Oral history of British science

Forrest, Michael (Part 9 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 9: Remarks on events after preparation trip to Russia: technical problems in protecting optical equipment, severe vibrations, magnetic pickup, electronic interfaces worked on by Peter Wilcock; MF development of optics and laser dump; matching of spectrometer and collection lens to minimise loss; advantages of spatial rather than point scan of plasma; Anecdote about Artsimovitch's amusement at Peter Wilcock's shutter to protect system from light swamping; arrangements to protect equipment from voltage fluctuations; [06:10] MF seeing Russian venture as a logistics rather than physics challenge; limited time slot for work; low density plasma. [07:20] Remarks on preparations for Russian trip: frantic few months; concerns over background light levels, incorrectly measured by John Sheglov [09:50]; MF and Peter Wilcock developing overall concept; links to weapons researchers at Aldermaston, help of Bill Waller; Harry Jones pulling logistics together; heavy use of drawing offices; [12:15] links to Russia via Volodiya Sannikov and Derrick and Marion Robinson; anecdote about photomultipliers being banned from export to Russia; [14:15] purpose of photomultipliers; optical design considerations; use of Barr and Stroud fibre optics; working arrangement of spectrometer and photomultiplier in measuring temperatures; calculations of scattered laser signals to actual plasma densities; [18:25] limited links to other groups at Culham; roles of drawing office to design parts of mechanical equipment; water cooled, shuttered, re-entrant optics to get close to plasma and withstand conditions in Tokamak; Peter Willock's earthing of machine. [21:55] Remarks on: support from Bill Bore at Keeler optical in Windsor, who could also source quartz for glass and advise on lens shape; impressions of work from within Culham, generally supportive but with some resistance; little publicity at first. [25:30] Remarks on: politics, MF treating it as a scientific challenge, Russian's uninterested in politics, anecdote about communist scientist joking that he'd be a Conservative in England; [26:55] preparation coming to a head, Harry Jones' organisation of floated packing to protect apparatus; arrangements to carry large screened room to Moscow via Pakistani Airlines Boeing 707; MF worries about unforeseen problems; few people able to comment on technical problems. [30:30] Remarks on family: family arrangements for trip to Russia; children born between 1960 and 1966, Andrew, works in IT, Rhiannon, works in IT, Richard, works for BBC; arrangement of work and family life; family activities, camping holidays in France; leaving children to find own paths in life; children's views on his work; [35:55] MF's enjoyment of work, excitement of new technology; responsibility for public money. [37:30] Remarks on return to Russia in 1969: Peter Wilcock illness; unpacking; anecdote about female welder and installing supports for equipment; mounting of laser equipment on tokamak, cutting of hole in roof to act as laser dump. [43:20] Remarks on British team in Russia: Peter Wilcock and MF working closely; Nichol Peacock liaising with Russian physicists; Derek Robinson knowing both experimental scattering, theoretical issues and Russian, energetic and later director of Culham; Marion Robinson, chemist from Harwell who sorted day to day life, and taught in Russian schools; accommodation in flats built to house workers at Kurchatov Institute. [47:00] Remarks on life in Russia: spartan but able to shop in hard currency Beryozka shops; anecdote about bread shopping; friendly relations with everyday Russians; long days at work; weekly and daily activities; long period to set up equipment; good relations with Russian scientists, who were very focused on physics; [53:15] attitudes of Russians to British team working with them; MF not seeing other work outside fusion experiments; Artsimovitch's position allowing British scientists privileged travel arrangements, which MF had little chance to take advantage of. [56:25] Anecdotes about espionage concerns: a light bulb being mysteriously replaced; Nichol Peacock discovering his briefcase had been opened; Nichol Peacock avoiding a honey trap; MF being trailed around a gallery; MF encountering a probably KGB agent in a shop. [1:01:20] Remarks on: few worries over secrecy of British team's work; local Communist party laying on entertainments, such as trips to Bolshoi Theatre, State Circus, a football match in Lenin stadium and Russian crown jewels; limited Cold War tension; hard life of most Russians.

  • 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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