Oral history of British science

McKenzie, Dan (Part 8 of 11). An Oral History of British Science

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee’s home, Cambridge

  • Interviewees

    McKenzie, Dan, 1942- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 8: Story of mother writing ‘The Cheerful Day’ [TCD] (1960). Comments on father’s negative view of mother’s success as author; distinction between own memory of father’s character and characterisation of father in TCD. [4:48] Comments on presentation of self in TCD, in contrast to CITH; contrast between countryside and London in childhood, expressed in TCD. [9:50] Comments on memories of childhood experiences described in TCD. [31:00] Story of attendance at American Geophysical Union [AGU] conference, Washington, Spring 1967, including focus on recently expressed sea-floor spreading hypothesis, leaving session at which LGO scientists intended to criticise JM’s use of LGO data, JM’s unadvertised paper on PT. Comments on quality of JM’s public speaking; lack of impact on conference of JM’s paper. [35:46] Story of finishing paper for JGR (Journal of Geophysical Research; journal of AGU), reading HH’s papers, re-reading TB’s paper on fit of continents, realisation of key ideas: plates are rigid and separate from mantle convection. Mentions re-reading JM’s paper recently. Story of writing with Bob Parker [BP] and posting of paper published as The North Pacific: an example of Tectonics on a Sphere’ (1967) to ‘Nature’. Comments on lack of referees comments, proofs; John Maddox’s (then editor of ‘Nature’) role in swift publication; effect on career of 1967 date. [40:46] Mentions finding many scientists at LGO working on PT, end 1967. Comments on discussion of paper with BM; seeing JM’s paper on PT submitted to BM as referee; BM’s advice to DM to publish own paper; possible delay to JM’s paper caused by BM’s comments; Xavier Le Pichon’s [XLP] opinion that DM was aware of content of JM AGU conference paper. Story of theft from car in Greenwich Village, New York, including clothes and punch cards for PT calculations. [44:59] Comments on LGO’s possessiveness over interpretation of published data collected by LGO scientists. Mentions possible LGO scientists in audience at AGU session; possibility that XLP didn’t see DM leave. Comments on JM’s interpretation of the Puerto Rico Trench. [50:43] Comments on DM’s concept of ‘me too science’; large amount of magnetic data collected from various cruises since the 1950s; time consuming process of running computer program to interpret magnetic data. Mentions use of computer at SOI overnight with JS. [53:45] Comments on effect of being at SOI on origin of concept of PT, including role of BM and effect of relative freedom as post-doctoral researcher. Comments on intellectual process of developing concept of PT. [56:37] Mentions use of published seismological data used in PT paper. Comments on US Air force funding of DM’s work at SIO. [57:47] Detailed comments on significance of BP’s contribution to paper on PT, in use of ‘Mercator’ map projection to illustrate rigid relative parallel motions of plates, using marks directions of motion marked on model globe with plastic cap. Mentions keenness to publish quickly. [1:03:24] Mentions feeling later, at LGO that JM had ‘priority’ in publication on PT; FV’s view that DM should delay publication to allow JM to publish first; attempt to delay by writing to ‘Nature’. [1:05:11] Comments on writing of history of CD and PT, including opinion that scientists at LGO have received insufficient credit for collection and reduction of data, luck involved in swift publication of own ‘Nature’ paper, XLP’s view of relations between work of JM and DM; view of designation of PT the ‘Morgan-McKenzie-Parker’ theory. [1:13:18] Story of learning about ‘fault plane solutions’ at LGO, 1967. Comments on insecure culture of funding/tenure at LGO; effect of this on competitiveness/secrecy of LGO scientists. Mentions Lynn Sykes’ seminar. Comments on US Air force funding of LGO work in relation to discrimination of earthquakes and bomb tests. Comments on standardisation of equipment in World Wide Seismology Network [WWSN], established by US Air force, 1963; similar classified network; differences between ground motions produced by earthquakes and bombs; photographs (called ‘chips’) of seismograms catalogued by station, reordered at LGO by day; time spend viewing chips microfiche viewer. [1:22:53] Story of moving on from PT theory in 1967 to interest in continents, including observation that earthquakes in continents are dispersed not arranged in lines, choice of area from Azores to western Afghanistan. Comments on early findings in ‘continental tectonics’ [CT], including stretching of Aegean, faults either side of Turkey; recent mapping of very thick regions of continentals (such as US interior), resistant to deformation. [1:30:12] Comments on effect of recent digital recording of seismological data; use of ‘surface waves’ to map velocity structure of continents; effect on sharing of data of WWW (World Wide Web). [1:32:48] Comments on significance of location at LGO in early work examining ‘chips’; lack of seismological work at MR. Mentions MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Caltech also bought ‘chips’; archive of original seismographs at NEIC (National Earthquake Information Centre), Golden, Colorado, US. [1:36:09] Description of a ‘chip’ (photograph of one days record from a seismometer), used on visits to US between 1967 and mid 1970s; buying of ‘chips’ at MR from mid 1970s, used by James Jackson [JJ]. Mentions making way for JJ in CT by leaving field. [1:39:43] Long, detailed description of process of investigating CT using ‘chips’. [1:47:00] Mentions lack of fieldwork involved; first visit to Iran late 1970s. Mentions attempting to obtain Iranian aerial photographs. Story of fieldwork in Iran looking for faults. [1:54:20] Mentions improvement to fieldwork of satellite photography and GPS. Description of process of recording seismological data using coloured arrows on map projection produced by computer; process of checking. [1:59:03] Comments on effect of PT on scientific reputation, employability. Mentions UOC appointment 1969. Comments on reasons for not accepting US job offers. Mentions NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) grant for Iranian fieldwork. [2:06:56] Comments on classified US seismological network. Mentions brief period of British security clearance, early 1990s. [2:08:06] Story of work with JS on application of PT to Indian Ocean, including collection of magnetic profile data on SIO cruise 1968 (funded by US Navy), process of exchanging data, use of US Air Force profiles, writing of computer program, small error, 1971 paper forming single issue Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society [GJRAS]. Mentions election as FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society), 1966. Comments on decision, following GJRAS paper, to move on from oceanographic tectonics. [2:14:16] Comments on traditional approach of marine geologists, ignoring PT; reason for US Air Force flights with magnetometer. [2:17:36] Comments on US Navy funding of research at LGO, SIO, WHOI; lack of need for geopolitical permission to sail Indian Ocean, pre ‘Law of the Sea’.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Professor Dan McKenzie, geophysicist.

  • Related transcripts

    Professor Dan McKenzie 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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