Primary Sources 50 stories from 50 years of the Archives

Through the optical glass: The University's war effort

In June 1940 with a crisis in Australia's defence looming, Director of Ordnance, Department of Munitions, Lawrence Hartnett, called a meeting of the members of the Australian Branch of the Institute of Physics to discuss the manufacture of optical glass. Prior to 1940 Australia had imported optical glass from France, but with the outbreak of war this was no longer an option. This meeting led to the formation of the Optical Munitions Panel, chaired by T.H. Laby, Professor of Natural Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. E.J. Hartung, Professor of Chemistry, was charged with the task of developing optical glass/graticules technology as swiftly as possible.

Hartung immediately began trials and experiments using sand and raw materials, and collaborated with local industry to produce prototypes. In just over a year he had successfully designed working optical graticules for use in gun sights and telescopic equipment.

Australia's initial success in the area of optical technology during World War II was not to continue. At the conclusion of the war the Curtin government did not consider there was sufficient market demand for local optical goods and production was discontinued.

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