Brian O'Brien - War and Peace: 1940 - 1953


"By the end of 1940, The Institute of Optics was already involved with optical problems for government agencies; by the end of the academic year 1941-42, it was becoming more and more deeply involved." At the time the Institute was dealing with a spike in number of students and attempted to tailor the curriculum for military usefulness. O' Brien's right hand man was R.E. Hopkins, a young instructor with a B.S. from MIT who had just received his MS from the Institute of Optics, helping with lens design and geometrical optics.

The National Defense Research council became involved with the Institute December 1942 and continued the relationship until January 1946. They were looking for someone to make infrared sensitive phosphors. Franz Urbach, an escaped Viennese expert, was working in the physics department and was quietly transferred to the Institute of Optics to help develop the "metascopes" for night vision.

It was in relation to this work, in 1948, that Albert Noyes and Brian O' Brien were awarded The Medal of Merit by President Harry S. Truman, the highest civilian award given by government.

In a report sent to President Valentine, Dr. O' Brien estimated that the Institute had "spent" about one million dollars for the war effort "including overhead allowances to the University." There was also a marked increase in undergraduate students during this time period. Recognizing his own personal research involvement O' Brien decided to no longer accept graduate students. The Institute emerged from the war a little brighter and a little less worse for wear. However the school still had a very small faculty, "only one full-time professor and a few junior faculty." Despite this limitation "five master's degrees and two Ph.D.s were awarded to students already enrolled."

In his '47 report, O'Brien pointed out the number of government and industry requests made for the Institute to conduct research. He enjoyed the projects, but recognized the research would get in the way of "quality teaching ... and that fair balance must be achieved." He decided he was much more interested "guiding research and advanced degree students than in the tiresome details of undergraduate instruction."

M. Parker Givens, a Cornell Ph.D, joined the Institute during this growth spurt. This permitted an increase in students. "Fourteen, he said, should be graduating, in 1948, and the total student enrollment was 53, about equally divided through the classes."

One of the hallmark innovations developed following the war was a camera with a six inch f/1 lens for night aerial work, "giving excellent definition over a curved surface, the film being curved by compressed air between the lens and film." Another, first described at a meeting of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers in 1949, was a high-speed camera, "used for observations at the Bikini bomb test, later much improved to make rapid sequences of pictures at speeds up to 20 million frames per second."

Read more about this topic:  Brian O'Brien, War and Peace: 1940

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