Oral history of British science

Forrest, Michael (Part 5 of 14). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Abingdon

  • Interviewees

    Forrest, Michael, 1934- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 5: Story about applying Harwell: secrecy limiting knowledge before starting work; applying with friend Albert Packwood after a lecture from a Harwell scientist, for Assistant Experimental Officer post, class distinction between Scientific and Experimental Officers, risks for high-flyers. [02:30] Story about formal interview for post: chairman Dr Harding; interviewers interested in sandwich aspect of his course; questions on interest in photography; backgrounds of interviewers, assignment to Dr Peter McWhirter; starting salary. [07:15] Anecdotes about security clearance: Girlfriend Anita proving to intelligence officer that MF wasn't homosexual; intelligence officer mistaking MF referee Dr Jack Wilson for his brother, the communist Dr Alistair Wilson. [09:56] Remarks on starting Harwell: medical examination; not knowing what his job was going to be; photographs and security; Peter McWhirter explaining MF would be working on fusion as an experimental spectroscopist; ZETA experimental fusion device; use of spectrometer to test temperature of plasma; MF designing a stabilised spectrometer. [Short Pause 15:20] Description of Spectrometry's use in fusion research: identification of make-up of plasma; importance of optics; spiked output display. [19:30] Remarks on: plasma; MF limited early knowledge of fusion; introduction to experimental electronics and vocabulary of exotic named equipment; Bremsstrahlung light; [22:10] limited training, learning on the job from others; learning spectroscopy; later boss Alan Gibson. [23:35] Description of Harwell in 1950s: airfield, Van der Graaf generator, swimming pool reactor with blue Cherenkov radiation, security, canteen, social club, hostels, MF accommodation in Sutton Courtenay. [26:00] Description of Hanger 7 where MF worked at first; laboratories; ZETA; Cathode Ray Tube instrument displays; chief experimental officer Ted Butt; film recording of results. [29:00] Remarks on ZETA: experiment to generate fusion reaction in laboratory using Deuterium and Hydrogen; Tritium use on later JET [Joint European Torus]; limited knowledge of plasma physics; specialised work groups; challenge of magnetically containing plasma; MF experiment to measure electrons by examining X-rays released from ZETA, using a beryllium lensed pinhole camera. [31:50] Remarks on typical daily activities at Harwell: building equipment; taking measurements; calibrating equipment; interaction with others. [34:00] Remarks on: divisions into different work groups; theoreticians' high status; yearly reports and promotion prospects, importance of publication; security classification of ZETA. [35:55] Remarks on class division between scientific and experimental officers: working practices, experimentalists left off publications, amalgamation of grades, degree results' limited value in research, MF career potential and switch to scientific officer class, promotion rates, [38:50] change to more democratic system, social mixing across division. [40:10] Comments on national service: thinking he might be deferred; regimental traditions of the Queen's Royal Regiment in Guildford; similarity to boarding school; mix of people, including former razor gang members; MF annoyance at National Service; transfer to Intelligence Corps at Maresfield; attitudes toward national service; training, anecdote about bayonet fighting with a veteran sergeant; [46:30] other recruits; limited social life, drinking. [47:25] Comments on posting to GCHQ [Government Communications Headquarters] at Cheltenham: MF relief; more intense military training with SAS; drawing straws for posting to GCHQ; friend Alec Colqhoun; MF unable to talk about his work there; MF finding the experience interesting but not career furthering; finding himself the only scientist in group; limited knowledge of work; differences of scientific work. [52:30] Remarks on return to Harwell: time away treated as continuation of service; transition back to physics; marriage and birth of first son; move to Abingdon, priority over locals for housing; birth of son Andrew in 1960; social life before and after children; limited social life at Harwell, improved at smaller Culham. [56:45] Remarks on interaction with different groups at Harwell: contact often limited apart from groups they were working with, such as electronics; effects of security. [58:20] Further remarks on ZETA: optimistic early predictions; Physics little understood; first claims of fusion by John Cockcroft and others mistaken; inexperienced neutron measurement personnel; MF excitement at working on edge of technology; instrumentation arrangements.

  • Description

    Life story interview with physicist Dr Michael Forrest.

  • Related transcripts

    Dr Michael Forrest interviewed by Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

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

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