Oral history of British science

Lovelock, James (part 4 of 13). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Climate Change Science

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee’s home, Cornwall

  • Interviewees

    Lovelock, James, 1919 - (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 4: Story of Youth Hostel [YH] holiday in Lake District, 1939, including travel, itinerary. Positive comments on YH organisation. Comments on individualism of pre-war leisure; reasons for walking alone. [04:44] Comments on regard for mountains of Lake District, contrasted with fens experienced as a child. Mentions father’s preference for hills. [05:53] Comments on preference for environments offering long views through clear skies, especially mountains of Western Ireland. Mentions first seeing haze, obscuring views, in southern England in the 1950s. [07:35] Description of ‘scree running’ near Wastwater Lake, Cumbria. Mentions risk taking behaviour in young men. [10:31] Story of falling in love with Lois Dickinson [LD], chemistry student at Manchester University [MU], met in a Youth Hostel ‘Black Sail Hut’. Comments on social life in London; the nature of falling in love. Story of sending telegram to girl’s home, from Orpington; decision to study at Manchester to pursue LD, when Birkbeck closed. Mentions political movement started at Birkbeck. [15:07] Comments on Honours Degree in Physics and Chemistry, MU, including teaching staff: Patrick Blackett [PB] Professor of Physics, Alexander Todd [AT], Professor of Chemistry. [16:31] Mentions AT wanting JL to undertake PhD. Description of AT’s character, compared to Gordon Brown. Story of AT criticising female students taking notes on front row. Mentions finding chemistry of nucleosides (AT’s specialism) boring. Description of ‘Higher Organic Chemistry’ part of course. Comments on relaxed attitude to course from end of second year; value of practical experience at MBS; physical chemistry teaching; laboratory tasks in analytical chemistry. [22:00] Story of being accused of cheating in gravimetric analysis by AT. Description of gravimetric analysis. [26:10] Mentions focus on organic chemistry. Description of laboratory task yielding carcinogenic chemical. [29:06] Story of failing Christmas examinations, 1939 due to mathematics; developing a short-cut involving root of minus one. Mentions time spent making mathematical models; computer program on shelf in office: ‘Mathmatica’. [32:33] Comments on course in pathological bacteriology. Description of practical work in bacteriology. [35:40] Comments on enjoyment of hospital environment; interest in lipid layer of tubercle organism, related to later work and ‘Nature’ paper on anti-tubercular drug. [38:44] Mentions feelings on arrival in Manchester. Story of first night in commercial hotel; evidence of working class enthusiasm for university education of any kind. Mentions attending lectures in economics and history. Comments on irrelevance of two cultures until post war period; current fifty percent policy. [43:05] Story of rejection by LD; paying for two dancing lessons; joining Ambrose Barlow Catholic Society [ABCS]; ABCS dancing classes; meeting Mary Delahunty [MD], secretary in Architecture Department. [46:57] Comments on attraction to Irish Catholic girls in relation to exogamy, JL’s mother’s anti-Catholic views. Story of visiting Church of England church in Berkshire and Byzantine Catholic church in Brixton. Detailed comments on specific kinds of attractiveness in women, including MD. [52:34] Description of MD’s family. Story of mother making living by playing bridge. Comments on effect of Delahunty family on JL’s ability to socialise graciously, contrasted with own mother’s insistence that JL should never say thank you or accept gifts. Mentions MD’s uncle, drama critic Manchester Guardian, providing free seats Opera House; cultural education of MD’s family. [56:03] Comments on sense of self as ‘nerdish’. [58:13] Story of Mrs Delahunty asking JL in role of scientist to predict. [58:55] Comments on novelty for MD’s family of JL’s mixed political background and southern-ness. Story of first sexual experience with MD. Comments on wartime bombing. Story of approaching and travelling through London during first significant bombing. [1:02:22] Comments on National Institute for Medical research [NIMR], Hampstead, joined 1941. Mentions Director Sir Henry Dale [HD] (then President of the Royal Society). Positive description of culture of research at NIMR. [1:05:18] Description of coffee room at NIMR. Comments on coffee room discussions, including story of discussing idea of dropping female sex hormone onto German troops. [1:07:17] Comments on colleagues: Robert Bourdillon [RB], Owen Lidwell [OL]; connection between AT and HD resulting in JL’s appointment. Story of interview with HD, including question regarding JL’s status as conscientious objector. [1:11:53] Detailed description of bacteria sampling device ‘slit sampler’, invented by RB and OL. [1:14:11] Long story of use of slit sampler in an operating theatre in Birmingham during a brain surgery operation. Discussion of work involved in operating slit sampler in the field. [1:20:30] Mentions use of slit sampler in burns unit. Story of use of slit sampler in East London hospital wards, identifying nasal carrier, spreading by bed making. Discussion of placing of slit sampler. Mentions note taking and smoke tracers. [1:23:25] Comments on influence of Matrons. Mentions speaking to patients. Story of trainee doctors not knowing precisely what codeine is. [1:25:56] Story of using slit sampler in London tube tunnel shelters. Description of use of slit sampler in tunnels. Mentions sense of self as working class. Comments on OL’s social class. [1:32:18] Comments on notes taken of events in tunnels in relation to slit sampling; studies of aerial disinfectants at NIMR. Story of inventing lactic acid disinfectant spray, reported in ‘Nature’. [1:35:22] Story of work on burn prevention for NIMR, involving experience of flame throwing weapons. Comments on heat protection properties of wool, related to evolutionary purpose; use of streets in Canning Town, London.

  • Description

    Life story interview with James Lovelock, independent scientist, environmentalist, author and researcher.

  • Related transcripts

    James Lovelock interviewed by Paul Merchant: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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