Don Schultz's CR39 lens takes Adelaide's SOLA to the Moon and global takeover orbit in 1979

The first astronauts on the Moon in 1969 wore the lightweight eye lens developed by Don Schultz for Adelaide-born SOLA International.
Image courtesy NASA

SOLA (Scientific Optical Laboratories of Australia) 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.

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.

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.

Sola made its first big international move in 1975 when it set up manufacturing operations in Sunnyvale, California. Four years later, it was bought out by English glass manufacturer Pilkington.

Pilkington’s takeover of SOLA was such as success that it launched into launched into other buyups that left it awash with debt. In 1993, Pilkington sold SOLA to AEA, an investment firm of American high flyers. More major acquisitions and innovations saw SOLA expand further as an international entity. In 2004, German optical group Carl Zeiss, and a Swedish private equity firm, EQT Partners AB, agreed to buy Sola.

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