Don Schultz's CR39 lens takes Adelaide's SOLA company worldwide and goes to the Moon in 1969
SOLA lightweight CR39 eye lens were worn Walter Shirra, commander of the Apollo 7 spacecraft, and by the first astronauts on the Moon in 1969.
The first astronauts on the Moon in 1969 wore the lightweight eye lens developed by Don Schultz for Adelaide-born SOLA International that had manufacturing plants in 11 countries and employed 6,000 people by 1987.
SOLA was the legacy of Schultz’s intellect and inventiveness in the instrument construction department of South Australian optometry firm Laubman & Pank that Schultz ran with David Pank from 1947.
Among a raft of his innovations, Schultz’s big break was his interest in CR39 resin and applying it to plastic lightweight eye lens that Laubman & Pank had made for many years. These lenses were hard to polish accurately and easily scratched.
Schultz envisaged casting lenses from CR39 by creating a cavity between two polished glass moulds separated by a plastic spacer, and pouring CR39 into the cavity and polymerizing it. Schultz approached his colleagues at Adelaide University (where he lectured in optics), who helped develop isopropyl peroxy percarbonate, used for the next 20 years to make several hundreds of millions of lenses at a new company SOLA International.
Before the first lens were produced, Schultz overcame complex technical problems with realms of seven-figure hand-written calculations. A trip to Europe and UK in 1959 convinced Schultz the lens were commercially viable and the subsidiary SOLA (Scientific Optical Laboratories of Australia) was born with a plant at Black Forest, later moving to bigger premises at Lonsdale, south of Adelaide.
Schultz, whose interest was always useful design over management and sales (David Pank's strength), worked on side projects such as on plastic fibre optics, fully-cast CR39 spectacle-mounted Galilean telescopes and a periscope device for pest control workers. SOLA (later SOLA International) was first in the world to make commercial helium-neon lasers.
One of Schultz’s best-known achievements (with Rod Watkins) was the Schultz-Crock ophthalmoscope, selling thousands around the world over 35 years.