Oral history of British science
Moreton, Roger (Part 4 of 8). An Oral History of British Science.
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Interviewee's home, Fleet
Moreton, Roger, 1935- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 4: Roger Moreton [RM] remarks on high temperature materials section: section head Bill Watt [BW], Bill Johnson, lab attendant, scientific assistants; related group under Bobbie Bickerdyke; varying names and organisation of sections, department and divisions; activities of section, freedom to pursue research, with remarks on RM and Bill Watt thermal accommodation coefficient work under division head L.G. Carpenter; [06:40] RAE practice of selecting best people and leaving them to it, but eventual demise of basic research; contact with other sections, such as X-ray and chemistry sections and drawing office. [09:58] Description of RM boss William 'Bill' Watt: strong minded Scot, eventually FRS, pushed staff hard; anecdote about RM wife meeting him town; anecdote about him promoting RM after an argument; supportive of section against outsiders; [14:30] anecdote about Bill Watt haranguing staff in Reading Woolworths; 1st class degree in chemistry, brave in defending scientific beliefs, such as over cross linking of Carbon filaments. [18:10] Description of Bill Johnson: experimental officer, ex RAF, Geordie, worked for Associated Lead postwar, studied at Kingston Polytechnic, eventually promoted to Principal Scientific Officer; worked well implementing Bill Watt's ideas practically. [20:25] Remarks on: scientific assistants, work measuring Carbon Fibre tensile properties; ultra fine fibres from acrylic bases; procedures for calibrating microscopes for tiny diameter fibres. [24:40] Description of laboratory and its location at Farnborough: current status of site; laboratory in an old dilapidated shed; equipment, apparatus and facilities. [29:40] Remarks on departmental glass blowers: made complicated equipment; working relationship with RM; glass blower Alf Gardner. [33:20] Remarks on metallography: mounting fibres in resin and polishing; Molybdenum; uses by other sections; improving equipment; QinetiQ selling electron microscopes after RM retired; [35:50] other means for testing materials in other departments, such as electron microscopy, creep and fatigue testing; anecdote about Bill Watt and head of X-ray section disagreeing over who got to write work up. [37:45] Remarks on benefits of optical and electron microscopes: studying metals, grain size, Cottrell's dislocations; process of analysing Carbon Fibre's structure with electron microscopy, press initially confusing turbo-static carbon fibres with graphite fibres; graphite and pitch fibres. [43:05] Remarks on daily activities: experiments depositing silicon carbide onto molybdenum, large transformers to provide resistance heating; cross sectioning samples; testing coated materials through heating; metallography; report writing, which Bill Watt always expected promptly; interesting nature of work of Carbon Fibre; coating work cancelled, a common issue at the RAE, with reference to TSR 2 and Harrier, test flown by Bill Bedford of RM's squash team. [50:15] Remarks on: feelings about cancellations; interesting nature of work, with anecdote about Bob Gardner; RM enjoying solving problems and speciality in investigating failure in Carbon Fibre. [53:00] Remarks on Leslie Phillips: worked in Plastics Technology section; put Carbon Fibres into a resin; good at selling technology and seeing applications; anecdote about Carbon Fibre racing car; competition between Leslie Phillips and Bill Watt for recognition. [56:50] [cont from 56:50] Story about Harwell trying to takeover Carbon Fibre work: contracts to Harwell furnaces to produce Carbon Fibre on large scale; Harwell suddenly trying to launch large scale Carbon Fibre research effort; Bill Watt defence of position; previous contacts between Bill Watt and Harwell; Wedgewood-Benn's enthusiasm for Carbon Fibre; contracts to Courtaulds and Morganite; political concerns, formation of Select Committee; Inter-Service Metallurgical Research Committee; [1:04:30] roles of RM, Bill Watt and Bill Johnson. [1:05:25] Outline of time line of Carbon Fibre production: Carbon Fibre whiskers available; previous work by Hoots on carbonising acrylic fibre; anecdote about Leslie Phillips suggestion of Polyacrylonitrile at a meeting, leading to his naming on the first patent; process of making carbon out of a fibre by heating; Watt and Johnson process for winding fibres on a frame to stop them shrinking, buying Meccano from local toyshop to make frame; desirable properties of Carbon Fibre; patenting of process; [1:12:30] RM joining effort to make fibre by oxidising, carbonising and heat treating Courtelle, then measuring stiffness and strength; different types of fibre, problems of low breaking strain. [1:14:38] Description of testing strength of fibres, role of scientific assistants. [1:21:45] Remarks on: heat treatments of fibres; Courtelle's special acrylic fibre; RM investigation of different gauge lengths of fibre; description of using swan's neck lower grip to hold fibres while testing where they broke; [1:27:40] analysis of fracture surfaces of fibres with scanning electron microscope, using a similar technique to Rolls Royce's Basil Proctor; Rolls Royce's work on Polyacrylonitrile and Carbon Fibre by John Johnson and Derrick Thorn; meetings between RAE and Rolls Royce; slower Rolls Royce approach, abandoned for RR method; different approach of work in USA on Carbon Fibre made from rayon; [1:33:45] Japanese scientist Shindo's approach, which was similar to that of the RAE, but crucially didn't prevent shrinkage; RM results published in 'Nature'; considering themselves in competition with different groups working on Carbon Fibre; development of continuous process for manufacturing Carbon Fibre; secrecy of Courtaulds.
Life story interview with materials scientist Roger Moreton.