Oral history of British science
Bhadeshia, Harry (1 of 8) Oral History of British Science
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Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge
Bhadeshia, Harry, 1953-(speaker, male)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 1: Harry Bhadeshia born in Nairobi, Kenya, Africa, 27th November 1953. Comments on parents’ move (as married couple, both aged approximately 25) from birthplace in Rajkot, Gujarat, India to Kenya. Mentions father’s birth, 1924; mother’s birth, 1926. [1:17] Mentions lack of knowledge of details of parents’ life in India as children/young adults. Comments on parents’ lives in Kenya before own birth, including details of material poverty. [2:11] Comments on time spent as a child in father’s workplace (Exide Batteries company); own siblings. Description of father’s workplace. [5:11] Description of family home, Nairobi South Seas, including comments on childhood toys including Meccano, washing of clothes using outside tap and beater. Mentions gardening, riding bicycles. [12:13] Comments on tendency for childhood friendships to have been established at school/through Boy Scouts. Mentions relatives in Nairobi. [12:48] Comments on playing of outdoor games; childhood play with chemistry set. Brief discussion of sisters’ interest in humanities/sociology/human behaviour rather than science. Comments on pocket money, including relations between pocket money and performance at school; purchase of toys/kits/models in Nairobi, including florescent skeleton model and make-your-own radio kit. [15:30] Description of construction of radio using a purchased kit; sister’s record player. [17:16] Comments on time spent with parents at home; perception that parents’ stories of their own material poverty as young adults were told to encourage own (and siblings’) efforts in school. Mentions parents’ tendency to spend their own money on education of self/sisters; family holidays in Mombasa, Kenya and Thika Falls, Uganda. [18:38] Comments on learning to type using mother’s typewriter and instruction manual in rented family home, late 1960s. Comments on effect of ‘Kenyanisation’ policies in later 1960s on parents’/own material quality of life, including father’s loss of job, selling of family home, rented accommodation, selling of property during wait for permission to emigrate to United Kingdom [UK], under UK government quota system. Mentions relatively small numbers of East African immigrants to UK in 1960s, compared to scale of recent migration within European Union [EU]. [22:09] Brief comments on own perception as a child of effect of Kenyanisation policies on parents; positive effect on family of older brother’s move to the UK first. Story illustrating parents’ (and own) perception of UK before emigration, centred on touristic images of London. [24:12] Further comments on time spent as a child with mother in Kenya, including stories of buying African food. Comments on relations between African and Indian communities pre- and post- Kenyanisation/independence, including reason for bars on windows of family home. [26:24] Comments on perception of parents’ focus on material personal/family ‘survival’ rather than politics; memory of adults discussing options for emigration from Africa. [27:52] Comments on primary school near home in Nairobi, including corporal punishment; secondary school [SS]; O Level Examinations. Mentions teaching at both schools was conducted in English; own 9 O Levels [administered by Cambridge Examination Board]. Comments on/discussion of older sister’s move to European Secondary School. [30:42] Comments on dislike of history at SS; teaching of science at SS, with related stories of risk in laboratory sessions. [32:53] Comments on rankings by performance at SS, including parents’ tendency to reward maintenance of high rankings. [35:59] Comments on own ambition, while taking O Levels, to pursue a career in medicine. Mentions inability to take up place to read medicine in India due to emigration to UK in 1970. [36:40] Comments on enjoyment of/interest in subject ‘health science’ at SS. Description of childhood use of microscope at home to examine insects. [38:27] Comments on other subjects studied at SS. Detailed comments on reasons for liking two books read at SS: ‘No Highway’ by Nevil Shute and ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe. Comments on reading of ‘technical’ books; use of local missionary library; nature/extent of Hinduism in own family as a child. [45:26] Comments on own limited memories of/knowledge of grandparents in India. [45:51] Story of selling (by auction) of tools/utensils by parents awaiting emigration to UK, 1970. Brief comments on own feelings at point of emigration. [49:30] Mentions rented accommodation above shop in East Ham, London. Story of parents’ decision to buy house in Manor Park, east London, still [in 2013] occupied by mother. [50:30] Discussion of own feelings about process of emigration, including selling of possessions. [51:15] Story of mother’s employment as manufacturer of clothing for company in Aldgate East. Brief comments on father’s employment at Lucas Industries [LI] establishment in London; father’s dislike of retirement. [54:11] Story of attending school in London for one day, including negative experience of other pupils’ amusement at own relatively advanced qualifications. Comments on employment as technician in metallurgy laboratory of British Oxygen Company [ML BOC], Edmonton, London, including BOC sponsorship to study for Ordinary National Certificate in Sciences [ONCS] through day release/evening class at East Ham College of Technology. Mentions pay: £8/week. [55:39] Discussion of discouraging experience of single day in UK school. [56:17] Comments on work as technician in ML BOC, involving quality testing of (for example) oxygen cylinders; closure of factory due to activities of union; own transfer to BOC Murex Welding Processes [MWP], Waltham Cross, London. Mentions longstanding collaboration with this company. Description of own work at MWP, involving assessment of specifications for welding components and production of reports on innovations developed by research section. [59:06] Story of visit from BOC personnel manager (who had previously supported ONCS sponsorship) during which he offered sponsorship of fulltime degree in metallurgy at City of London Polytechnic [CLP], [1973-1976]. [59:36] Description of day-to-day work at MWP. Mentions MWP’s electron-microscope. [1:02:34] Description of day-to-day work in ML, BOC. [1:03:27] Mentions competition with colleagues at ML, BOC. Comments on employees at MWP. [1:04:41] Mentions employment in research laboratories of MWP during summer holidays over course of degree; longstanding relations with former boss in research laboratories. [1:05:35] Brief descriptions of content of metallurgy degree, CLP, [1973-1976] including enjoyment of/difficulty of particular aspects of metallurgy (such as electron theory). [1:07:35] Story of production of mathematical model during summer holiday work in research laboratories of MWP, allowing more directed production of hard alloys. Comments on use of MWP’s AEG EM. [1:10:01] Story of lives of siblings immediately before and following move to UK. [1:12:15] Comments on discussion of immigration in workplaces. Story of being affected by racist recruitment practices in own application for short university holiday job in quality control laboratory of Ford car factory, Dagenham. [1:15:33] Comments on own experience of London, including brief story of cycling; awareness of activities of the ‘National Front’. Story of mother putting self ‘off alcohol for life’ through administration of ‘hot brandy’ at first sign of childhood illnesses, in context of expense of healthcare in Kenya. [1:19:42] Comments on device used by father in London to block letter box at night, due to concern about reports of racist attacks. [1:20:40] Comments on experience of living with parents during degree course. [1:21:17] Comments on development during metallurgy degree, CLP, of ‘fascination’ with phase of steel called ‘retained austenite’. Brief story of University of Cambridge [UOS] metallurgy professor Robert Honeycombe [RH], in role as external examiner to CLP, inviting self to apply for PhD at Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science [DMM], UOC on strength of performance in metallurgy degree; tutor at CLP strongly encouraging this application (in spite of offer of PhD at Imperial College, London). [1:23:19] Comments on application to Darwin College [DC], UOC. Story of development of especial interest in transformation in steel called ‘retained austenite’; diversion into study of steel transformation called bainite during PhD, UOC. [1:25:44] Mentions confusion/argument at time of PhD [late 1970s] concerning formation of bainite, including key arguments of US metallurgist H. I. Aaronson [HA]. Story of fierce arguments in literature (between self and HA’s research group), following own publications on bainite formation. [1:27:04] Comments on day spent with UK expert on phase transformations in metals and alloys [John] Jack Christian [JC], Department of Materials, University of Oxford [UO], [author of ‘The Theory of Transformations in Metals and Alloys’, 1965] discussing/encouraging own PhD research. Mentions own book ‘Bainite in Steels’ . Discussion of own disagreements at scientific conferences over formation of bainite with HA, in context of friendship between PhD supervisor RH and HA. Story of own invited review of/comments on chapters of RH’s book ‘Steels: Microstructure and Properties’ ; writing of chapter on bainite in second  and subsequent editions of this book. [1:29:44] Mentions recent visit from two security services officers concerning own PhD student who went on to work for nuclear weapons programme in Pakistan. Description of bainite in steels, with details of controversies (in late 1970s) concerning its formation (involving reorganisation of iron and carbon atoms), with HA’s favouring of mechanism involving diffusion of carbon atoms, own arguments for non-diffusive ‘displacive’ (deformative/reconstructional) mechanism of transformation. Comments on difficulty of verifying transformation mechanism experimentally, due to speed of movement of carbon atoms. [1:33:33] Story of development of own idea for deciding whether diffusion or displacement are responsible for generation of bainite, involving thermodynamic calculations concerning the timings of reactions turning parent phase into product phase. [1:34:33] Story of more recent work by colleague Francisca Caballero [FC] involving observational verification of non-diffusive formation of bainite, using advanced ‘atom probes’. [1:36:24] Description of day-to-day work of PhD, including learning through literature reviewing and other reading, development of mathematical model for formation of bainite (allowing direction of experimental work). [1:38:22] Description of this mathematical model, developed on computers in BASIC then Fortran. [1:40:11] Comments on personal archive of own lab-books, from 1976 to present; hand written equations in these and in thesis. Story of interaction with mainframe computer, UOC. [1:42:09] Comments on purpose of mathematical models developed in PhD: to direct the design of new steels with particular properties; MOD (Fort Halstead) funding of PhD, related to MOD interest in development of strong steels for tank gun barrels. Mentions own invention of Super Bainite [SB] armour, manufactured in Britain. [1:45:03] Description of example of SB armour; role of perforations. [1:45:54] Brief description of traditional method of producing steel for tank gun barrels (‘quenched and tempering’). Detailed comments on reasons for MOD interest in a gun barrel steel that could be produced by slow cooling instead; role of theory/modelling in production of materials with specific