Oral history of British science
Islam, Saiful (3 of 8) Oral History of British Science
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Department of Chemistry, University of Bath
Islam, Saiful, 1963-(speaker, male)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 3: With reference to group photograph, continues comments on gender, ethnic background, etc. of cohort of c.30 undergraduates (including self) reading chemistry at UCL, 1981-1984. Comments on lack of attention given to own or others ethnic background at UCL; cosmopolitan feel of UCL/central London; experience of meeting for first time people who had been educated privately. [5:11] Comments on societies joined at UCL, including football team, Third World First [TWF] (concerned with highlighting global inequality), welfare committee of Students’ Union [SU]. [7:29] Comments on reasons for involvement in TWF, in relation to father’s left-wing, ‘progressive’ politics. Mentions involvement in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament [CHD]; father’s reading of ‘The Guardian’ newspaper. Comments on own response to policies of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1980s. Mentions Tony Benn. [11:41] Mentions living at home in first year of degree. Comments on interest and attainment in different aspects of first year chemistry degree, including difficulties in organic chemistry practical classes, ability in mathematical elements, interest in quantum chemistry; experience of working as volunteer in UCH. [15:19] Comments on experience of chemistry degree, from second year onwards, including final year project on Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), involving computer modelling; effect of being friends with student one year behind self. [19:14] Description of use of computer modelling in chemistry: the use of computers to perform calculations in numerical models of chemical structures/properties/processes, aiding the interpretation/understanding of experimental observations. Comments on use of computer modelling to interpret results of infrared spectroscopy. Description of use of ‘BBC-type’ computers used in degree project, 1984. Further description and discussion of use of computer models to reproduce the results of infrared spectroscopy, including use of existing programs (‘codes’). [28:13] Brief story of conversation with Richard Catlow [RC], regarding possibility of undertaking a PhD in RC’s group. Comments on decision to pursue option of PhD; other universities considered for PhD; ‘CASE’ (Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering) PhD studentship in RC’s group, involving link to semiconductor company ‘STC Components’, Taunton, with focus on computer modelling of solids used in semiconductors. [33:34] Comments on experience of SU bar, UCL, including own tendency not to drink alcohol. Story of journey on train with own football team; involvement in Christmas revue performed by members of ‘ChemSoc’ society, UCL. [38:16] Comments on formality of relations between undergraduates and members of staff during degree. [39:55] Comments on limited awareness of famous or eminent scientists as an undergraduate; development of interest in Charles Darwin and Michael Faraday during PhD; reading of English literature as a student, influenced by friends. [42:27] Description of content/focus of PhD, on computer modelling of features (atomic structure/movement of ions within/ electronic structure) of crystalline solids: oxide materials used in semiconductors and then a potential material for use in lithium batteries. Mentions RC’s supervision of PhD. [45:37] Story of selection of third focus for PhD (including RC’s role): computer modelling of semiconductor material with perovskite structure, called barium titanate [BT] [BaTiO3]; ‘fortunate’ timing of discovery of high temperature superconductors in later 1980s, allowing self to work on superconductor material with perovskite-type structure: lanthanum cuprate [LC]. Description of properties of superconductors. Mentions publication on computer modelling of LC. [50:18] Detailed comments on and discussion of process of computer modelling LC, including non-technical analogues, role of imperfections (‘defects’) in crystal structures, ionic conduction through these materials. Further discussion of how computer modelling can predict where crystal defects are, linked to new high resolution ‘local’ structural techniques for inspecting crystalline materials (neutron diffraction, nuclear magnetic resonance, electron microscopy). [1:02:59] Comments on ability of computer modelling to ‘predict’ crystal structures; personal and professional relations with RC, including RC’s approach to supervising own PhD. Mentions RC’s post at RIGB. Story of application to teacher training, RC’s role in arranging postdoctoral position, supervised by Roger Baetzold [RB], in research laboratory of Eastman Kodak Company [EKC], Rochester, New York, US, beginning February 1988. Comments on focus of this postdoctoral work at EKC: computer modelling of high temperature superconducting oxides and luminescent materials; parents’ different reactions to prospect of own move to US. [1:14:16] Story of PhD examination. [1:18:21] Comments on parents’ understanding of own work; parent’s lack of advanced education in science. Mentions EKC’s funding of basic research, likened to approach of Bell Labs, New Jersey, US. Comments on joke involving meanings of work model.
Interview with Professor of Computational Materials, Saiful Islam