Oral history of British science
Forrest, Michael (Part 8 of 14). An Oral History of British Science.
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Culham Laboratories, Oxfordshire
Forrest, Michael, 1934- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 8: Remarks on background to MF trip to Russia: Russian claims of high temperature plasma; Lev Artsimovitch inviting British to confirm results using Thomson scattering; American scientists' disbelief of Russian claims; MF dubious of claims due to knowledge of diagnostic limitations; MF recent discussions with US physicist Gottlieb over US doubts of Russian claims; MF desire to remove politics from science. [04:15] Description of tokamak and difficulties measuring plasma temperatures within. [06:25] Remarks on: differences of tokamak compared to Zeta; Russian's baking tokamak torus to minimise impurities. [07:45] Remarks on Culham director Bas Pease: socialist, cultured, good relations with Russians, know to MF from Harwell, neutron physicist, supported diagnostics, enjoyed intellectual debates with David Evans. [11:20] Remarks on: learning from Nichol Peacock of a delegation to Artsimovitch in Russia; Bas Pease realising that MF and Derrick Robinson were the only people at Culham who could confirm Russian results; American-Russian political issues; formation of a team consisting of boss Nichol Peacock, Derrick Robinson, Peter Wilcock and MF; Russian liaison physicist Volodiya Sannikov; MF feelings about being sent to Russia, family concerns, seeing visit as a logistical rather than physics challenge. [16:10] Story about Peter Wilcock and MF being sent on a planning trip to Russia: met in Moscow by Volodiya Sannikov; anecdote about meeting Russian generals at hotel restaurant; MF and Peter Wilcock's differing memories of first day; anecdote about Tokamak T3 engineer Dennis Ivanov taking them to visit the Park of Achievements and Yuri Gagarin's space capsule, before discussing technicalities over a meal and drinks; [21:20] potential optic problems caused by Russians' baking tokamak; visiting Derrick and Marion Robinson who had been sent ahead; Derrick Robinson's dynamic personality and skills; Marion Robinson 's support in organising life in Russia. [23:30] Story about first visit to tokamak laboratory: manager Slava Strelkov; anecdote about Artsimovitch intervening in power supply problems; adaptation of equipment to tolerate voltage fluctuations; discovering potential problems with vibration and stray magnetic fields; need for water cooled re-entrant optics with shutters, due to position of tokamak viewing ports and baking of tokamak; Peter Wilcock shielding photomultiplier from magnetic fields; planning for a Faraday cage to shield equipment. [29:45] Description of atomic research establishment on outskirts of Moscow: use of site for military work; surprisingly lax security; similarities to Culham and Harwell. [32:40] Remarks on: Peter Wilcock's work interfacing British and Russian electronics; MF designing prism optics to scan plasma radius. [34:30] Description of Tokamak's appearance: surprise at crudeness of some Russian equipment; Russian assignment of well qualified physicists to diagnostics, unlike in UK on Zeta. [38:00] Description of Peter Wilcock: Imperial college educated perfectionist; local politician; technically excellent, but didn't like writing up publications; specialist in electronics but also good all rounder. [39:30] Description of Nichol Peacock: Liverpool educated Scottish hard man; enjoyed mountaineering and Burns Nights; background in Aldermaston; owned a van with a mattress in the back; enjoyed debating physics vigorously, which occasionally reduced students to tears, and refused to have girl students; managerial style. [42:40] Remarks on: optical signal to noise calculations, using figures from John Sheglov and checked by Peacock; divisional physics meetings. [44:40] Remarks on chief technician Harry Jones: problems recruiting him due to lack of qualifications; formed Culham football team, which ensured priority links with other work shops; good at dealing with Russians; anecdote about MF using football as an ice breaker on a later trip to Italy; intuitive engineer. [48:10] Remarks on Volodiya Sannikov: on a sharp learning curve; obtained equipment from other Russian institutes; helped to implement Peter Wilcock's plan to reduce vibrations; junior scientist, with remarks on comparative rank structures in Russia and UK; educated background. [51:15] Remarks on: high quality of Russian fusion scientists; enthusiastic Russian technicians; knowledge of Russian, Derrick and Marion Robinson having better Russian; good relationships with Russian scientists; accuracy of Russian measurements. [55:20] Remarks on: benefits of trip to Russia, discovering potential problems, such as brightness of initial plasma that could knock out photomultipliers; Tokamak physics emphasis on eliminating impurities; MF previous limited involvement with plasma physics; clarification of dates in 1968 and 1969; Russian deadline between April and December 1969; powerful backing from Culham and Aldermaston for work; [59:40] political considerations, MF anti-Communist stance, lack of political discussions with Russians.
Life story interview with physicist Dr Michael Forrest.