Scientific Instruments and Optical Panel in order to give it the chance to widen the scope of its work, but the momentum in optical work was then large and the Panel continued in optical development until the end of the war. Radar, as a subject of investigation, certainly appealed to the physicists and had developed strongly in its own laboratories, especially CSIR's Radiophysics Laboratory; those working on optical problems must have been tempted into radar problems and L.H. Martin of the University of Melbourne did transfer (Caro & Martin,1987). The committee is still known familiarly as the Optical Munitions Panel by many of those who worked on its problems and it is appropriate to retain this or just "Panel" in this article.

No attempt was made by the Panel to have a central research institution. At the first meeting of 23 July 1940 item 23 of the Minutes gives the outline of the way in which the associated laboratories were expected to work. " J.S. Rogers as Liaison Officer. Dr Woolley (in) charge of optical appraisement and analysis. Allocates work in optical area to separate panels in State. Each state will connect with Industrial Instrument Makers". The Panel was advisory to the Ordnance Production Directorate of the Ministry of Munitions and this Directorate placed the orders for the instruments with a number of firms. There were no less than 25 establishments, including firms and university physics departments making and assembling the optical components; 43 different types of optical instruments and 26,237 individual instruments were manufactured, a remarkably large number. Full details are given in Appendix III of the main body of the history of the Panel (Rogers). In the course of exploring what individuals did who were working for the Panel, a Questionnaire was sent out to as many as could be contacted. It is clear that most of these found their work for the Panel as interesting and as formative as any other postgraduate training. Their work and later careers are summarized in the Appendix.

It is worth comparing this work in Australia with that in New Zealand which faced similar problems of isolation from the UK. A similar small optical industry was created in war-time in Auckland by P.W. Burbridge, Professor of Physics at the University of Auckland (Atkinson, 1976). This work was guided by the Auckland Technical Development Committee; Burbridge headed a team to make sights for mortars with his chief technician A.D. Harris. By the end of the war, they had produced 240 mortar sights, 4160 assorted bubbles for Army instruments, 600 mirrors for signal lamps and working parts for 1000 hand prismatic compasses. In addition, assorted development and servicing work for the Armed Services was performed by University groups in Auckland (Burbridge and Leech) and Christchurch ( T.R. Pollard see Neutze & Beardsley). This was funded through the New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The official history of New Zealand in the 39-45 war refers to development work for radar in Canterbury University College in conjunction with CSIR (Davin).

A Survey Of Some Of The Panel's Production: Comparisons with Canada and Japan

Optical glass

The decision to make optical glass in Australia was taken at the first meeting of the Panel. The story is a tribute both to the scientific skill of Professor E.J. Hartung, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne and to the industrial abilities of the Australian Window Glass Co., Sydney, which undertook the manufacture. In a tape recording, Hartung states that Laby asked him, almost certainly in 1940, if he could make optical glass which up to that time had not been made in Australia (Hartung, Tape). Hartung's reply was "I don't see any reason why not. It is a very big place and we ought to get sufficiently pure sand". It was just the kind of problem that would have appealed to Hartung who was a general chemist and full of enthusiasm for any project he undertook. He had made European visits in 1922 and 1931 and visited the Zeiss optical works in Jena and the associated Schott optical works.

The minutes of the Panel of August 1940 read; "The manufacture of optical instruments would be a wholly new Australian industry. Lenses are not at present made with the accuracy necessary, there is no glass available for making prisms which are needed in many instruments and there are no trained operatives available". All these deficiencies were remedied. There were certainly spectacle lens manufacturers in Australia but they had not ground and polished lenses for the accuracy of the best optical instruments. Even at its first meeting the Panel understood that it would have to collaborate actively with the expanding optical industry and act as its research laboratory.

Hartung made reports to the Panel on the progress of his own experiments and trial runs at AWG on glass making and his sixth report of 6 November 1941 announced the commercial production of the first crown and flint glasses; the pot expert was C.W. Death (Hartung, Reports). the report contained the welcome words "Orders for optical glass should therefore be placed without delay". It was an occasion that any scientist or technologist would see as a successful point in an experiment and under peace time conditions would have been noted by writing an article for publication, perhaps as a letter to "Nature". At first it might have been thought that during the war Hartung would have hestitated over such a publication for security reasons but it is clear that such an industrial effort would be going on in the various combatant countries and Hartung published a short article in Nature (Hartung, 1942). It ended with the phrase that there is " abundant supply of excellent material purposes".

Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 was only a few weeks away. By the time the Pacific war began Australia had an assured supply of optical glass adequate to meeet all the demands of the fighting forces. The Australian production of optical glass was only one month behind that of Canadian Research Enterprises Ltd which had been established "in August 1940 as a wholly government-owned company, operating under the Ministry of Munitions with the full freedom of a provate enterprise" (Anon, 1942). The minutes of the Panel of December 1941 stated that "...that the Panel express its appreciation of the high standard of technical excellence which had been achieved in the manufacture of optical glass". This success of Hartung was a great recommendation of the chemists to Laby the physicist; the two university departments felt themselves to be close with physicists and chemists sharing in a joint scientific venture. Laby, with his feeling that physics was a superior science to all others, was prepared to accept other scientists when they did something that he could recognise as physics or as contributing to physics.

It is clear that this production of optical glass depended critically on Hartung's skill as a chemist and also on his enthusiasm and ability to get quickly into a new subject. Radford comments on his enthusiasm as follows; "In Hartung the deep capacity observed by his colleagues for enthusiasm in every subject he pursued may have been a distracting influence" (Radford, 1978). But not for the subject of the moment and his enthusiasm is nowhere better illustrated than in the production of glass where he was the right person for the occasion. He retired in 1953 from the University of Melbourne. After the war he had indulged his long-standing interest in astronomy and made his own observatory at his home at Mt. Macedon, Victoria. He had observed Halley's comet in 1910 and a note on his observation is preserved (Hartung, note). He wrote a useful book for observers of the southern stars (Hartung, 1968). After his death his 12 inch telescope and hut were offered to Monash University and it is erected on the roof of the Physics Department for teaching undergraduates. It is felt that Hartung would have appreciated this decision.

The work on optical glass in Australia was paralleled closely by that in Canada (Anon, 1942). The Canadian firm of Research Enterprises Ltd began with 2 employees and by 1942 had a technical staff of 100 with 84 graduates of Canadian Universities and a total staff of 3000. Help in making the pots came from the Bureau of Standards in Washington, USA. It also drew on the experience of Chance Bros & Co Ltd., of Birmingham UK. The first melt of Research Enterprise was in 5 June 1941 and by November 1941 it was producing 5 1/2 tons per month. Bausch & Lomb, the big US optical firm, trained nine glass polishers for the Canadians. As in Australia, there had been few instrument makers before the war. The Canadians hoped that their local optical industry would not lapse after the war, a sentiment shared in Australia. Nothing like this external support that Canada obtained was available to Australia, through when J.J. McNeill was seconded from MSL for training in optics in the Department of Physics, Imperial College, London, he arranged for the offer of the position of foreman of the Optics Section of MSL to be made to H. Hunt of Adam Hilger, UK. Hunt arrived in 1941 and stayed in Australia until the end of the war training many younger optical craftsman including T.C. Alldis who followed J.J. McNeil to the CSIRO Division of Chemical Physics after the war, where he was head of the optical finishing shop (Bolton, 1983).

In view of the large part that the Japanese optical industry now plays in the world's current production of cameras, binoculars, microscopes and small telescopes, it is instructive to ask what was the Japanese effort in the 1942-45 war. In December 1945 a US Naval Technical Mission to Japan issued a report on "Japanese Optics". (1945). The summary of the conclusions are quoted here;

1. In the past five years Japan has made a phenomenal growth in optical glass manufacture.

2. Japan has at present, fairly modern and efficient optical factories.

3. No spectacular developments have been made in Japan, but rather adaptions and modifications have been made of the optical systcms used in German and US manufacturers.

4. Japan has capable scientific personnel who understand modern optical requirements and are cognizant of the shortcomings in the Japanese processes of glass manufacture.

5. The Japanese exhibited a tendency toward large size (aperture) visual optical instruments, particularly in the field of binocular telescopes (80, 120, 150 mm apertures).

This tendency may represent a futile attempt to offset deficiencies in their radar development.

The data do not seem to be available to enable a critical comment to be made on conclusion 5 except to say that if the qualities of the optical glass and the figuring of the lens surfaces are maintained, the light-gathering capacity and consequent determination of colours are improved with increasing objective size. Admittedly the larger binoculars are heavier but this is not a large price to pay for a better optical instrument.

The Japanese optical industry began effectively in the 1917- 18 war with the formation of Nippon Kogaku KK (Japan Optical Company, JOC) in July 1917 by the merger of three small optical firms, one of which dated back to l881 (Rotolini,1983). There were 200 employees at the beginning of JOC. Eight German technicians joined them in January 1921. At first it was an optical firm not a camera manufacturer and in this, there was a parallel with the development of Zeiss and Leitz, who also began as optical manufacturers. Instruments made were microscopes, telescopes, transits, and surveying instruments. The JOC researched optical glass manufacturing in the 1920s, largely reproducing German glass. It became well known in scientific and industrial communities in Japan. After the 1923 earthquake it was re-organised by the Japanese Navy Ministry. Photographic lenses were made in the 1930s.

After Japan entered the war in 1941, there was a great expansion in glass production stimulated by Government pressure. JOC was chosen by the Government to be the largest supplier of optical munitions for the Japanese Services growing until it had 19 factories and 23,000 employees. During this time the Fuji Optical Company in Odawara began to make optical glass; it had already made photographic chemicals. By the 14 August 1945, when it was bombed, the plant was making 30 tons of optical glass each year. The US report states that the practices in the optical shops were fairly standard. Almost certainly the techniques of making optical glass were re-discovered by many persons at this time, Hartung among them. It is a great stimulant towards success in a scientific enterprise when it is known internationally that a cerlain technique can be made to work.

The JOC produced 41 types of glass and the Fuji Optical Co. 33 types; together they produced 130 tonnes. It appears that few substantial innovations were made by the Japanese in their war effort in optics and attention was concentrated on copying the constants of established optical systems from abroad. The Japanese optical glasses were slightly different in refractive indices and dispersion and corresponding changes had to be made in the curvatures and positions of the optical components.

After the war the JOC was re-organized under the occupation for civilian production only and was reduced to one factory and about 1400 employees. It returned to the pre-war scientific equipment but decided to make a camera of their own, probably in 1946; the acronym NIKON was chose, now familiar world wide. Given the pre-war background to the Japanese optical industry and the conclusions of the US Mission revealing a vast effort in the war, it is no wonder that this was one contribution to the success of the Japanese optical instruments in the post war world.

We can compare numerically the output of optical glass from Australia with that from Japan. In Chapter V of the History we can read that the total production of usable optical glass from the ASW's annexe from the 12 months ending on 30 September 1943 was 21 tonnes. Remembering that this work started from scratch during the war this is a tnbute to Hartung's skill as a research scientist and to the whole-hearted industrial co-operation of the AWG. It must be seen as an example of how science and industry worked together in Australia with a clear joint aim.


At the beginning of the war the graticules for the Services were made at the Munitions Supply Laboratories (MSL) by a combination of ruling and etching. The glass blank was covered with a "resist", a thin film of acid-resistant material. A large mechanical pantograph used a fine point to rule the pattern through the resist and the exposed glass was etched by the vapour of hydroflouric acid. The grooves were filled with a black ink. This was a slow process and only one graticule per day was ruled; the increasing number of graticules needed called for a faster production method.

By June l941, Professor E.J. Hartung had completed a substantial amount of research on the problems of optical glass and the production lines at the Australian Window Glass Co., were being established (Hartung, Reports). The problem of making graticules in quantity was presented to him and at the meeting of the Panel in June 1941, Hartung was encouraged to continue his preliminary experiments on the production of graticules by photographing and etching and given the specific orders for graticules for two telescopes.

Hartung's experiments showed that this technique would satisfy the production problems and space was found in the Botany School at the University, whose Head Professor J.S.Turner was put in charge of the production. Two laboratories of the school were converted into a Graticule Annexe. By 11 November 1945, the Graticule Annexe made 25,500 graticules of 73 different types (Turner). Examples of these graticules donated by J.S. Turner are in the Museum of Medical History, University of Melbourne.


The Australian Army Priority List of instruments of August 1940 contained 3,500 Binoculars of 6 x 30 i.e. of magnification 6 and objective diameter 30 mm and separate eyepiece focusing. This was a standard instrument of the time; that made by Zeiss was very popular (the author's instrument which dates from the 1914-18 war has still excellent optics). The panel made a successful prototype and recommended that they should be made in Australia not only because of the immediate need by the Services, but also because of the Panel's view that the country needed an optical industry and a regular big order of an instrument as relatively straightforward as a binocular would have been an admirable way of starting the industry. A local firm was prepared to make the mechanical parts.

This feeling was close in spirit to that of Laurence Hartnett who, as Director of the Ordinance Production Directorate, tried to gel Service orders for the binoculars, but delivery was so slow that they did not arrive until 1944 and 1945 and then to add insult to injury, many of them were made in Canada (no doubt by Research Enterprises) and the USA. It was then learnt that the UK had transferred the order to the other countries. It is not hard to see this as the crushing effect of the imperial role being played by the UK and the Establishment in Australia, and as a lost opportunity for a scientific industry in Australia.

In the middle of the war there was still a need for binoculars for the Services, and in 1941 the Australian Government decided to impress all civilian binoculars with optical properties similar to the services specifications. The Panel was not consulted about this and knowing its interest on starting an optical industry in Australia, it is doubtful if it would have agreed with the decision. Even as received after the impress, the binoculars could not be handed over to the services as they had to be collimated (the two optical axes brought into collinearity) and many instruments needed graticules. Some 18,500 binoculars were impressed of which 8 ,000 were of good enough quality to be used.

