BOA Research Medal

The highest award of the British Optical Association, first introduced in 1952.

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BOA Research medal

This is the BOA's Research Medal presented to John Benson, Lord Charnwood in 1954. On the obverse we see, in the field, the BOA symbols of the drop-cell trial frame with eyes, Morton-type ophthalmoscope and condensing lenses. Tragically the recipient, the first Baron to become an ophthalmic optician, died on the 1st February the following year, aged just 53, whilst still at the height of his career and with his research into binocular vision still ongoing. In his youth Charnwood had toyed with the idea of becoming an ophthalmologist but decided against it due to 'a chronic inability or unwillingness to pass examinations in such subjects as Greek, Latin and Holy Scripture'. He eventually ended up as Chief Engineer for Aston Martin. During World War Two, having been incapacitated at Dunkirk, he began experimenting on stereoscopic rangefinders and through this work became friendly with the BOA Secretary George Giles, at whose suggestion he qualified as an ophthalmic optician when in his mid forties. Never a mere researcher he practised both privately and at the London Refraction Hospital. His Essay on Binocular Vision (1950) was a seminal work and in a few short years he lectured widely across the world and received many further honours whilst also doing his bit for the profession through speeches in the House of Lords.

He was the second ever recipient of the medal after Freddie Burnett Hodd. The idea for the medal had first been suggested in 1952 by a future President, Kenneth Harwood. It was intended to mark original research carried out in the previous three years and was restricted to holders of the BOA Diploma.

His Lordship was not above getting his hands dirty; he once built his own ophthalmoscope, fashioning the control knob on the battery handle out of a 1943 threepenny bit. He was also modest about the very research for which he had been honoured, describing it as merely 'a record of unrelated small attacks on a number of facets of the problem of how the brain contrives to drive the two eyes in double harness'. The College continues to be concerned to foster and reward research, as seen in its iPRO scheme, 'Innovation in Practice-based Research for Optometrists', launched in 2007, and recent initiatives to expand the Research Fund.