Oral history of British science

Wood, Sir Martin and Lady Audrey (Part 4 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 4 [52:02] Comments on growth of Oxford Instruments: Article in New Scientist in April 1962 bringing inquires and orders for superconducting magnets; over-trading and funding; move in 1965 to new buildings in Summertown in Oxford, taking on staff, anecdote about working with technician Joe Milligan, employee John Rackstraw, from Harwell, Vernon Brook from Clarendon, Frank Thornton who later became their first MD; anecdote about difficulties keeping store records; anecdote about forgetting to register under the Factories Act, well informed and helpful official. [06:10] Description of first premises, a former stable and slaughter house. [09:10] Remarks on: AW and MW activities in workshops; anecdote about ladies toilet facilities; MW working at university and designing magnets; employees building magnets, John Rackstraw and Vernon Brook; useful location of site near university; MW writing literature and doing marketing to all the physics departments in the world; importance of world of mouth connections and New Scientist article. [12:20] Remarks on company involvement with superconducting magnets: earlier activities with high power magnets; superconducting magnets increasing size of market; story about visiting USA for 1961 MIT conference where they realised that superconductors were the future of magnets, deciding on New York subway that they go into superconductor magnets. [15:15] Remarks on recruiting staff: informal contacts with Harwell; anecdote about Harwell's light-hearted criticism at OI taking their former apprentices;. [16:35] Description of typical handling of a magnet customer and procedure for filling their order c1965, difficulties making new equipment. [18:00] Remarks on: difficulties standardising equipment; ease of standardising for nuclear magnetic resonance magnets; story about contract with Harwell for developing Helium-3 and Helium-4 dilution refrigerators with Heinz London, OI winning competition between Philips of Eindhoven and a firm in Boston []; problems caused by 1960s superconductor famine, value of Harwell development contract and cryogenic equipment orders; niobium titanium superconductor developed by Imperial Metal Industries [IMI]; funding difficulties. [23:00] Comments about previous managing director leaving to launch a rival firm, Thor Cryogenics: importance of new MD Barrie Marson to survival and growth of OI; staff leaving OI for Thor; Thor's underestimating of difficulty running a high-tech business, worries for OI; discontented OI staff leaving for Thor, leaving a remaining staff to redouble their efforts. [27:20] Remarks on: early employees: ex-Harwell apprentice, who died in motorbike accident and Eric Gilbert, who had a line to the Culham computer; anecdote about MW using Oxford University computer, MW uses for computer in designing an electromagnet, importance of computers. [32:20] Remarks on: Martin leaving University in 1969, to do more selling; AW doing writing for company; winning Queen's award in 1968 for dilution refrigerator and a hundred 10 Tesla superconducting magnets; advantages of being first and being located in Oxford; importance of winning Queen's award for small company, credibility; MW reasons for leaving Clarendon as work had become less interesting, growing company needing MW more; MW working in Japan for university; company contacts with university, OI initially seen as an offshoot of university; German 'Very Cold' company later asking to be taken over by OI rather than a competitor. [40:10] Remarks on: MD and Nick Kerley and others defecting to new company; busy and friendly atmosphere at OI; staff shareholdings, wanting people to feel part of company; never thinking about themselves as capitalists but wanting to be the best and succeed; various degree of ongoing relations with customers after equipment sold, decreasing as equipment becomes easier to use and standardised;. [46:05] Description of OI c1970: struggling after defection of MD; MW and AW very active roles running company; supportive remaining staff; negative comments about OI by defecting staff; OI later recruiting ex-Thor staff; MW and AW strained by defections; Thor use of OI drawings, legal involvement; Thor adopting ever more desperate measures.

  • 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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