The effort of testing and reconditioning the binoculars was formidable. Had they been all of one type then some kind of mass production could have been organized. To illustrate, the Physics Laboratory of the University of Sydney under Professor A.U. Vonwiller, reconditioned about half the instruments and reported that there were 400 types of binoculars. As this huge time-consuming exercise proceeded, especially in the University of Sydney, it must have irritated those who realized what the country could have done.

With the entry of Japan into the war in December 1941, the battlefields became the tropical north, and equipment of all kinds, including scientific instruments such as binoculars and range-finder telescopes, were found to suffer badly in the hot and humid conditions of the New Guinea Campaign. The scientific problems arising in overcoming the difficulties are mentioned in the next chapter, but the essential point was that the interior of all containers including scientific instruments were exposed to a tropical climate in which fungi grew, even on glass. A binocular with adjustable focusing is almost certainly exposed in this way, and the idea arose of making a fixed focus binocular that was entirely sealed. R.D. Wright, Professor of Physiology at the University of Melbourne showed that an eye with normal vision could tolerate differences in eyepiece focusing that could be set within reasonable limits, and such a fixed-focus binocular could be used for distances down to 50 yards. This instrument never came into production as it was developed too late in the war; it was another example where a local optical industry could have made a mark.

Tropic Proofing

After the entry of Japan into the war equipment was suddenly transported to climates very different from those of Europe or North Africa. The hot, humid atmospheres of the tropics were ideal conditions for the growth of fungal infections. The Army was hurriedly equipped to stop the Japanese in New Guinea and there was a heavy loss of equipment of all kinds; photographs in the 1944 Report to the Army reveal this (Chapman, 1944). Professor C. Kerr Grant was the physicist on this mission. Optical instruments, even though apparently sealed, were liable to internal fungal damage and well assembled instruments sometimes lasted only a few weeks before becoming inoperable; the sealing was probably not sufficient to prevent the entry of water vapour. There was a scientific solution, which was to include a desiccating agent inside the equipment, but if the sealing was not perfect the agent would have to be renewed frequently, a task impossible to guarantee under wartime conditions.

There were frequent references in the committees of the Panel in 1942 to the special difficulties of Tropic Proofing, and Professor J.S. Turner of the Botany School University of Melbourne chaired a sub-committee of the Panel on this problem. Professor V.M. Trikojus, the Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Melbourne suggested that a substance he had been using in experiments on the sterilization of blood plasma for the Army Medical Corps might be an effective fungicide (Legge & Gibson, 1987). The substance was sodium ethylmercurithiosalicylate, at first called Merthiosal and later MTS anti-mould. It was effective as a fungicide when mixed with the black lacquer that was used to paint the internal metal parts of instruments. It was also incorporated in the luting wax used to seal the optical components. It was not fungicidal in itself, but when acted on by water, produced a vapour that was fungicidal.

The tropical conditions were simulated in a Tropic Proofing Chamber built in the department of Natural Philosophy at the University of Melbourne. MTS did have its diffficulties; from the start of the experiments it was known to contain mercury and could yield a poisonous substance, and in aqueous solution it attacked aluminium and aluminium alloys. The experiments with painted instruments and MTS were mainly supervised and done by Turner and E. Matthaei. The experiments were not achieved without vigorous objections from T.H. Laby, especially about the possible corrosion even though little was found in the short times of the laboratory tests. Laby's objections were so strong that they suggested that he might have met difficulties in some of his early experiments with mercury and mercury compounds. However, the Army accepted the laboratory tests and built a new three-story wing to the Botany School to accommodate the expansion of the work.

A full report was made on Tropic Proofing which discussed the whole work of Turner's group (Turner et al., 1945, 6; Trikojus, 1946). It contained a section containing material written by J.W. Blamey, the physicist. Using the conclusion of the mycologists, that the moulds growing in the optical instruments were of common kinds, probably enclosed during the assembly of the instruments before being taken to the tropics, and that the growth occurs due to the humid air eventually getting into the partially sealed instruments, Blamey showed by simple calculations that there were a variety of causes for the air entering. The humidity inside would rise due to mass air movements through small, (microscopic) holes in the sealing. Variations of atmospheric temperature and pressure caused the enclosure to "breathe"; a decrease of temperature of the instrument lowers the internal pressure thus driving air into the instruments. In addition to the mass transport of air and water vapour in and out of the case of the instrument on account of the variations of pressure and temperature, diffusion through these small holes in the sealing is not negligible. In fact, diffusion through a hole in a thin membrane is relatively efficient. The diffusing substance is not merely restricted by a region bounded by the area of the hole, but the act of diffusion takes it through the hole into a "half-space". This effect was examined theoretically by J.W. Blamey independently of its earliest examination by the physicist J. Stefan in 1881 in connection with evaporation. The confirmation of Stefan's ideas was made by Brown and Escombe; it is an important factor in the transpiration of leaves (1900). Quoting from the report of Turner et al. "Similarly, diffusion from or to a small object from surrounding space as in evaporation of a water drop or absorption by a drying agent is proportional to the linear dimensions of the object and not the surface area or mass" . The report mentioned that captured Japanese instruments did not appear to have been tropic proofed as many were badly infected.

The work on the protection of equipment for tropical conditions has been continued in Australia as no doubt it is in many countries. The work of FJ. Upsher of the Materials Research Laboratories, Melbourne, the successor to MSL, has used electron microscopy and shown how the fungi attack a surface even of relatively hard materials (1985,86). The fungi have hyphae, branched tube-like growths which make up the body of a fungus, and the hyphae put out special branch-like roots and a cement which attaches the parent hyphae to the material, enabling the hyphal branches to tunnel into polymeric material such as PVC or paints. The corrosion of harder surfaces is by the metabolic products of the fungi. The attack on a surface is on an atomic scale well below one micron. The definition of visible smoothness depends on the wavelengths of light which are of the order of half a micron; penetration of the hypha into the surface is by a defect in the surface that is much smaller and quite undetectable by optical means. There are now new fungicides for controlled release of a fungicidal vapour inside sealed components.


Together with many small projects undertaken by the Panel there were some surprisingly large requests made to it. In 1942 L.J. Hartnett was in the USA which had entered the war in December 1941, and he found that it was short of prisms and lenses and was asked if an order could be placed for them in Australia. The order was for 2000 full sets of optics for one telescope and 5000 prisms for another. This must have been surprising and encouraging to Hartnett to find that Australia had in the brief space of two years achieved a reputation for both quality and the ability to supply in quantity. The order was accepted and the supplying laboratories were the Commonwealth Solar Observatory, the Munitions Supply Laboratories, and the Optical Annexe at the University of Melbourne. The order was fulfilled in September 1943 but even before this, in May 1943, the USA asked if Australia could supply a larger order in which 1.3 million optical parts were required, a task well beyond the capaciy of Australia.