properties. [1:47:51] Comments on bainite as displacive transformation in steels, produced by slow cooling (developing fine crystals) and the addition of silicon, to inhibit generation of brittle carbides. [1:49:13] Brief comments on feelings about working on development of steels for tanks. Discussion of visit to FH laboratories in order to use plastic explosives to study effects of rapid deformation of steel, with related story of taking part in study of body armour test involving different ways in which men and women stab. [1:54:08] Comments on ‘drama’ of own disagreement with HA’s metallurgy group in US concerning process of bainite transformation; own decision to stop replying to letters written to journals by HA. [1:55:51] Mentions parents’ visits to Cambridge, bringing food. Comments on mother’s concern that someone might steal results of own PhD; father’s tendency to show his friends own PhD thesis. [1:57:47] Comments on social life in Cambridge during PhD, including details of life in DC. Mentions playing of squash; visits to public houses with friends; own preference not to drink alcohol. [2:01:29] Comments on key friends at this time, including metallurgist and evangelical Christian, John Benson [JB]. Comments on discussion about religion [in context of own Hindu faith, lost later] with JB; JB’s career in Christian church [Diocese of Singapore]. [2:03:04] Discussion of own reading of translated Hindu scriptures, the Bible and texts on comparative religion at this time. Brief comments on relations between religion and science. [2:04:54] Mentions marriage. Story of successful application for SRC (Science Research Council) Fellowship to continue research (for 2 years) following PhD [1979-1981]. Comments on relations with fellow PhD student/SRC Fellow; drinking culture of research group on steels, DMM, UOC, with related story. [2:08:17] Comments on use of laboratory equipment at unusual hours during SRC Fellowship. Description of/use of electron microscopes used at this time to inspect the structure of steels. Mentions use of key book [‘Electron Microscopy of Thin Crystals’]. Comments on use of mechanical testing equipment; heat treatment facilities. Mentions use of very high temperatures/dangerous chemicals. [2:13:30] Description of use of equipment to measure strength/toughness/hardness of metal. Mentions theory of metal toughness/brittleness developed by UOC engineer, [Constance] Tipper. Description of safety equipment worn. Story of causing small explosion. [2:16:54] Comments on role of reading/theoretical work in SRC Fellowship work. [2:17:48] Mentions absence of female researchers/PhD students in metals group at time of SRC Fellowship; locations and numbers of male and female toilets, DMM, UOC. Comments on more recent change in gender composition of DMM, UOC, including Athena Swan award, including role of Natural Sciences Tripos at UOC; DMM’s workplace culture. Mentions single female lecturer in DMM at time of PhD/SRC Fellowship, Jane Weston; three female Professors currently. [2:22:09] Story of meeting of wife through Indian ‘community functions’ in London. Brief comments on background/ethnic heritage/employment of wife. [2:23:48] Comments on SRC Fellowship work involving validation of theory developed during PhD, with related stories of using instruments for inspection of metals, including atom probe. Description of use of atom probe for inspecting atomic content of metals. Story of finding deviation from theoretical prediction in point at which ‘parent reactions’ would stop in non-diffusive phase transformations of steel. [2:28:29] Story of mistake in own PhD analysis. Further brief comments on decision to focus on publication of papers, rather than participation in ‘drama’ of conflicting theories of phase transformations in steel. Comments on letter from SRC congratulating self on use of advanced experimental techniques in validation of theory. Mentions own recent scanning of significant correspondence. [2:30:57] Mentions marriage, 1981. Story of successful application for five year [1981-1986] post of Demonstrator (junior lecturer) in DMM, UOC; first attempts to lecture (on geometry of crystals); training course in teaching in higher education. Mentions publication of book on own course ‘Geometry of Crystals’. Further comments on own experience of teacher training. [2:35:50] Comments on own research during period as Demonstrator, including supervision of PhD students. Mentions first PhD student sponsored by MWP. Story of origins of collaboration on mathematical modelling/structure prediction of weld metals with Lars-Erik Svensson, ESAB (Swedish company). Comments on prediction of properties of weld metals given final composition outlined by ESAB (without knowing commercially secret process of production). Story of conversation with Swedish welder leading to own appreciation of need to set wide range of temperature limits in own work. Brief comments on own view of weld metals research as ‘insurance policy’ in case bainite work was unsuccessful. [2:41:21] Comments on explanation of own work to non-specialists, including wife, with related stories. [2:43:34] Story of origin of work with CEGB’ Central Electricity Research Laboratory [CERL] at Leatherhead on development of creep resistant steels [CRS], allowing increased steam temperatures. Description of CERL. Comments of effect on own work of difficult problems identified by industry; role of confusion in prompting creativity in science; uncertainty generated by need to test over relatively short periods of time metals that need to function over much longer time periods. [2:50:09] Comments on development of mathematical models for development of CRS; communication/relations between self and CEGB. [2:52:17] Comments on parents’ lives in London during 1970s/1980s. [2:53:27] Brief comments on wife’s employment in building society, Cambridge and time spent with wife.
Interview with Professor of Metallurgy, Harry Bhadeshia