Oral history of British science

McKenzie, Dan (Part 9 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 9: Comments on influence of first year NST, UOC and culture of MR on success in science; influence on international geophysics of MR; international links through MR alumni; career paths of foreign graduate students at MR. [5:16] Comments on lack of rival British geophysics departments, 1960s. Mentions small geomagnetics group, Liverpool and Ronald (Ron) Girdler, Durham. Story of TB’s interest in marine geophysics. Comments on geophysics in France/Germany. [9:45] Comments on contemporary British departments of Earth Sciences, viewed by DM as significant: Oxford geology (petrology, ‘classical’ continental tectonics), Liverpool geophysics (palaeomagnetism), Newcastle physics (KR: palaeomagnetism), Edinburgh (geology/geophysics). Story of [1969] appointment of Professor of Geophysics, Alan Cook [AC], University of Edinburgh. Detailed comments on relations between geology and (geo)physics, including negative view of geology of certain geophysicists/own view of geology. [13:55] Story of recent work on east Greenland intrusion. Comments on use of physics in geochemistry. [15:44] Comments on Edinburgh geologists involved in AC story, above: [Sir Frederick Stewart [FS] and Gordon Craig]. Story of FS’s payment as NERC Chairman, novelist wife; own opportunity to work under AC, Edinburgh. Mentions own view of AC. Mentions geophysics, ? Wilson; KR’s Professorship, Newcastle. [18:47] Comments on contemporary isotope geochemists, US; development of commercial spectrometers, 1970s; use of mantle isotopes in dating formation of components of the Earth. [25:22] Description of process of mantle convection, providing energy for plate movements/earthquakes. Story of reading fluid mechanics literature but finding no application to viscous mantle convection. Story of use of UOC computers to model physical processes involved in convection of viscous material, heated from below. Description of this convection, seemingly unrelated in nature and scale to plate movement. Mentions gravity method of observing actual mantle convection. Description of two scales of convection: (1000-1500km) and plate motions. Comments on unsuccessful attempts to model both mathematically, accounting for observed plate movements. [35:19] Description of effect on surface topography and gravity measurements of rising (less dense) and falling (more dense) areas in mantle; effect of waves on gravity data collected at sea; accuracy and coverage of satellite sea surface topography data. Mentions large areas of oceans with little/no surface measurements. [41:37] Comments on reasons for regions unexplored by ship. [43:06] Story of collaboration with Nigel Weiss [WS], using Department of Astronomy’s IBM360. [44:47] Story of use of Lyle’s Golden Syrup [LGS] to explore relations between temperature, viscosity and convection. [49:13] Description of MR apparatus for inspection of heated tank of LGS. Mentions movies of convection in LGS. Description of experiment using this apparatus; pattern of convection ‘cells’ observed. Mentions photographs of these patterns. Comments on correspondence between patterns observed in tank of LGS and computer model of same, involving differential equations; advantages of computer model. [54:52] Comments on depiction in David Sington’s [DS] 1991 BBC Horizon programme ‘The Day the Earth Melted’[TDEM] of geology as painstaking, geophysics as clear/over viewing, ‘tedious’ effort involved in original science. Story of use of thirty-inch ‘plotter’ in work with JS on evolution of Indian Ocean. Mentioned redrafting of plots for publication. [1:00:20] Comments on own tendency to devise simplest ‘physical model’ capable of explaining observed phenomena, using mathematics and physics’ ‘laws’. Further comments on effort involved in original science, including example of data reduction, SIO. Comments on role of primary observation in own and geologists’ work; DS’s distinction between geology and geophysics in TDEM. Positive comments on TDEM. [1:03:50] Comments on geologists’ reaction to depiction of DM in TDEM; sense of self as arrogant. Comments on own ‘rude’ dismissal of scientists who questioned first PT paper, including story of MIT meeting, c.1970. Comments on sense of self as feared intellectually; willingness to acknowledge own errors. Story of current work on Tibet, involving rejection of own theory, previously published. Mentions distinction between being ‘wrong’ and ‘stupid’. Comments on disagreement with former co-authors concerning Tibet. [1:15:14] Story of recognising by late 1970s that PT did not explain continental tectonics. Description of faulting in Aegean, examined though earthquake data, suggesting stretching of whole plate. Description of theory of formation of ‘sedimentary basins’ [SB]. Comments on oil companies’ use of SB theory. Mentions single published paper, SB, [1978]. [1:23:04] Comments on use of own ideas commercially. Mentions attempt to run consulting company. Comments on commercial rewards of SB theory: prizes, service on BP’s Technology Advisory Council [TAC], endowment of Professorship and four lectureships in DGG’s ‘BP Institute’ [BPI], own recent ‘BP Professorship’. Mentions role in establishing BPI. [1:25:40] Positive comments on economic use of own scientific knowledge. [1:27:40] Comments on lack of fieldwork involved in Aegean SB paper. Story of visit to Greece/western Turkey with JJ, 1979, seeing faults. Detailed comments on reasons why geologists had not recognised continental stretching. [Closed between 01:33:35 - 01:45:40] [1:46:11] Comments on limited relations with BP since end of work on TAC, 2008; development/expansion of TAC’s role 2001-2008; feelings of anxiety about BP’s carbon sequestration research. [1:50:15] Comments on scale of financial rewards of work for BP; reasons for interest in such work; relatively high pay of senior academics; low pay of junior academics in relation to house prices/private school fees; reasons for increase in pay of senior academics, UOC. [1:56:15] Further comments on difficulties concerning carbon sequestration. Comments on popular, negative view of multinational companies, especially oil companies; benign management of BP, including concerns for environment, inequality in some countries from which oil extracted, climate change.

  • 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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