J.S.Rogers had visited the USA in 1943. He was absent from the September and December meetings of the Panel but was back for that in February 1944. While he was in the USA he had seen her large scale production of optical elements and in his view it was unlikely that Australia would be called upon again. It will be seen that the USA order was handled by four laboratories that were essentially research and not commercial. Nevertheless we can see that by 1943 Australia was able to consider orders that could have been handled by an incipient scientific industry. In August 1941 the Union of South Africa asked Australia if she could supply samples of the optical munitions. The request came before the Panel but it was too early to say with confidence that there would be enough Australian optical glass and the request had to be turned down. In April 1942 India asked if Australia could supply optical glass and several thousand pounds were sent, partly Australia's own glass and partly from her stocks of US glass.

T.H. Laby's Retirement As Chairman Of The Panel

Laby's health suffered under the pressure of his work and he had spells away from the University. When he was absent, the Panel was chaired by his deputy, C. Kerr Grant of Adelaide, as for example the meeting of July 1943. After Laby's death in 1946, a fine obituary by his former student H.S.W. Massey summarized his attitude to science as one whose "...primary interest was in precision experimental physics but was aware of the importance of other branches" (1946). Massey also refers to the great contribubon that he made to the defence of Australia through his chairmanship of the Panel. This "...could not have been made if in the preceding years a firm tradition of high qualiy physics had not been built up largely in the Department of Natural Philosophy at Melbourne under Laby. Laby sacrificed himself to this end".

Laby had resigned from his Chair at the University towards the end of October 1943 and he appears in the minutes as Dr Laby for the November 1943 meeting of the Panel onwards. The Chairmanship of the Panel became increasingly a burden and after the stormy meeting of 28 March 1944 he felt obliged to resign (Law, Tapes). The next meeting of the Panel in May 1944 was chaired by Kerr Grant. Its minutes record a visit from G.R. Harrison, the spectroscopist from Massachusetts Institute of Technology on behalf of the US National Defence Research Council, a compliment to the intenrnational standing that the Panel had already achieved. Laby's resignation as Chairman of the Panel had been accepted by the Prime Minister and was noted at this May meeting.

At the final meeting of the Panel in November l945, Kerr Grant spoke of the work done by Laby for the Panel. Kerr Grant said "Australia was highly indebted to him for the zeal with which he had devoted himself to the work of the Panel in its early years. Dr Laby had never spared himself and it was his overwork which had led to his breakdown in health which had nessitated his resignation". The formal resolution of the Panel stated that "..The success of the work of the Panel has been due in no small manner to the zeal and unsparing efforts of Dr Laby".

The Influence Of The Panel In The Post War Years

There were many discussions in the Panel meetings on the future of optical work in Australia. There was a firm conviction amongst the Panel members that optical research should continue at Australian Universities after the war. The members perhaps misgauged the feelings in the Universities that arose after the war ended; everyone was glad it was over and they could get back to their own research which had perhaps, been abandoned during the war. Recalling that the optics of lens, prism and mirror making was a well-founded subject in classical physics, there seems no reason to query the judgement that it would be good for the scientific community and for the commercial health of Australia to have an optical industry with a support in applied optics research. Could this be done?

The Panel thought that an Australian optical industry could develop in two ways: 1, optical instruments would stiII be needed for the Services and for Government Institutions: 2, optical instruments such as microscopes, binoculars and telescopes would be needed in education and for the general public. Both seemed sound ideas given the science of the time. No one could have foreseen the domination of the world markets in the post-war years by the Japanese optical industry or the invention of the transistor and the integrated circuit and the way compact and reliable electronic circuits would change the manner of doing scientific experiments and Service science.

It was considered that the Optical Annexe at Hobart would not be able to survive without Government support, but the Panel was of the firm opinion that both research and production should continue there. It will be recalled that the Canadian experience was to create a commercial firm Research Enterprises even during the war. A decision from the Directorate of Ordnance Production (DOP) was that from 31 May 1945 it was not intended to continue the Ministry of Munitions upon its present scale and organization but to revert to Department organization "customary with our form of Government". There was no indication that the Government wanted to foster an optical industry.

The last meeting of the Panel was in November 1945 at which it was decided that the Secretary, J S Rogers should write the history of the Panel and arrange for its printing by the Directorate of Ordnance Production. The progress in publication of the history just after the war can be followed part in letters from Rogers and from persons within Department of Muniuons (Australian Archives).

After the war the universities found the numbers of their students increasing rapidly, and in the biological and medical classes there was a shortage of microscopes. In 1946 the Panel drafted specifications and the Universities Commission stated that a supply of about l300 microscopes would be needed with two objectives of l6mm and 4mm and 5x and lOx eyepieces and a substage condenser where photographs are given (Bolton, 1983). Mr L.D. Colechin of the Australian Optics Company also tendered for the microscopes but his tender was not successful. MSL made the objectives, E.N. Waterworth of Hobart made eyepieces, and Tough Instruments WA, made some of the mechanical components as did the Ordnance Factory in Melbourne. About 500 were made. The microscopes conformed to the Royal Microscopical Society standards governing interchangeability with other objectives, eyepieces and condensers. The objectives were designed by J.J. McNeill and his colleague G.G. Schaefer and the design of the microscope had the advice of E. Matthaei the microscopist in the Botany School at the Universiy of Melbourne. Schaefer designed and made the prototype of an oil immersion 2 mm objective but this never went into production (Bolton, 1983 where photographs of the microscopes are given).

The microscope designed and made by the AOC was put into production for the Australian market, without getting the Universities' contract. They were also sold in Ceylon. Examples of these two microscopes are in the Museum of Medical History of the University of Melbourne. Tough Instruments of Perth, WA, manufactured a number of simpler microscopes known as the School Model which incorporated a coarse adjustment for the eyepieces; an example has not been found and it would be appropriate to have one in a suitable museum.

If the activity of the Panel can be viewed as something close to that of a National Institute of Optics, or even as an extended University research department with T.H. Laby playing the role of its Director or Chairman, then a question can be raised about the success of the whole venture. If we confine ourselves to the mere record of production with the number of instruments made, then accepting it as an exercise in classical instrument making, it is outstanding. Instruments were made in abundance all over the country; an optical glass facility was made from the ground up and a supply of glass produced that was still being drawn on in research establishments in the 1980s; one solution to the tropic-proofing of instruments was found. There was a thriving collaboration of mathematicians, physicists, chemists, botanists, biochemists and mycologists in research laboratories which had consequences in industry across the country. Throughout the Minutes and the History of the Panel there was a thread of an argument that this action would have been better if there had been established either a centralized optical industry or an association of the many small firms that were involved, into some co-operative umbrella with an optical industries' institute with a research establishment. Thus, in the February 1941 meeting of the Panel there was a discussion on a report by one of its members, G.H. Briggs of CSIR National Standards Laboratory, Sydney; the minutes read;

"Dr Briggs pointed out that the centralized government-owned company in Canada was preferable to the present methods of using private companies in Australia. The Chairman replied that the present conditions in Australia must be allowed to continue until difficulties occurred which made intervention necessary."

The UK was discouraging about Australia producing optical glass during the war, and the reason must have been that the UK saw this move as partly destroying her position as supplier to the British Commonwealth of Nations. Also, the UK decision makers may not have known that Australian scientists and industry could make optical glass, and could have misjudged the capabilities in Australia. Perhaps the largest and best equipped optical laboratory and workshops were at MSL, eventually under J.J. McNeill, but after the excitement of producing the microscope, they were allowed to run down.

