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Schultz , Donald Herbert (1911–1987)

by Jim Bettison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Donald Herbert Schultz (1911-1987), optical physicist, optometrist, inventor and benefactor, was born on 7 April 1911 at Summertown, South Australia, second son of South Australian-born parents Franz Herbert Schultz, gardener, and his wife Charlotte, née Laubmann. After high school Donald entered an optical apprenticeship with Laubman & Pank, the innovative optical practice formed in 1908 in Adelaide by his uncle, Carl Laubmann, and Harold Pank. In 1929 he was one of three students to pass the new optometry course at the University of Adelaide, run for the optometrists’ registration board by the department of physics, headed by Professor (Sir) Kerr Grant. Successful candidates were qualified to be registered as optometrists, but were not awarded a degree, diploma or certificate. In the first year of the course Schultz studied optics under (Sir) Marcus Oliphant. He so impressed his teachers that in 1931, at the age of 20, he was appointed lecturer in optometry, a post he held for twenty-four years. In 1933-37 he played A-grade cricket for the university.

By the early 1930s Schultz was not only registered as an optometrist, but was also a recognised optical engineer. On 2 March 1940 in the Church of the Epiphany, Crafers, he married with Church of England rites Charlotte Joyce Grigg. They had no children. During World War II Schultz moved from clinical optometry into optical science and invention. Optical products could no longer be supplied from Britain, and Australia lacked experts in the field. The Optical Munitions Panel engaged Schultz to work under Kerr Grant. Almost completely self-taught, he became a leading optical physicist. He contributed to many wartime optical projects, including submarine and tank periscopes, rangefinders and aircraft glide slope indicators, and also supervised a group that reconditioned binoculars for the armed forces.

In 1944 Schultz became a director of Laubman & Pank. At war’s end he transferred several wartime projects, including manufacturing optical munitions and research into new technologies, to the firm. In 1947 he and David L. Pank, son of Harold Pank, purchased equal controlling interests in the company. During the 1950s their innovations encompassed clinical low-vision equipment, lens making, an optical device for road making and catadioptric cameras for the Weapons Research Establishment, Salisbury. In 1956 Laubman & Pank renamed a subsidiary Scientific Optical Laboratories of Australia (SOLA), to market the items created under Schultz’s direction. That year SOLA began to experiment with a new plastic, CR39, which was light-weight, had excellent optical properties and, unlike previous plastic lenses, had relatively high abrasion resistance. Initially, CR39 shrank during moulding, impairing lens accuracy. To predict the lens power derived from various moulds, Schultz performed a series of calculations using logarithms; he shunned the slide rule, claiming it lacked accuracy for optics.

On a trip to England and Europe in 1959, Schultz demonstrated the commercial potential of CR39. In July 1960 SOLA became a separate company, with CR39 a major product. SOLA received considerable publicity in 1968 when Captain Walter Shirra, commander of the Apollo 7 spacecraft, chose SOLA light-weight lenses. The first astronauts to land on the moon in 1969 also wore SOLA lenses. Schultz and Professor Gerard Crock of the University of Melbourne led teams that developed award-winning optical instruments, such as the Schultz-Crock binocular indirect ophthalmoscope. With Rod Watkins at SOLA, they invented the combined operating magnifier and indirect ophthalmoscope (COMIDO). SOLA’s success owed much to the complementary qualities of its founding governing directors, Schultz’s research and development and team leadership and Pank’s entrepreneurial and management skills. Starting with nine staff in 1960, by 1987 SOLA had manufacturing plants in eleven countries and employed 6000 people.

During his working life Schultz also designed instruments for people with poor vision, that had limited sales potential. After retiring in 1976 he continued to support a range of research interests, including meteorology at the Flinders University of South Australia and the Schultz, Laubman, Schultz Endowment Fund, through which he, his wife Joyce and cousin Eulalie Laubman, provided generous ongoing funding for the National Vision Research Institute of Australia, of which he was a life member and governor. He and his wife also gave generously to a number of Adelaide charities. In 1980 the Victorian College of Optometry appointed him an honorary life member and in 1987 Flinders University awarded him an honorary D.Sc. for his research and scholarship in optical physics. He was a member of the Savage Club. Survived by his wife, he died on 24 August 1987 at Toorak Gardens, Adelaide, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Towler, Men of Vision (1988)
  • C. Wright, A History of Australian Optometry (1988)
  • R. Linn, Breaking the Mould (2000)
  • Clinical and Experimental Optometry, vol 82, no 6, Nov-Dec 1999, p 212, vol 83, no 4, Jul-Aug 2000, p 232, vol 87, no 2, Mar 2004, p 121, vol 87, no 3, May 2004, p 187
  • private information and personal knowledge.

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Citation details

Jim Bettison, 'Schultz , Donald Herbert (1911–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/schultz-donald-herbert-15754/text26942, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 22 September 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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