Oral history of British science

Nye, John (Part 10 of 16). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Geophysics; Glaciology

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewees home, Bristol

  • Interviewees

    Nye, John, 1923 - (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 10: Mentions birth of children: Hilary, Stephen, Carolyn. Minimal effect on working life of children; appraisal of self as father; very positive appraisal of wife Georgiana as mother. Mentions enjoyment of playing with children. Beach holidays, Gower Peninsula, Wales. Mentions in-laws’ home on Pacific coast. [03:32] interest in materiality of beach scenery: presence of physical phenomena in sea, effect of successive wave actions on beach material, ‘singing sand’; interest in geometry and symmetry in living objects; interest in explaining visual phenomena. [08:55] Children’s lack of interest in own work. local girl’s visit to Bristol Zoo, expressing assumption of academic fathers’ absence from home. Mentions talking to family about work. Showing slideshow of polar travels to family recently. Wife’s support for own work; wife’s different interests. [12:35] discussion of physics at WPL coffee/tea times; friends sharing interest in everyday physical phenomena: Sir Michael Berry, John Hannay, David Gibbs. [17:22] interest in gardening developed after move to Bristol. Interest in shapes and forms of plants. Mentions interest in D’Arcy Thompson’s book ‘On Growth and Form’; discussions with UOB botanist Professor Anthony Walsby. [21:48] Long story of visit to US Army’s ‘Camp Century’ [CC], GIS, 1961, including pioneering ice core work at CC. Description of Eskimo graves; Eskimo seal fishing. Seeing interior structure of GIS in tunnel at Camp Tuto, Greenland; travel in to CC in ‘big swing’ convoy. [32:15] Description on method of establishing settlement at CC devised by Henri Bader, CRREL (Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory); water cooled nuclear reactor powering CC. Mentions slide of self at controls of latter. Relations between primary military and secondary scientific aims of CC; military and political function of US South Pole station. Return from CC. Mentions Camp Thule; reservations about own association with military establishment. Scientific work at CC, including boring of hole through GIS. [39:44] teaching physics at PD, UOB; staff meeting discussions of syllabus. Mentions own focus on ‘pencil and paper’ physics, rather than experimental work in early 1960s; distinction between own work and that of ‘theoretical physics’. Appointment of Michael Walford [MW] as lecturer, PD, UOB in 1966; MW’s role in setting up laboratory for experimental work. Mentions wish to test theoretical work on sliding of glaciers on rock beds in experiment. Liz Morris (JN’s first research student in ice physics) asking JN to approve request for hand tools for laboratory. Comments on pioneering establishment of third year undergraduate experimental projects. Description of projects on formation of ice in bird baths and on reflections of light from sheets of metal (‘caustics’). Theoretical solution to bird bath problem. [49:42] Comments on female ‘computers’ in Queens Building, Engineering Laboratory UOB, using ‘Brunsviga’ hand calculators. one such computer, Christine Faithful, complaining that glaciology calculations were going awry, alerting JN to mathematical instability. Use of slide-rules and logarithmic tables; difficulty of long theodolite measurements. arrival at Engineering Department of first computer: IBM1620, 1960, managed by Professor Mike Rogers [MR]. Mentions size of IBM1620. Description of process of programming IBM1620 using punched cards. Arrival of IBM1620. Description of use of ‘compiler’; output on printer; process of verifying input. Mentions programming language: FORTRAN. writing first program run on the IBM1620, on flow of ice in various valley cross-sections. Initial lack of success; later success in ‘solving’ equations; results published in JOG and given to World Data Centres. [58:02] Description of program inputted. simplifying and splitting program to cope with limited capacity of IBM1620. [1:00:14] Mentions unsuccessful running of program early 1960s; successful attempt by 1964 resulting in three papers, 1965. use of computer algorithm in work on relations between changing climate and glacier snout movement. Mentions UOB Ferranti computer; use of IBM computer centre, Yale University. Use of valves in early computers; memory based on rings where two series of parallel wires crossed. [1:03:56] suitability of the Ferranti computer’s long paper output for glaciological calculation. Own view of ‘computing’ as calculating. use of computer on trolley in DP, UOB. Mentions introduction of hand calculators later. Vice Chancellor using HP (Hewlett-Packard) hand calculator to check actuarial predictions. Mentions work on UOB ‘Computer Committee’, including shared mainframe computer with Bath University, mid 1980s. Mention’s Assistant Registrar’s survey of potential of computers in each department. [1:10:16] finding computerised glaciology in the early 1970s ‘artificial’. Description and discussion of difference between physicists’ use of algebra, and a computer’s use of numbers and ‘logical operators’ only. ‘four colour problem’ solved by computer; recent use of computer program ‘Mathematica’ allowing computers to use algebra; role of checking in algebra; past problem of valve’s blowing during computations. [1:20:22] use of computers to create glacier ‘models’. Finding Kolumban Hutter’s work on theoretical glaciology ‘too’ theoretical; view of specifically British style of ‘patchwork’ physics. [1:25:06] Description of Charles Frank’s [CF] work on the Earth’s ‘mantle’. Long story of development of own work on location of water in ice at melting point, involving collaboration with CF. Relations of this work to plate tectonics. Use by UOC scientists of car industry computer program to establish similar processes in mantle magma flow. Mention’s Dan McKenzie’s account, missing work on ice. [1:38:21] Description of use of UOB computer to find shape of water between ice crystals; drawing of shapes with graph plotter. research student Heidy Mader viewing angles of ice crystal boundaries in ice specimens in walk-in fridge. Calculating how long ice swan had stood at Japanese conference from size of ‘veins’.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Professor John Nye, physicist.

  • Related transcripts

    Professor John Nye 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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