Some individuals were influenced and motivated to stay in optical work. J.J. McNeill was one of those to do so, he transferred to CSIRO in particular designing and making the spectrometer for the commercially successful work on Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy under his friend and colleague A. (later Sir Allan) Walsh (Bolton, 1943). Perhaps the best individual success story was that of W.H. Steel who started with wartime work at Australasian Wireless Association and then joined CSIR National Standards Laboratory where he spent his professional life in optics becoming an international expert in interferometry (Steel, 1987).

At the end of the war, the Commonwealth Solar Observatory in Canberra under R.v d.R. Woolley had a first-class workshop and a spirit of working with optics that helped to establish their post-war work and reputation in optical astronomy (Gascoigne,1984). In Western Australia S.F. Williams worked with A.D. Ross on Panel problems during the war and later established reputations in vacuum spectroscopy and optical astronomy.

There was one industrial success that did grow out of the wartime work on optics and that was the work in Hobart (Waterworth, notes). The brothers E.N. and P.H. Waterworth played a big part in the story. E.N. Waterworth established his own one-man business in the 1920s in Hobart designing and making scientific research equipment largely for Professor A.L. McAulay, head of the Department of Physics at the University of Tasmania and for Dr Kurth, head of its Department of Chemistry. Waterworth achieved success in 1926 with an automatic record-changing mechanism. His brother P.H. Waterworth, having qualified as an optometrist at the London School of Optics, became a partner in the Hobart family firm of Waterworth & Ross.

McAulay was asked by Hartnett on 25 July 1940 if there was any capacity for the production of precision optics in Tasmania. As in so many other laboratories of the time, the strict answer to this must have been "no" but McAulay replied that if he were told what was required, they would attempt it. McAulay, after getting his B.Sc. at the University of Tasmania, made the classic scientific move for a Dominion physicist and worked for his Ph.D. at Cambridge under Rutherford. In the words of E.N. Waterworth, McAulay was trained, as were all Rutherford's students, to do "research with the equipment you had rather than wait for what you wished you had". This phrase must not be viewed as expressing a simple-minded acceptance of any present deprivation but as an active collaborabon with a current situation to get something of scientific worth out of it. Existing scientific techniques and possible scientific problems are linked, often inextricably, with many interactions.

McAulay was asked by the Panel to make the test plates, both flat and spherical, which could be used in other operations, and with his student F.D. Cruickshank began in the Physics laboratory of the University. The work involved the development of the tools for grinding and polishing and for measuring the accuracy of the test plates. The machinery needed was designed and built by the two Waterworth brothers.

In February 1941 Rogers suggested to McAulay that he make roof prisms, which contain an exact right angle and are used in binoculars and other instruments. Before the Australian optical glass was produced, sufficiently thick pieces of glass were made at the University of Melbourne by welding together sheets of quarter inch thick plate glass and blocks of this were cut at Hobart into suitable sizes by home-made diamond saws followed by grinding and polishing. It must not be thought that this way of making a large block of glass was invented in Melbourne: it was part of the optical tradition. It was practised at the firm of Adam Hilger Ltd., UK, when under the direction of F. Twyman. In a letter of 1931 from F.F.P. Bisacre, managing director of the publishing firm of Blackie & Sons Ltd., Glasgow to his friend and long-time correspondent William Stone of Melbourne, he described how he had visited Hilger and described how the firm made large blocks of glass by joining thinner pieces of glass together (Stone,letters). The temperature of the composite was raised to within 50 C of the annealing temperature of the glass which then fused into one block.

The pace of the activity at Hobart was such that more space was soon needed, and by May 1942 a new building was erected adjacent to the Physics building, with a further floor added within a year. This was the "Waterworth Hobart Annexe"; E.N Waterworth became its manager. The prisms were so good that Hartnett, on a visit to the Frankford Arsenal, USA in 1942, finding it short of prisms, arranged for a shipment of about 1000 roof prisms mainly from Hobart (Mellor, 1958). In the June 1942 meeting of the Panel, the Chairman Laby, in a brief review of the two years work on optical munitions, expressed his highest appreciation of the work done at the Hobart Annexe.

In 1942 the Annexe started making photographic lenses for the RAAF. The problems presented by a camera lens are different from those of a telescope. The lenses in a telescope used by the eye produce an image to be viewed close to the geometrical axis, whereas the photograph taken through a camera is over a wider angular range and the focus must be sharp over that range. McAulay and Cruickshank developed a novel method for the design of these lenses (McAulay and Cruickshank, 1945). Their first lens was a 14 inch f/4.5 Tessar type. The lenses had to be designed ab initio as the refractive indices of the optical glasses available were not the same as the prototype that had to be copied. The computing needed was done by a group of young women using Marchant desk calculators. These lenses were tested by A.G. Fenton and Mr Robinson.

The photographic lenses required large blocks of glass; for instance the 14 inch f/4.5 lens has an aperture of 3.1 inches and blocks big enough for this, even by the method of joining plates together, were not available. Also, moulding blocks of glass by their flat surfaces occasionally left detectable blemishes on the junction.

The next solution devised in the Hobart Annexe was to fuse two truncated cone-shaped blocks by their small faces. This fused block was rotated and put under pressure while being heated at the fused junction, which gradually expanded up to the final size, sometimes 5 inches or more and any trapped blemishes were eliminated in the fusing. Samples of glass made by this method were exhibited at the Panel meeting of September 1944. By 1945, the Annexe was working on 14 Ministry orders as well as reconditioning binoculars.

While this early development of the Hobart Annexe was proceeding, McAulay was not a member of the Panel. The minutes show that both McAulay and A.D. Ross of Western Australia were present by invitation as corresponding members at the meeting of 24-26 February 1941 in Canberra. At that meeting the members of the Panel visited the laboratories of the Commonwealth Solar Observatory and short talks were given on technical problems by members of the Observatory. Such visits and talks were given at many of the Panel meetings. McAulay appeared on the Panel as a full member only at the meeting of 28-30 October 1941 in Adelaide. Neither McAulay nor Ross were regular attendees at the Panel meetings.

The meeting of 5-6 December 1944 was held at Hobart. By now the end of the war was in sight; the Allied forces had landed on the Normandy beaches in France and were advancing eastwards across Europe; the Soviet armies were advancing westwards out of their territory. McAulay had asked the Panel to consider the future funding of the Hobart Annexe. The panel recognised that the Annexe was in reality a private firm working under the Ordnance Production Directorate and was different from the other university laboratories. McAulay had also written to Sir David Rivett, Secretaty of CSlR on 20 September l944, to see if CSlR would be interested; Rivett had referred the matter back to the Ministry of Munitions (Australian Archives). While there was general support on the Panel for the principles that the producdon of optical glass should continue, that research should be maintained and that there was a need for an optical industry in Australia to have scientific support like that now being given by the Panel, it was clear that the Panel discussions did not lead to a definition of a solution and no resolution was passed.

