Astronomy in Leicestershire title image

Charles Gorrie Wynne (1911–1999)

Charles Wynne was lens designer from Leicester who worked on optics for large telescopes such as the UK Schmidt (Australia), the Palomar 200-inch, Isaac Newton and Gemini Telescopes. He also pioneered the use of electronic computers in lens design.

Charles Gorrie Wynne was born in Leicester on 18 May, 1911. In 1916, Charles Henry Wynne (his father) was living at 29, Gwendolen Road with a business address of Wynne & Sons, hosiery manufacturers, at 236 St Saviour's Road, East (on the corner of Benson Street). The building once had the name "Wynnstay Works".

He attended Wyggeston Grammar School and then, with a scholarship, Exeter College, Oxford (some sources say Wadham College). He recalled having heard Albert Einstein speak to the university Peace Council. His time at Oxford was interrupted when he contracted TB, but he graduated in 1934.

Whilst at home convalescing, a relative suggested applying for work at the nearby firm of Taylor, Taylor & Hobson. He worked there as a lens designer from 1936-1943. The calculations for lens design were done using mechanical calculators, books of trigonometrical tables, slide rules and human "computers". Wynne's name is on several patents concerning optics which were approved during his time there, some with lens designer Arthur Warmisham. Cooke Optics still make lenses.

Whilst at Taylor Taylor & Hobson, Wynne, with Warmisham, considered making lenses from artificial and crytalline materials. (In 1820, William Pearson wrote a paper about using rock salt as a micrometer with a telescope.)

He then went to Wray (Optical Works) at Bromley in Kent until 1960. It was here he was involved - and was among the first to do so - in the use of electronic computers in lens design and also astronomical optics. The company manufactured lenses used in aerial reconnaissance. Wray did not restrict Wynne's work, his abilities having been recognised.

In 1946, Wynne travelled to Germany, "disguised" as an RAF officer, because the journey was for Allied intelligence gathering. He visited most of the major optical factories, eg Zeiss.

In the 1950s Wray worked on lenses for use with cathode ray tubes and phosphor screens, such as those used in the TB eradication programme. It took over two years work, but the result was much clearer screens than the dimly lit ones doctors had used when Wynne was being treated for TB.

In 1960 he joined the Technical Optics Section at Imperial College, London, where he taught and undertook research until 1978. He was involved with the formation of IC Optical Systems Ltd which makes specialist optical instruments.

In 1966-7 he was involved with developing lenss for bubble chambers at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the US.

Whilst at Imperial College, Wynne had worked with Mr Hsu of the Peking Institute. In October 1977 he visited China with Francis Graham Smith, who was director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory at the time. They saw several observatories. Wynne was asked to talk about his use of computer programs for optical design. (The Observatory, 98, pp194-5)

In 1978 he took up a post at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, and then one at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge in 1987.

Using computers in lens design

Due to the arduous calculations involved in lens design, when electronic computers became available they were soon used instead of slide rules, tables and people. Some examples:

Wynne sent a ray tracing task in response to a request for material to test a computer Alan Turing was developing in Manchester in the 1950s. However, the thermionic valves were unreliable and the results arrived after the prototype lens had been completed.
In the 1950s whilst working at Wray, Wynne was able to use government computers for lens design, as the government was aware of the strategic importance of the subject.
As a consequence of Wynne's work for bubble chambers, work was done at Imperial College on programs for precision lens mounting.


After the war, Wynne became interested in catadioptric optical systems. Bernhard Schmidt had invented the telescope named after him in 1929. In the 1970s, with David S. Brown of Grubb Parsons, Newcastle, Wynne designed a corrector plate for the UK Schmidt Telescope at the Anglo-Australian Observatory.

In 1946 there was a conference for optical scientists and engineers in Paris. Systems similar to Schmidt were discussed. Wynne was interested in the work of D. D. Maksutov and used his ideas and wrote papers on his own work in the 1940s. One was for a microscope, but mainly concerned astronomical spectrographs.

Astronomers became aware of his work. Wynne became involved in plans to fit coma correcting lenses to the Isaac Newton Telescope because of papers he wrote in the 1940s. However, no work was done until the 1960s. He designed a field corrector for the 200 inch Palomar Telescope.

He also worked on Ritchey-Chrètien telescopes which have a hyperbolic rather than a parabolic mirror.


This is a list of about a hundred publications by Charles Wynne.

His name is on thirty patents in the UK, and also a number in the United States and Canada.


Fellow of the Royal Society, 1970

Young Medal and Prize (Institute of Physics), 1971. It is given on odd numbered years for "distinguished research in optics, including work related to physics outside the visible region. The medal will be bronze and will be accompanied by a prize of £1000 and a certificate."

Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal, 1979.

Rumford Medal (Royal Society), 1982: "In recognition of his unique contribution to the design of optical instruments ranging from large telescopes to bubble-chamber optics". It is given in even numbered years for "an outstandingly important recent discovery in the field of thermal or optical properties of matter and their applications, made by a scientist working in Europe, noting that Rumford was concerned to see recognised discoveries that tended to promote the good of mankind".

A.E. Conrady Award (International Society For Optical Engineering), 1999. It is "given annually in recognition of exceptional contributions in design, construction, and testing of optical systems and instrumentation. The recognition of this award is based on developments of new equipment, techniques, and applications for designing, testing, analyzing, and/or evaluating optical systems, components, and theories."



"Charles Wynne", Obituary in The Guardian, 12 November, 1999.

Maxwell, Jonathan, "Charles Gorrie Wynne FRS" [pdf]. Obituary in Astronomy & Geophysics, 2000, 41 p2.37

Maxwell, Jonathan and Wormell, Prudence M.J.H., "Charles Gorrie Wynne. 18 May 1911 – 1 October 1999", Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, November 1, 2001, 47, pp497-514

"Professor Charles Wynne", Obituary in The Times, 02 November, 1999, p27.

Charles Gorrie Wynne (Wikipedia)


The Wynne family - involvement with Leicester Communist Party

London Gazette, 14. January, 1910, p365 - Dissolution of partnership between Charles H. Wynne and Eustace Cecil Wynne.

Gorrie Collection, University of Leicester Library. Political memorabilia of Charles Gorrie Wynne's grandfather Archibald Gorrie (c.1885-1941).


Wright's Directory of Leicester, 1911, p357

Kelly's Directory of Leicestershire & Rutland, 1916, p195, 262 and 509.


A.E. Conrady Award

Rumford Medal

The Young medal and prize


IC Optical Systems Ltd


Palomar 200-inch Telescope - technical details

Gascoigne, S. C. B., Proust, K. M. and Robins, M. O. The Creation of the Anglo-Australian Observatory, 1990.


Last updated 29th December, 2012.

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional