Oral history of British science

Wood, Sir Martin and Lady Audrey (Part 3 of 11)

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  • Subjects

    Scientific Instruments

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewees' home, Abingdon

  • Interviewees

    Wood, Sir Martin, 1927- (speaker, male), Wood, Lady Audrey,1927- (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 3: [1:37:11] Remarks on Sylva Foundation for forestry: hopes for widespread influence, growing organisation, apprentice schemes, online wood registration through myForest; MW's long running interest in forestry, anecdote about doing forestry instead of joining army training corps at school; forestry and engineering. [07:25] Comments on MW activities at Clarendon Laboratory: designing electromagnets; tutoring students; working as engineering making and running high magnetic field equipment; anecdote about interview; limited knowledge of magnetism before starting job; history of magnets, Michael Faraday and Royal Institution. [12:15] Description of electromagnets: how electromagnets work; water cooled electromagnets at Oxford designed by MW, process of building electromagnets; history of magnets, lodestone. [22:20] Remarks on Clarendon: escaped Jews from Germany, Sir Francis Simon, Kurt Mendelssohn, Hungarian Nicholas Kurti; background of Prof Frederick Lindemann, Lord Cherwell, rescuing Jews from Germany pre-war, as covered in 'Hitler's Gift' book; Nicholas Kurti's escape from Hungry to Weimar Germany. [28:10] Remarks on: escaped Jews rarely talking about German experience, with reference to Lord Krebs; description of Nicholas Kurti, story about his escape from Germany, via Breslau, now Wroclaw in Poland; German Jew's work on separating Uranium in wartime. [34:35] Anecdote about foundation of Clarendon Laboratory as a result of Lord Clarendon's bequest for a school of School of Equitation. [37:55] Remarks on Clarendon Laboratory: working in night; importance and ease of working with escaped German Jews; excitement of working at Clarendon with top scientists; MW designing equipment; Joe Milligan, head of low temperature workshops, who later worked for Oxford Instruments; MW making equipment for other universities eventually growing into Oxford Instruments; [42:00] AW helping MW with experiments at night; anecdote about generator using 10% of Oxford's power supply; details of MW's work in Clarendon; Professor Simon's search for extreme magnetic field, high pressure and cold environment for experiments; blue sky academic pursuits of researchers; [47:35] MW enjoying working with colleagues, achievements in making new type of magnet and pushing technology; visitors to Oxford becoming MW's future customers; knowledge is free approach. [49:10] Remarks on: MW's new type of higher power magnet; dangers in laboratory; anecdote about hydrogen explosion before MW arrived at Clarendon; AW's involvement with MW's work; anecdote about MW working at home, working conditions in laboratory. [53:40] Comments on start of Oxford Instruments [OI] in 1959: MW asking Nicholas Kurti's permission to branch out; story about MW consultancy work for Hillman cars on magnetic clutch; other early consultancy work before first big order for Royal Radar Establishment Malvern; previous defunct company named Oxford Instruments; importance of Oxford in name of company, looking up to Cambridge Instrument's company; [1:00:00] initial hopes for company; importance of superconductor break through to growth of company; anecdote about low power needed for superconductor magnets, MW using car battery for testing first superconductor magnet, high cost of materials; magnetism remaining as long as temperature remains cold; need for liquid helium to keep superconducting magnets low; rapid development of company in superconductor magnets; problems with supply of helium leading to purchase of helium liquefier and launch of Oxford Cryogenics, leading to competition with British Oxygen Company; liquid helium not needed today. [1:06:30] Remarks on: finance, bank lending money on security of equipment, such as liquefier; limited understanding but much interest from Drummonds Bank, where MW's family were established customers; mortgaging house for company finance; feelings at start of company, optimism, busy; [1:10:30] MW continuing working at the Clarendon Laboratory; support to OI from Clarendon; negative connotations of industry in universities, anecdote about MW colleague describing him as applied physicist rather than engineer; MW well treated in Clarendon. [pause 1:13:15] Story about Oxford's University problems in 1930s with Mr Owen's entrepreneurial efforts, leading to a wariness of spin off companies. [1:15:30] Remarks on: OI growing to meet a need from people wanting equipment; views that employees should be involved in company; AW finding starting company great fun, helping with admin; balancing family life with working on OI from study in house; company based in house and shed in garden at first; anecdote about having to disguise industry at the bottom of the garden; Joe Milligan's inventiveness; description of garden shed made of a half prefab house; AW managing OI's administration and learning about magnets; displaying first superconducting magnet in 1962. [1:21:10] Remarks on: magnet winding machines; description of magnets and water cooling tanks needed; fishing wire used to separate magnet layers and provide space for cooling water; making the first superconducting magnet in Europe. [1:25:40] Description of making first superconductor electromagnet, first switching it on, difficulties. [1:32:30] Story about origins of Wah Chang Corporation's super-conductive Zirconium wire production. Remarks on: luck at start of company, article in New Scientist, problems with second batch of wire; types of wire; use of first magnet for research; Clarendon's research funding.

  • Description

    Interview with scientific instrument designers and entrepreneurs Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood

  • Related transcripts

    Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood interviewed by Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit the 'Voices of Science' web resource for extracts from Martin and Audrey Wood's interview

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