The combination in Hobart of McAulay and Cruickshank at the University and EN. Waterworth in the Annexe was a well-balanced practical example of the situation the Panel had, in principle, wished to see made permanent. The Hobart Annexe was still finding a demand for a variety of lens systems towards the end of the war, and when university laboratories were beginning to think about post-war research in other fields, a substantial amount of scientific activity in Hobart stayed with optical work. The Tasmanian Education Department found itself unable to get slide projectors for its schools and an order to the firm of E.N. Waterworth, later of Park Steet, Hobart led to a design of a reliable and robust slide projector. It was known and approved by many as the "Waterworth'- and became familiar tbroughout Australia. Some Government projects continued after the war and helped the firm.

New ideas in optical design appeared from H.A. Buchdahl of the Department of Physics at the University of Tasmania; Buchdahl had been there during the war and together with Cruickshank had given talks to the Panel on methods of optical computations after the meeting of 5-6 December 1944 (Buchdahl, 1946). By 1962 the price list of E.N. Waterworth contained 94 named items including projectors, stereoscopic lenses, mirrors, eyepieces and prisms with "prices on application" for special items.

For ten years after the war, F.D. Cruickshank at the university of Hobart was a consultant to the firm with a team of computers, as the persons were then called, working under him. Recalling that McAulay had moved very quickly to establish the optical work at Hobart witbout being a full member of the Panel, the whole effort during the war and its commercial consequences, is a fine example of scientific entrepreneurism in the Australian context. It is the combination of the research scientists McAulay and Cruickshank acting as advisers and the technical skills of the Waterworth brothers that makes this a model for scientific indusuial development in Australia that has been followed too rarely.

Buchdahl's theoretical ideas in optics have recently developed with his analysis of the generic structure of the power series of geometrical optical aberration theory (Buchdahl, 1984. Buchdahl & Forbes, 1986).

Review Of The Panel's Work From a Current Standpoint

We may ask first the question, why was it so successful? The optics of scientific instruments is a very old scientific subject; even in the 13th Century, Roger Bacon the English Franciscan friar, credited with the invention of spectacles, held that optics was the fundamental physical science. At the start of the present century the practical principles of making optical glass and lenses were firmly laid down and soon the great industrial names such as Zeiss in Germany, Chance in the UK, Bausch and Lomb in the USA became well known. These practical principles were part of classical physics and they were in monographs and reasonably accessible. Laby was a master of much classical physics both in designing and doing experiments and in assembling data. The man, the field and the need were all there at the right time in 1940. The tricky things were in making a large supply of optical glass and this needed a good general chemist; Hartung was just that person.

Certain individuals became drawn into optical research, but was there anything that remained as solid as Australia's reputation in Radio Astronomy? The answer has to be, no. The optical work at Hobart was certainly organized by McAulay and Waterworth along industrial lines and, under Waterworth, developed after 1945 into an optical industry known and selling at least in Australia. But while Radio Astronomy surged ahead by the research effort of big research teams in CSIRO and later at Sydney University, a large optical industry with a reputation equal to that of Radio Astronomy would have had to survive with large markets almost certainly world wide, and these markets were effectively captured by the Japanese optical industry. And while the Australian Government encouraged primary producers, it did not invest the same goodwill in secondary industry, and especially scientific industry. Also Cruickshank and Buchdahl at Hobart were the only University physicists to continue in optical research, especially optical computation and theoretical optics. Nearly all the other physicists working for the Panel went into newer fields of research.

To have kept the very large wartime effort optics going that the Panel had started, and to have maintained its initiative and converted it into a modern industry with world-wide markets could have been done, but it would have needed something like a National Institute of Optics, perhaps as part of CSIRO, together with a fiscal policy of protection that successive Australian Governments have not been willing to support The efforts of Waterworth in Hobart remain as a splendid reminder of what could have been done on a larger scale. There was indeed a lost opportunity.


The author is grateful for a great deal of help from many correspondents. First, he must thank the persons who worked on the Panel problems during the war and who answered so readily and fully the Questionnaires that he sent to them. These helped in his understanding how the laboratories were working, especially during the hectic years at the beginning of the Panel's activities. An abstract is given of the Questionnaires in the Appendix and the Questionnaires themselves, together with other sources for this work, will be presented to the University of Melbourne Archives. Particular thanks must go to E N. Waterworth for allowing the author to use his unpublished History of Optics in Hobart; to Cecily Close of the University of Melbourne Archives for much help with sources and in understanding the problems involved with them and for reading parts of the manuscnpts; to the University of Melbourne, the Master, Mannix College, and the Chemistry Department of Monash University for invitations to give public lectures on various aspects of the work; to W.A. Rachinger of the Department of Physics, Monash University for reading part of the manuscript; Professor R.W. Home of the University of Melbourne and to W.E. James of James Optics, Hawthorn, Melbourne for reading and commenting on the whole of an earlier draft of the manuscript. Photographs of the two Australian microscopes and of the Waterworth slide projector are in the permanent display of photographs of Australian scientific instruments in the Department of Physics, Monash University.


In Rogers' History there are many persons mentioned and it seemed to be useful, especially for other workers in the field, to write brief biographies of as many as possible. Correspondents were helpful in answering a Questionnaire about their contribution to be optical work and in giving details about later careers. The style for the biography is that used by Professor R.W. Home of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne in his unpublished "Physics Bibliography" which covers all publications in physics from Australia to 1945.

BLAMEY,John William - b.20 Oct. 1914 d. Aug.1986. Education: Teacher's College, Melbourne (Primary TPTC 1935) Univ. Melb. (1st class Hons B.Sc. Nat Phil. 1940 shared Dixson Prize; M.Sc.1942) Univ. Birm. UK (Scholarship under M.L.E. Oliphant working on cyclotron construction 1946-50). In 1940, the 3rd year Nat. Phil. Course included more geometrical optics and the laboratory work included research projects in optics. For Panel, Trainee Physicist 1941-5, optical design of lenses, prisms, whole instruments. Existing instruments adapted for optical glass available in Australia. Aluminizing mirrors. Tropic proofing. Operational research on instruments. Fixed focus binoculars. 1950 on cyclc synchrotron at ANU and homopolar generator. Retired 1979. Section 9 of Turner, McLennan & Rogers on Condensation of water vapour in optical instruments almost certainly written by JWB.

BOOTH, Ada Phyllis - b 1921. Education: Univ. Melb. (Physics 1943, Russian 1961) For Panel, aluminizing mirrors. Left optical work 1944. Later, Demonstrator and Lecturer in Physics, Univ. Melb.

BUCHDAHL, Hans A. - Refugee from Europe in 1940s. Taught in Univ. Tasm. Physics Dept. Worked independently on theory of aberrations of optical systems. Professor of Theoretical Physics, ANU. FAA.

COX, Lewis Viclor - b. 1924. Education: Swinburne Inst. Tech. (Dip Elec. Eng.1942, B.Sc. Radiophysics 1945). Seconded to Munitions Supply Laboratories (MSL) from SECV for work on Humidity Chamber for testing tropic proofing of equipment. Board of Works, Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineer. Retd. 1983.

CRUICKSHANK, F.D. - Education: Univ. Tasm. (Physics) Senior Lecturer in Physics. Worked on design of optical instruments with McAulay.

DARBY, John Francis George - b 1919. Education: Univ. Melb. (Nat. Phil. B.Sc. 1939, M.Sc. 1940) Univ. Oxford (Physics, Low temperature, Ph.D. 1940). For Panel, one of 5 M.Sc. students invited to become paid scientific assistants in mid 1940. Modification and manufacture of mirror instruments. Precise goniometer. Bench micrometer for gauge measurements. Lecturer in physics Univ. Melb. National Instrument Co., Essendon, Melbourne, Victoria, 1954-66. RAAF Academy, Pt Cook & Univ. Melb. 1966-1984.

DRYDEN, John Stuart - b. l921. Education: Univ. Melb. (B.Sc. Natural Philosophy 1941, M.Sc. 1945, D.Sc. 1983) Imperial College, London (D.l.C.1948, Ph.D.1950). For Panel, at Univ. Melb. Dec. 1941 to Mar. 1944. Design of telescopes, range-finders etc. MSL for 2 months. Tropic proofing of equipment for New Guinea Naval gunsight, telemicroscope, sighting telescope for Aldis signalling lamp. Collimator for testing binoculars. CSIR Division of Electro Technology, National Standards Laboratory 1944. SPRS since 1962.

ESSERMAN, Norman A. - Education: Univ. Syd. (Maths. Hons. I, 1916) Imperial College, London (Optics, under A E Conrady). Worked in England 1917-20 at Arsenal branch of Munitions Office. First physicist to join Department of Defence, 1920; eventually Assistant Superintendent MSL (now Defence Standards Laboratories). In 1938, Officer-ln-Charge Metrology Section, National Standards Laboratory. Director NSL 1958. On International Committee for Weights and Measures. Retired 1961. In NSW, on Board of Trustees of Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Technical Education Advisory Council and Committee on Tertiary Education.

GASCOlGNE, S.C.B. - Education: Univ. Auckland (M.Sc) Univ. Bristol (Ph.D. Astronomical Optics) Mt. Stromlo, 1941. For Panel helped with optical design work of Observatory and was part of successful team of physicists. Research on observational aspects of stellar evolution, the distance scale, faint star photometry; Commissioning Astronomer, Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring.

GRANT, C. Kerr b. 1872; d. Adelaide, 1967. Education: Univ. Melb (B.Sc. 1901 Maths, M.Sc. 1903) Univ. Gottingen, Germany (Student of F. Klein & H.W. Nemst,1904) Lecturer, Ballarat School of Mines; Tutor, Ormond College Univ. of Melb. Collaborated with B.D. Steele in Dept. Chemistry, Univ. Melb on precision micro-balance 1911; Professor of Physics, Univ. Adelaide SA; was part of expedition in SA to measure star-shift in 1922 solar eclipse, the second confirmation of Einstein's theory of general relativity. Vice-Chairman OMP, later Chairman. Headed group at Univ. Adelaide making spirit levels and another group reconditioning binoculars. ADB 2 1983 pp 77-9. Australian Physicist 14, 1977 pp 55-60; both by S.G. Tomlin.

HARTUNG, Ernst Johannes - Professor of Chemistry, Univ. Melb, to 1953. Researched: reaction dynamics of ferric irons. specific heats of liquids, photo decomposition of silver halides using the Steele-Grant microbalance, spectrographic investigations of helium in spa gases of Daylesford, Victoria with G. Ampt. Syme Prize Univ. Melb,1926. Astronomer with own 12 inch telescope.

HERCUS, Eric O. - d. 30 June 1962. Education: Univ. NZ, Otago (1911) Univ. Cambridge (1851 Scholar). Lecturer, Natural Philosophy, Univ. Melb. l919. For Panel,leader of team designing optical systems. Honorary Secretary of Australian Natural Resources Council 1949. Sometime President of Council, RMIT, Melb. Retired as Assoc. Prof. 1956. On staff of CSIRAC Computer in Physics Dept. Univ. Melb. 1956-62. Book "Elements of Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics" 1951.

HOPPER, Victor D. - b. 1913. Education: Univ. Melb. (B.Sc. Natural Philosophy 1938, D.Sc. 1949). For Panel, made blocks of annealed window glass prior to optical glass; optical flats; Professor of Physics RAAF Academy, Pt Cook and Univ. Melb. Dean of University Studies, RAAF Academy.

LABY, Eudora Betty - b. 1920 of T.H. Laby. Univ. Melb. (Hon M.Sc. 1985). For Panel, Laboratory Assistant in School of Natural Philosophy, Univ. Melb; Measurements of refractive indices, prism angles, focal lengths, especially with components of Australian optical glass; calculations of lens designs using optical ray tracing. After war, research assistant for 3 years in CSIR Division of Aeronautical Research, then to Prof.T.M. Cherry, Maths Univ. Melb. for 3 years. Senior Tutor, Dept. of Statistics Univ. Melb. Retired 1985.

LAW, Phillip Garth - b. 1912. Education: Prim. Tech. Cett. 1931. Univ. Melb. (1st Class Hons, B.Sc. Nat. Phil. 1939; M.Sc. Hons. 1941; Hon. D.App. Sci, 1962). Victoria Institute of Colleges Hon. D. Ed. 1978: RMIT Hon. FRMIT 1977. Lecturer in Physics Univ. Melb. Senior Sci. Off. ANARE, Director Antarctic Division of Australia, Dept.of External Affairs, FAA, FTS. For Panel, metrology, spherometer for lens curvatures, analysis of captured optical instruments, tropic proofing. Assistant sec. and later acting sec. to Panel. Visited New Guinea in 1944 on scientific mission on tropic proofing. Vice-Pres. VIC, Pres. Aust. NZ Sci. Expl. Soc.

McAULAY, Alexander Leicester - b. 1895; d. 1969. Education: Univ. Tasmania (B.Sc.) Univ. Camb.(Ph.D. under Rutherford) 1924. Head of Physics Dept Univ. Tasm. Research in Biophysics in 1930's. For Panel, optical flats, spherical test plates for dial sights, designed and developed grinding tools, pitch polishing tools, polishing materials. Machinery made by brothers E.N. & P.H. Waterworth, made roof prism 1941 and Panel encouraged him to produce them. The need for space met by Ministry of Munitions putting up Annexe next to the Physics Building in May 1942; second floor in 1943. Developed new methods of designing and making a range of lenses especially for reconnaisance cameras for RAAF. Published with F.D. Cruickshank.

McLENNAN, Ethell I. - Univ. Melb. Reader, Plant Physiology. For Panel, Tropic proofing using Merthiosal for New Guinea campaign.

MARTIN, Leslie Harold - b. 21 Dec. 1900; d. I Feb. 1983. Education: Univ. Melb. (B.Sc. Nat. Phil & Maths. 1921, M.Sc. 1922) Univ. Canb. (1851 Scholarship 1923, Ph.D.) Syme Prize, Univ. Melb. 1934. For Panel, designed and built optical height and range finder, 1941. Transferred to radar, 1942. Professor of Physics, Univ. Melb. 1945-59. Post-war Defence Scientific Adviser. Knight Bachelor, FAA 1954, FRS 1957. Biog. mem. in Hist. Rec. Aust. Sc. 7,(1) 97-107. 1987.

MATTHAEI, Ernst - b. Trier, Germany 1904; d.15 July 1966 Melb. Education: Univ. Jena, (Dip Optics). Worked at Zeiss, Jena Representabve of Zeiss in Melbourne 1929-1939. Technical assistant under R.D. Wright, Department of Physiology Univ. Melb. 1939. For Panel, photography for graticules, reconditioning binoculars, tropic proofing. Post-war, in charge of microscopy laboratory Univ. Melb. Obituary - Univ. Melb. Science Faculty Minutes, 8 Sept 1966 by J.S. Turner.

MEDLEY, David J. - b. 17 Aug 1919. Education: Univ. Melb.(B.Sc. Nat. Phil. 1941; M.Sc. Nat.Phil. 1942). For Panel, optics for gunsights, height and range finder, binoculars. Ray tracing using mechanical computer. Post-war, telecommunications. Vice-President American Telecommunications Corp, Texas.

MEDLEY, Diana (Mrs F.B. Hall) - b.1922. Education: Univ. Melb. (Arts Faculty). For Panel, technical assistant; precise metrology of prisms, optical design assistance using calculating machines, testing optical components using Twyman interferometer, tropic proofing. Private secretary to J.S. Rogers for 6 months. Post-war secretarial positions, husband Ambassador.

RAMM, Colin Arnold - b. 1921. Education: Univ. WA (Hons I. B.Sc. 1942, M.Sc. 1945) Univ. Birmingham UK (Ph.D. 1951) Commonwealth Meterological Bureau, Perth, 1938. RAAF, 1939, seconded to A.D. Ross as physicist in Optical Munitions Annexe Univ. WA 1942-45. For Panel, spherical optical test plates. Repair and servicing of binoculars and other Service optical instruments. Post-war, Univ. WA Lecturer in Physics 1945, Univ. Birmingham, Lecturer 1948, Senior Lecturer 1952. CERN, Geneva, Senior Physicist, 1954-1972. Univ. Melb, Dean of Science 1972-1983, Professor of Physics from 1983.

ROBIN, Gordon De Q. - Education: Univ. Melb. (B.Sc.1940, M.Sc. 1942). For Panel, under V.D. Hopper, measurements of thermal expansion of glass. RANVR 1942, RN 1944. Antarctic research; Director, Scott Polar Research Institute. Cambridge 1958-1982.

RICHARDSON, Joseph F.- b.1916. Education: Univ.Melb.(B.Sc. Hons. 1941, M.Sc.1942). For Panel, physical tests on optical glass and components, aluminizing front surface mirrors (9000 made), blooming of component surfaces. Research physicist. Dental Materials Research Laboratory, Melb.1944. Post-war, Commonwealth X-Ray and Radium Lab. (now Aust. Rad.Lab) 1945-1981.

ROGERS, J.S. - b. Beaconsfield, Tasmania 6 June 1893; d. I Aug. 1977, Melbourne. Education: Univ. Melb. (B.A. 1912, Dip. Ed. 1919, B.Sc. 1921, M.Sc. 1922, D.Sc. 1945). Univ. Camb. (M.Sc. 1928). Syme Prize, 1925. Panel Secretary and author of its History. Post-war, Univ. Melb. Warden Mildura Branch 1947-9, Dean of Graduate Studies 1950 -63. Hon. Fellow AIP, Aust. Phys. 1 124, 1964.

ROSS, A.D. - M.A., D.Sc. Prof. Physics Univ. WA. Organiser of Branch of Institute of Physics in Australia and New Zealand 1924; its Hon. Sec. for many years. With T.H. Laby instrumental in lobbying Prime Minister about use of physicists in wartime research. Supported establishment of AIP 1962. Hon. Fellow AIP, Aust. Phys. 1 73, 1964. Founded Pan-lndian Ocean Science Congress of 14 Countries. S E Williams and J B Swan, Professor A.D. Ross, Aust. Phys. 20-22, 1976.

SACH, Colin - Technician in and eventually in charge of workshop at Univ. Melb. Dept. of Chemistry. Under E.W. Hartung made the furnace for the experiments on molten glass.

STEEL, W.H. - b. 1920. Education: Univ. Melb. (BA Hons. Maths. 1940, B.Sc. Nat Phil. 1941) Univ. Paris (Dr. es Sc. 1952). AWA Research Laboratory 1941. Aldis signalling lamps and sighting telescopes. Optical design on hand calculator. CSIR National Standards Laboratory 1944 under R.G. Giovanelli. Refractive index measurements, interferometric tests on glass sent to India, tests on telescopes and projectors, optical design, design of machines for optical workshop. Post-war, one of the few continuing in optics, geometrical and Fourier optics. Leader of optical research group on retirement in 1985. Interferometry, 2nd ed. CUP 1983.

TURNER, John S. - b. Yorkshire, UK, 1908. Education: Univ. (BA 1930 Ph.D.) Prof. of Botany and Plant Physiology, Univ. Melb. 1938. For Panel invited by Laby to join Hartung on production of graticules. Teaching laboratory in Botany School convened to recondition binoculars. Employed Matthaei [q.v.] from Physiology to help optical work and to work with Turner on tropic proofing of optical instruments. New wing of School built by Army in 1944. FAA, 1956.

WlLLlAMS, Sydney Ernest - d. l979. Education: Univ. Syd. (M.Sc. 1932) Univ. Bristol (Ph.D. 1936) Mt Stromlo 1936-7, Univ. Sydney 1937-40. Univ. WA Lecturer in Physics 1940, Reader 1961. Spectroscopy of UV and Soft X-rays. Obit. by Severin Crisp, Aust. Phys. 16 80, 1979.

WILLIS, John Burnett - b. 1920. Education: Univ. Melb. (B.Sc. Hons I Nat Phil. 1940, M.Sc. 1942). For Panel, metrology, equipment to calibrate screw threads using slip gauges and interference fringes, mechanical components of Wilde theodolite, radii of curvature of lenses. Optical design of binoculars and telescopes, ray tracing by hand calculators. CSIR Aeronautical Research Laboratories 1941. Wind tunnel design and operation. Retired as PRS 1982.

WOOLLEY, Richard van der Riet - b. 1906, d. 24 Dec. 1986. Director Commonwealth Solar Observatory, (now Mount Stromlo Observatory) 1940. For Panel, appointed as "one of the best mathematicians in the country". In middle of 1939-45 War, Observatory staff grew from 10 to over 70. Established the only workshop and laboratory where a complete telescope could be built under one roof. Total of 11 types of such instruments made Post War, used the legacy of a first class workshop and optical expertise to establish astronomical telescopes. Astronomer Royal UK 1956-1972. Director South African Astronomical Observatory 1972-1977. FRS.


Published by the Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb, 29 January 1997
Comments or corrections to: Bright Sparcs (
Prepared by: Denise Sutherland
Updated by: Elissa Tenkate
Date modified: 19 February 1998

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